Marple and Marple Bridge - Cheshire’s hidden creative hub

PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 January 2017

Peak Forest Canal, Marple

Peak Forest Canal, Marple


More people are finding other inspiring folk in a semi-rural corner of Cheshire. Janet Reeder meets those making Marple and Marple Bridge a rather special place to live.

Pete MitchellPete Mitchell

Marple and Marple Bridge aren’t the first places you’d think of as a destination for the myths and legends of the popular music industry but appearances can be deceptive. And it’s not just music that is made here. In fact the visitor could be left wondering if this is Cheshire’s hidden creative hub.

Former Radio 1 DJ turned writer and documentary maker Pete Mitchell moved to Marple 20 years ago in the hope that he wouldn’t be tempted by the bright lights of Manchester and the trappings of showbiz.

‘It didn’t quite work out like that. It was just endless expensive cab rides home at all hours of the day,’ he recalls with a laugh as we enjoy cakes and coffee at Marple Bridge’s terrific bakery Libby’s Bread and Wine.

‘And then you find out in this particular area, Marple Bridge, that Johnny Marr wrote a couple of great Smiths’ records. There are a lot of artists and writers who live around here. Andy Votel, a mate of mine, does Finders Keepers Records just over there. All of a sudden you end up hanging around with a really creative crowd, which is great for somewhere so out of the way. I still can’t work out how everyone gathers to such a small place.’

Neil Drogie at The Icing on the CakeNeil Drogie at The Icing on the Cake

Pete began his radio career as a sports commentator before heading to Piccadilly Radio, Key 103 and Radio 2. He was the Pete of Pete and Geoff fame on Virgin Radio who were garlanded with awards on the BBC Breakfast Show which they took over after Chris Evans’ first departure. However his love of music has now taken him in a different direction as a documentary maker.

‘I still do a bit of radio but generally I don’t want to talk around records anymore,’ he says as we knock back coffee and guiltily share a massive chocolate muffin and some kind of sponge with fruit, freshly baked on the premises.

‘ I was at Piccadilly Radio then Virgin Radio and when the dark cloud appeared over Chris Evans some years back I took over the Radio 1 Breakfast Show and did very well. When I went to the BBC I met some really good people, people like Wogan were really nice to me and I learnt to make documentaries or rather how to do them my way rather than the BBC way. I’ve done documentaries on the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Beatles and I’m just doing one on David Bowie, in time for the anniversary of his death on January 10th.

‘I record everything at home in my studio just up the road, well, when I say studio it’s a box bedroom with all my records in. This morning I was talking to Michael Spencer Jones who was the Oasis photographer for the first three albums, Definitely, Maybe, What’s the Story Morning Glory and Be Here Now and he’s just got a book out and came here from Knutsford. I’ve had everybody come up to the house, it’s brilliant. The Charlatans, James, New Order, Marshall Jefferson - a big New York DJ who just loved the garden, it’s hilarious! And I had Malcolm Mooney from Can, a big kraut rock figure here. They come here instead of going to London. It’s nice. It’s like punk or something like that.

Sarah Healey of HuncaMunkaSarah Healey of HuncaMunka

‘I feel quite self-sufficient and independent. If you’re a creative who can’t be creative I think that’s when you go nuts. Whether it’s writing, whether it’s painting, whether it’s making things, if you don’t have that creative outlet it’s not good.’

It seems Pete isn’t the only one to find the location an inspiration. It’s position, surrounded by the stunning vistas of Marple Ridge and just a train ride away from Manchester city centre make it a prime position as a semi-rural retreat for those who want to kick back and live the good life doing their own thing.

Sarah Healey swapped life in the high-flying world of legal technology for the demands of motherhood in Marple. But when a friend gave her a soap making kit for her 40th birthday it transformed her life.

Now Sarah runs her own luxury artisan soap business HuncaMunka from her workshop near Marple Ridge.

Sarah Greenwood of The Antique RoseSarah Greenwood of The Antique Rose

‘I moved on to making proper soap and that’s what I did for a year or two. I did it as a hobby first,’ says Sarah.

‘Then I dropped down to three days a week and realised the potential of making soap, so for the last two years I have been running the business full time. It was a risk but I love it. I loved the process of combining my own fragrances and botanicals to create a unique bar of soap just for me. I decided there and then, that I wanted to learn how to make soaps from scratch using the traditional methods of days gone by so that I could be sure that what I was using on my skin daily, was as pure as it could be.’

As well as artisan soaps, Sarah is developing the brand to include bath treats and other goodies, which she sells in shops across Cheshire and beyond - including The Antique Rose flower and gift shop in Marple.

The owner of The Antique Rose, Sarah Greenwood, has been on Market Street for ten years and agrees that Marple punches above its weight for creativity.

Martin Brooke and Jennifer BeddardMartin Brooke and Jennifer Beddard

She used to work for the Crown Prosecution Service but swapped life as a legal eagle to become a floral artist, tying beautiful bouquets and creating floral arrangements.

‘I felt I had to do something different and more creative so I took a course and came here,’ she says.

‘The independent shops and the fact that people here do their own thing together with the sense of community make this quite a special place.’

It’s also a place that sustains creative life, as baker Neil Drogie attests.

He’s celebrating 25 years of conjuring up cakes at his Market Street bakery, The Icing on the Cake, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who were both bakers.

‘My mum and dad even met at bakery school at Salford College,’ says Neil, who together with his team is busily creating the perfect finish on about four sponges.

‘Then I worked in a bakery, as my mum and dad had seven shops in Manchester. But getting up at 2am wasn’t my idea of fun so I decided to open my own cake shop and at the time there weren’t many people doing this sort of thing.’

He and his team, which includes his daughter Toni, are now busier than ever making cakes for every occasion.

‘They go all over the place. We had a couple of ladies who took one down to the 02 for Bill Wyman, which featured all his favourite things: his guitar, the Bunbury cricket club logo because he loves cricket. We do a lot of corporate cakes for Manchester Airport, the most unusual have included one of the Great Wall of China. We’ve also made cakes for Kym Marsh and Peter Kay, all from this bakery in Marple.’

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