Plenty to discover in this ‘racey’ town

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
November 2013

The quintessentially English market town of Bawtry has much more to offer travellers than its ‘Gateway to the North’ label suggests.
Though relaxed by day, with its high class shopping outlets and array of hair and beauty businesses, gift shops and homeware stores, the town turns into a vibrant social venue when the sun goes down and has an almost cosmopolitan air about it.

With a history dating back to the twelfth century and a location conveniently close to Gainsborough, Doncaster, Retford and Lincoln, Bawtry is a gem of a place for all sorts of reasons.

It provides a central point for friends, families and work colleagues who live in different towns and cities, to get together for a catch-up in pleasant surroundings by day or night.

And it is a shopper’s paradise, an historian’s heaven and a traveller’s rest all rolled into one.

Bawtry has been a market town since it was granted its first charter in 1213, but it is its wealth of independent shops, eateries and businesses that keep the town firmly in the twenty-first century.

Under the umbrella of the Bawtry Retailers’ Association (BRA), they work hard to ensure its unique character is not lost and that there is always something to attract visitors.

Member, Emma Gosling said there is always a buzz to Bawtry, with lots going on around the town.

“Bawtry has a big affiliation with Doncaster Racecourse. A couple of hotels do a large amount of sponsorship, as do a number of other retailers and the town gets very busy when racing is on,” she said.

“We always promote the St Leger Festival with shops flying Bawtry Retailers’ Association St Leger flags outside their premises around the town. BRA also has an annual race meeting in April where it takes over the whole race meeting and it helps raise awareness of Bawtry.”

BRA has a membership of more than sixty and fees are used to promote Bawtry, not only as a daytime destination but an evening one as well.

Emma added: “There are 200 retailers in the town, mostly independent and individually owned. There are no chains, apart from one, so wherever you shop, you are always dealing with the owner.

“We have fantastic bars and restaurants and we are quite cosmopolitan. People come from far and wide and we have a choice of great restaurants, from Indian to Japanese.”

The retailers themselves instil a community spirit, that can only come from a familiarity with and a sense of pride in the local area and it is proof that the businesses have been working side-by-side for some time.

Brookes of Bawtry, located in Dower House Square, is a relative newcomer, compared to other businesses in the town, but it has still been a familiar part of the streetscene for three years and is part of the bigger family-run company, J W Brookes & Sons of Doncaster, which has been established for 125 years and is still going strong.

Run by Tom Brookes, a fifth-generation member of the family, with the support of his dad Peter Goodman and his mum Alison, Brookes of Bawtry used to be situated in The Courtyard, but it needed bigger premises in order to be able to expand its childrenswear offering and so moved to a larger unit in Dower House Square last May.

“It has been very successful. My father-in-law, John Brookes, died in November but he was thrilled that Tom had come into the business and thrilled to see this business take off and start to thrive. He was a great help to Tom,” said Peter.

Established in 1974 by Annette Woolliams, it has been kitting out the area’s most stylish ladies ever since, with brands from both home and abroad, such as Joseph Ribkoff, Betty Barclay, Dynasty, Ispirato, Condici and Ann Ballon, to name but a few.

Annette’s daughter Emma Morris, who used to work at Joseph Ribkoff, joined the business nearly three years ago and last year the boutique doubled in size to house even more fashion collections.

“We started in 1974, so we will be marking forty years in business next year. We initially started in the square but moved to Dower House Square two-and-a-half years ago, when my daughter joined the company,” said Annette.

“Bawtry is a thriving little town and lots of people come from all over the place, such as Lincoln, Sheffield and Harrogate. There is a lot of variety, with gift shops, shoe shops, fashion outlets and amazing restaurants. It’s a lovely little town and in the evenings it comes alive.”

Other well-known businesses in Bawtry include Etc Etc Etc, & She Knows, Womacks, The Crown Hotel and the China Rose.

Etc Etc Etc, which has been trading in Bawtry for the past decade, offers customers a wide range of elegant and stylish collections of gifts, jewellery, furniture, accessories, decorative lighting, mirrors and bespoke soft furnishings. It now has two shops in the town – one in the Market Place and a brand new outlet in Wharf Street.

“After eight ‘beyond our wildest dreams, mind-blowingly successful years’ as the flagship store in Bawtry’s Courtyard, we found we needed extra space to grow,” said owner Elaine Thorpe.

