What the locals really think of Handbridge
PUBLISHED: 09:54 17 March 2016 | UPDATED: 15:46 17 March 2016
Handbridge may be a much smaller relative of Chester city centre just over the River Dee. But it’s still pretty lively, as Emma Mayoh discovered
The Ship Inn; Head Chef Matthew Arrowsmith with Lance and Leanne Warburton
Mark Keen, Reverend Paul Dawson, Alison McLellan and Ted Graham from St Mary's Without-the-Walls Parish Church, Handbridge
The Ship Inn
Lucy Edwards at The Palace, Darling
The River Dee and Edgar's Field, public park
St Mary's Without-the-Walls Parish Church
St Mary's Without-the-Walls Parish Church
Quaint houses in Handbridge
There is no denying the appeal of Handbridge. This pretty suburb, just a suspension bridge’s distance from Chester city centre, has a character all its own. Pretty cottages and large Victorian properties fill the area as well as beautiful green parks at Edgar’s Fields and picture postcard walks along the River Dee.
It is an area that has long drawn visitors to the city across the water. But now, there is a new reason for people to venture to Handbridge. This beautiful setting is also a hive of creativity with several artists and makers in the area. Many of them come together for the annual Handmade in Handbridge event, held at St Mary’s Parish Church. It was founded by 25-year-old resident and talented textile artist and ceramicist Becki Dawson. She realised there were no craft fairs in her area or nearby Chester.
‘We really needed something to promote talented people in this part of the county’ she said. ‘There are a lot of makers and it is such a fantastic atmosphere on the day. People never stop coming through the doors and the stalls are bustling with activity.’
Since its first year the event, held every November, has attracted visitors in their droves. At the last one, hundreds of people poured through the church doors in the hope of finding a special piece of work from a local artist or maker. It has garnered such a reputation that makers from farther afield also clamour for a stall.
‘It is so fantastic that people want to travel to take part, said Becki, a teacher. ‘It has become so popular that now we have to have an application process because we are oversubscribed with entries.
‘It is largely me who organises it with help from my family. We have to deliver 5,000 leaflets, which is a task in itself. But it is something I enjoy and it’s great seeing people having a great time on the day.’
Handmade in Handbridge has been a springboard for many talented craftspeople, including Ruby Tynan, who produces stunningly simple, delicate jewellery from her home studio in Handbridge. The 23-year-old, who lived in Ruthin until moving to Handbridge six years ago, learned her soldering skills from her engineer dad, Chris, She spends her days designing and making her exquisite designs and at the weekends she attends craft fairs. She uses various techniques including silversmithing and beadwork. Her work is sought-after and she even has customers in Australia and America.
‘I’ve always lived by the philosophy that nothing should be bought if it can’t be made,’ she said. ‘I started making jewellery because I was struggling to find quality designs that I liked. I love simple, delicate pieces and after buying a few materials decided to give it a go. I am self-taught.
‘I love minimalist, elegant designs that are simple. I am inspired by lots of different things I see. I am young to be doing what I am and my friends are always surprised I actually went for it. But they and my family are proud of me.’
In the main street through Handbridge there is another person flying the flag for handmade goods. Lucy Edwards launched the Bunting Queen when she was looking for ideas on how to decorate her daughter Sienna’s nursery ten years ago. Unable to find anything suitable, she made her own. After selling more online, the business grew and now she hires and sells bunting to individuals as well as for special functions and weddings. The business is based in her shop, The Palace, Darling, where she sells gifts and homeware as well as running workshops in everything from beginners’ sewing to furniture restoration and upholstery.
She said: ‘It’s a really nice mix and I love the variety. We have a lot of fun with the different workshops and people enjoy being able to come in and breathe new life into a piece of furniture or learn how to sew.
‘Being in Handbridge is great. It is a lovely place and just a few minutes and you’re in Chester. It was exciting for me to open up here.’
There is a warm welcome as soon as you arrive in Handbridge. Lance and Leanne Armstrong have been steering The Ship Inn, just over the River Dee, to success since last November. The couple, who previously ran The Bird in the Hand in Guilden Sutton and have long careers in catering and hospitality, have spent £200,000 giving the pub an overhaul. Gone are the dark interiors and in its place is a chic place to eat and drink as well as a place to enjoy the stunning views over the river.
As well as having the pub Leanne and Lance, who have an eight-month-old son George, have also created a stunning restaurant at The Ship Inn with head chef Matthew Arrowsmith at the helm. They also have plans to introduce private dining as well as getting a licence for civil ceremonies. But their driving force is creating a hub for the community that is loved.
Lance, 47, said: ‘We were attracted to The Ship Inn for its great location. Handbridge is a thriving community and we believe that with the refurbishment we are bringing The Ship back to its former glory and putting it back on the map.
‘But a pub like this is nothing without its community. We have been very lucky because we have had so much support. I think they really wanted a decent local pub back in Handbridge. We definitely want to do that for them. It’s important to us.’
Dedicated locals are working together to build a new community centre. A huge £1.5 million has to be raised for the new building at St Mary’s Without the Walls Church. A development committee, set up by the Church Council in 2013, has been working on the concept which will replace the current single room hall and replace it with a large hall, two community rooms, a medical consultation room for the adjacent surgery and a cafe social area. The aim is to build a centre which will be the focal point of the community and re-vitalise the life of the area and the work of the church.
A development committee has been put together to manager the project. Money has already been raised through grants and other funds and local fundriaisng drives. The project also has the support of the Duke of Westminster.
Reverend Paul Dawson, rector at the church, said: ‘This new facility will provide the community facilities that Handbridge will really benefit from. This project will mean a lot to the local area from the number of groups whop can benefit for it to things like the café, which will give people somewhere to meet with friends.
‘Social isolation is a problem in Handbridge and we really hope having a centre like this will really help. As long as we get the funding in time, we want to build the new centre next year.’