We took the A534 from Nantwich to Congleton. You can also take the M6 and get off at Junction 17 then pick up the A534 as it’s quicker. However there was a traffic jam so we took the cross country route.Congleton is not your typical leafy Cheshire town, as you drop down the hill into the town centre you notice old mill factories dotted around. Apparently Congleton had an industrial past making textiles and these mills are the last remaining remnants of that past.
Parking in Congleton is straightforward and we parked at the pay and display next to the bus station.
We did notice a café at the bus station called Bear Grill’s and then we spotted the local bus company was called Bear Town. As we walked through the town we kept spotting bears in shop windows. What’s with this bear thing in Congleton? Apparently Congleton got the nickname of ‘Bear Town’ in the 17th Century for being notorious as a town for bear baiting, especially as legend has it that it sold the town bible to buy a more aggressive bear. Sometimes it’s quite unnerving to find out these apparently cute nicknames are based on something much more sinister. I’m sure this doesn’t happen anymore.
The town itself is a real mix of buildings from black and white style, to the imposing Victorian Town hall, to rather dull 20th Century shopping centre. Despite it looking quite pretty in parts, the town was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday afternoon. On closer inspection, there were quite a few empty shop fronts. It seems Congleton has taken quite a battering in this economic recession.
We were here for the charity shops and Neil had a good rummage for stuff. I didn’t find much in the way of books, but I did see the most amazing tiles of a bull’s head as we went into the Oxfam. Throughout Congleton I kept finding Victorian mosaics and tiles on shop walls or entrances. I love the fact these little details remain, which gives so much character to a place.
There is a cheap tat market hidden in the modern red brick shopping centre at the back of the main pedestrianized street. I’m not a fan of these markets, but apparently twice a month they do have a farmers market. Hurrah! I love a good farmers market.
Thankfully Congleton has a number of independent shops that are stemming the tide of the recession. There was Simply Retro selling vintage clothes and stuff; I loved The StationeryCupboard as it catered for all my stationery whims; and I noticed that Bryans haberdashery shop still sported old school signage. You can actually buy new music in a physical format at A&A Music shop as well as buy musical instruments – this is a rare thing in this day and age and should be supported.
There are plenty of fabulous looking traditional pubs in Congleton. I reckon it could be a lively night out, especially on the weekend with people coming in from the outlying countryside. I know there are popular Northern Soul and Comedy nights here in the town, which is great to see.
Whilst it’s clear Congleton is suffering economically there is so much hope on the horizon here. There is real civic pride in Congleton, not only from all the Civic pride awards by the war memorial, but from the fact they have community street art to brighten up the place and local calls for action in empty shop windows. I was so pleased to see a local artist collective who has a home at the Electric Picture Theatre. I’m a massive fan of cultural regeneration, where artists and craft makers help to regenerate the local economy. We know Kev and Linda who regularly put on music nights in Congleton. They also put on the Going Up The Country Festival each year, which is an indie-pop music event. Sadly we couldn’t make it this year, but it’s a fab idea that brings people into the town. I’ve seen this type of cultural regeneration make a real impact in northern towns like Clitheroe and Grassington. It just needs some likeminded locals to make the difference.
I’m glad I managed to drag Neil to Congleton. In the last few years since our last visit there has been a move in the right direction to jazz up the place. There is still a long way to go and I doubt it will ever trouble the likes of Wilmslow and Nantwich in fabulousness. However there is clearly a sense of civic pride in Congleton with people here trying to make a positive difference and that is brilliant! Go team Congleton!!!