It's all happening in Eton
PUBLISHED: 22:23 06 September 2007 | UPDATED: 15:07 20 February 2013
Forget tail coats and top hats, this Thames-side town is going hi-tech and extreme. Tessa Harris investigates...
If you haven't ventured across the footbridge from Windsor into Eton in the last few months, you'll notice a big change. For a start there's the new Costa coffee house. It's huge, with even more seating on the riverside terrace, and it sets the scene for the other new developments in the historic little town that's too often been overshadowed by its more famous neighbour.
Just over the road from Costa Extreme Pie, a new sports shop that sells skate and surfwear, has chosen the town in which to launch its first ever store. Says general manager Phil Banton: "The demographics are right. There's not another major surf and skate store nearby and it's an affluent area." He says that while the close proximity of Eton College was a small influence on the choice of location, it was mainly because the overall wealth of the Thames Valley.
Chris Fuller from Studio Av, a home entertainment store that sells the very latest in audio systems and TV and home cinema equipment, agrees that Eton parents don't tend to shop in the town itself. "Very few have brought from us to date, but we hope to change this. They normally drop their children off and then in a rush to move on."
He continues: "We chose Eton as a base in the M4 corridor, close to the high income locations of Virginia Water and Wentworth and Beaconsfield to the north. The rental costs of Eton versus Windsor were also very attractive."
But what really attracts the smaller, individual shops to Eton is the fact that there are no big multiples. "It's a unique kind of high street because we don't have chain stores," says Frank Viljoen, chairman of the Eton Traders Association.
Ironically Costa is, of course, a franchise and that is already bringing more people into Eton, but it's the specialist shops, with a high level of service, that are the big draw to the well-heeled customer.
Helen and Angela McNamee opened roost, an independent interiors and gift shop, two years ago and their priority is to stock unusual and unique items, from original antique armoires to locally hand made cards.
Says Helen: "Eton High Street has always prided itself on promoting independent traders, and in the past few years a variety of new shops have opened. It seems customers appreciate the personal service that a local shop can offer."
In many ways it's all about attracting shoppers to venture across Eton's beautiful footbridge to discover the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of Windsor.
Frank Viljoen owns Eton Estate Agents. He also lives in the town and has noticed a huge demand for property there. "Not only is Eton a great place to shop, but it's a great place to live, too, and the demand for homes here is huge."
That demand is, of course, reflected in property prices and Frank says that whereas a year ago a two-bedroom Victorian cottage cost £380,000 it would now set you back £450,000.Bewley Homes have also launched a new development in the town and interest has been enormous.
"People are buying into a lifestyle. There's everything here: great shops, art galleries and a café culture. Costa is in such a great location next to the river, it's bound to bring more people here."
As chairman of the Traders Association, Frank intends to promote the town as a unique place and plans to hold several street events over the coming months, including a huge Victorian market stretching over three days in November. "We need to give people more reasons to come over the bridge from Windsor," he says.
Perhaps these reasons are already there, it's just a question of getting the message across. As I overheard one man commenting as I was about to leave the town on a recent visit: "Eton has come into the 21st century." Pass it on!
Five reasons to cross the bridge to Eton - Below we give you five good reasons why Eton is well worth a visit.
Eton has long been a recognised centre for antiques in Berkshire.
Every month in the Church Hall, behind Shaw's Gift Shop, there's an antiques flea market, where around 12 stallholders sell their wars ranging from books and vintage football programmes to jewellery and bric-a-brac. The next markets will be on October 22, November 17 and December 8. Contact 01628 525386 for more information.
There are also several shops that specialise. Peter J. Martin & Son carries a large and eclectic range of furniture in oak, walnut, mahogany & exotic timbers, for the home and office, dating mostly from the 18th through to the early 20th centuries, as well as a few later pieces of traditional style.
There's a vibrant arts scene in the town with new, contemporary galleries happily sitting alongside more well established ones.
Take, for example, the J.Manley Gallery, which was first set up in Windsor in 1891 before moving to Eton in the 1950s. Owner Malcolm Leach stocks a host of 19th century paintings and prints and specialises in picture restoration. His high-profile clients include the Household Cavalry, the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards and St George's Chapel, Windsor. His restorers have recently worked on Monet and Sisley paintings, but perhaps the most unusual restoration he has undertaken recently was of three Andy Warhol paintings. "They were very dirty. I don't know where they'd been, but they really were filthy," says Malcolm.
Above: Coutts Bank
His team of experts also repairs damaged paintings. His services were called upon when a portrait of King George 111 was damaged in transit on its way to Buckingham Palace. It was to be featured in a television programme with Princess Anne, but the foot-long tear near His Majesty's face was rather obvious. "We were able to fix it and get it ready in time for the cameras," says Malcolm, whose company is also expert at bespoke picture framing.
The Contemporary Fine Art Gallery was established twenty yearsago by Nicholas and Elizabeth Bayldon Pritchard, and specialises in contemporary Scottish and British painters and Zimbabwean Shona sculpture. Here you'll find work by a range of famous contemporary artists; from established Academicians (RA, RGI, RSW, PAI) to young emerging Scottish and British painters. Many of their exhbiting artists have work in major UK public and private art collections. Says Nicholas: "The artists we represent range across many genres in British contemporary art, creating figurative and narrative art, still life, landscape painting, surrealist, colourist, realist and portrait paintings." The gallery's regular exhibitions attract large numbers. Until October 7 you can cath the delightful painings of Muriel Barcley.
Above: Work by Muriel Barclay on display at The Contemporary Fine Art Gallery
The Barker Gallery not only stocks works of art by contemporary artists, but also offers a service to private and corporate clients wishing to commission works to compliment their interior design schemes. Visit www.artmakeover.co.uk for more information.
For an eclectic mix of applied arts, including jewellery, studio ceramics, glass, sculpture, pottery and wood, JaM & Eton Applied Arts is well worth a visit.
Cafes and restaurants: For a relaxing latte by the riverside it's got to be Costa and for good value food that comes in large portions go to Zero 3. Or, if you're after a rather special lunch, treat yourself at Gilbey's. Their conservatory at the back is a delight and the food is excellent. They do a two-course lunchtime menu for £13.50. If it's Indian cuisine that appeals, the Tiger Garden, housed in the delightful black and white building that used to be Eton's cockpit back in the 15th century, is worth a visit.
Eton has a fine tradition of independent retailers dating back to the early 1400s when tradesmen set up business in Eton catering for the needs of the boys and masters of Eton College. The street has changed over the years however it has maintained an independent feel with none of the major High Street stores found in the 'average' High Street. Check out the new deli called Tastes, the Enchanted Garden, an extraordinary shop with the accent on all things pink and frilly that appeals to every little girl's fantasies and Asquith's Teddy Bear Shop. For a full list of specialist shops visit www.eton.co.uk
Above: Asquith's Teddy Bear Shop
* Get crafty: Pots About U, in Eton Court, just off the High Street, let's you paint your own pottery. It's a great hit with children and a party favourite. Tel 01753 842777.
* Eton College: Of course, Eton College is a magnet for tourists, but it really makes for a fascinating visit. Guided tours of the College include the Cloisters, the College Chapel, the oldest classroom in the College and the Museum of Eton Life.
Tours finish at the end of September for the winter, but they really are a "must-do" in the season, which begins again in the spring. Visit ww.windsor.gov.uk