Lingerie and swimwear boutique & She Knows in The Courtyard, off the High Street, offers a collection of exquisite lingerie along with a specialist measuring and fitting service to ensure the perfect fit. The business celebrated its first anniversary in June.

Based in the High Street, Womacks is a long-established retailer of fine furnishings and, with the input of acclaimed interior designer David Womack, offers an extensive range of quality furniture, lighting and gifts.

Converted from a former posting house, The Crown Hotel is located in the High Street in the heart of Bawtry.It has an individual contemporary, rustic style, with seventy-six bedrooms, a buzzing restaurant and bar, and it is the perfect wedding venue.

The China Rose in South Parade has a reputation as one of South Yorkshire’s best Chinese restaurants and has traded from its current premises for twenty-two years.

Retailers are now busy preparing for the start of the busy festive period. Late-night shopping has already started, but the run-up to Christmas begins on 29th November with the Christmas Market and switching-on of the festive lights. Trax FM is bringing its roadshow and its mascot DJ Trax will be flicking the switch to turn on the lights at 5pm.

Both the Dower House Square and The Courtyard will be decked out with Christmas trees, there will be festive sounds, smells and signs and children will be carol singing too.

It might be compact in size, and lends itself more to shopping than scanning the past, but Bawtry is steeped in history having developed from the Roman times through the Viking era and the Middle Ages.

It was originally a Roman settlement located on Ermine Street between Doncaster and Lincoln. Several Roman military camps were situated close to Bawtry because the town lay across the route from Lincoln to York. The legions would have forded the River Idle close to where the stone bridge on Gainsborough Road now stands.

A small settlement developed around a wharf in the Viking era, and while the village originally lay in Nottinghamshire, boundary changes before the Norman Conquest moved it just inside the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Around 1200, a new town was developed adjacent to the older village. In 1213, it received a Royal Charter, declaring an annual four-day fair at Pentecost. It has been a market town ever since with the first market being recorded in 1247.

In the Middle Ages, the roads were so bad that rivers were preferred as a means of transport and the town grew as a river port, and also as a local commercial centre and it became a stopping point between Doncaster and Retford. By the mid-fourteenth century, the port was exporting wool and other items overseas. It continued to develop its river trade until 1777 when traffic bound for the Rivers Trent and Humber was re-routed onto the newly opened Chesterfield Canal.

After the Turnpike Act of 1759, the roads improved and stagecoaches ran regular services from stage to stage. Bawtry was one of these stages. The coming of the railways destroyed the coach business and closed Bawtry’s port, as the river had to be diverted in order to the build the line.

However, its location made Bawtry the ‘Gateway to the North’ with major road and rail networks passing through the town.

Bawtry boasts some reputable shopping outlets and is without doubt a shopper’s paradise, despite its small size. The High Street is the main street in the town, running straight through its centre with convenient parking in the Market Place.

But there are many shops and businesses tucked away in two hidden shopping areas that can be easily missed by those just passing through. The Dower House Square, located just off the High Street and Market Hill, is a piazza-style area and home to several varied businesses including two restaurants, a coffee shop and an art studio.

Another hidden gem off the High Street is The Courtyard, a paved shopping area with a plethora of shops, businesses and restaurants to choose from. Before The Courtyard blossomed into what it is today, the site was almost derelict. It was brought back to life by a Bawtry company which bought the site at auction in 1998.

John and David Tomlinson of Tomlinson’s of Bawtry, who had lived and worked in the town for years, had watched the area grow and then slowly decline.

John said at the time: “It almost became non-existent. We are Bawtry people who wanted Bawtry to look nice so we decided to restore it in a sympathetic way.”

The left hand side of The Courtyard was partly demolished and attempts were made to restore the buildings as they were. The right hand side was a new build and further down on Swan Street is the Dovecot, which can be partly seen through one of the shops in The Courtyard.

The Dovecot used to belong to the old hotel, the Red Lion, and it has been retained in its entirety. There are only a few left in the country.

The Courtyard development won the Green Apple Award in 2005 in recognition of their efforts to preserve and enhance the architectural heritage and built environment which was a huge achievement for Bawtry.

The Green Apple Environment Awards were launched in 1994 by The Green Organisation and have become well established as one of the most popular environmental campaigns in the world. They are given to recognise, reward and promote environmental best practice around the world.

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