What's on offer in the town of Hungerford
PUBLISHED: 11:42 16 October 2018
Discover food, fashion and a great community spirit in this buzzing market town
So here we are in what could be a cross between an exotic gypsy caravan and some kind of souk full of lustrous, silky flimsies and interesting bejewelled ‘items’, definitely NOT talking about Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge popping in for consultations (that’s still Kate Middleton to you and me), or for that matter that her formidable mother, Carole from just down the road, is supposedly a client.
No, we are at Angela Knight’s lingerie and swimwear shop in Bridge Street, Hungerford to get the gen on the enchanting town, and much of this chit-chat is ‘not happening’ while Angela is scrutinising my naked boobs before striding off (I imagine her rummaging in a mysterious treasure chest) and returning with a bra. For decency’s sake, let’s record that I am behind a curtain for much of this, but then it swishes open and Angela, who hasn’t measured an inch of my flesh, does a sort of magician-cum-performance artiste thing which involves swift sleight of hand where she jiggles your breasts, and I am transformed into something approaching a sexy beast courtesy of a bra that I’d normally pass by as ‘fine if you’re still in your 20s’.
It fits perfectly, though nowhere near the size (inches or cup) that I’d usually buy. All we need is a flight of white doves to complete the magic act, but there are enough feathery things on display here. Magicians, of course, use deflection, and I’m sidetracked by thoughts of Royalty and celeb clients from across the world going through the same intimate experience.
“There’s a lot of money in Hungerford,” Angela reveals. “It’s all the racing syndicates and such like. Then there’s the ‘old school set’ – the old money – and the people who come from London.
“Everyone knows Catherine came in here just before the Royal Wedding (Harry and Meghan) because someone told the Daily Mail. They contacted me, and there’s the dilemma – who knows what they might write if you don’t at least try to get the facts straight. Anyway, yes, she did come in, but no one actually buys here… she just happened to leave with some bags, like everyone else.”
It’s one startling revelation after another. Next she tells us: “Actually I don’t even like lingerie, but I love what it can do for women of all ages.” All the silky stuff is ‘a front’, she says but that at 52 she doesn’t care if people think she’s on drugs, mad or both.
Then there’s a little ‘rant’ about feminism. Our power, girls, lies in nurturing males with food and sex, she declares. It’s not just spiel, but a life’s work. Angela’s spent 30 years in design and couture, ‘tarting up’ (my words) women of all ages, espousing the sexiness of everything from raunchy corsetry to show-off mastectomy bras.
We head to the till where Nadia Murray, who’s been with Angela five years, invites me to deposit my old bra in what we might dub ‘the carrier bag of shame’ hanging on a wall – I peek in to see others’ abandoned dreary wear and them lob mine in to join the reject pile. Remember, no one actually buys things, you just leave with bags. I’m wearing my new perky ‘upholstery’, so no bag for me, unlike Kate M, but I still feel like a duchess.
Why we love Hungerford
Hungerford is undoubtedly a town where you might come for a visit and instantly feel ‘at home’. It’s surrounded by beautiful countryside and hamlets and villages, each with their own identity. So much so that you might well end up house-hunting.
For instance, Brenda McHugh has lived here 17 years. She and her husband actually have a convenience store business in the Cotswolds, but Hungerford won their hearts, so they’d rather travel between the two. Brenda also likes that London is ‘near enough, but far enough’.
Resident Nicola Tait, out shopping with youngster Anna-Fleur Hartman, also loves quirky Hungerford, but felt that for families it would benefit from having a dining option such as PizzaExpress.
Mair Thomas now lives at Lechlade on the edge of the Cotswolds, but was once at home at Inglewood, between Hungerford and Kintbury.
She’s delighted grandson Zac Ellis Thomas is growing up in Hungerford, with the countryside, cycling and fishing from the canal bank to enjoy, not forgetting those delicious ice creams from The Tutti Pole.
Walk this way
For those who avidly follow daytime TV’s programming, particularly those shows centred on antiques and salvaged items, Hungerford is like stepping into a bumper episode.
It’s not long before you come across familiar faces in the Arcade or High Street shops, and we were delighted to catch up with Stewart Hofgartner, a stalwart of the likes of Dickinson’s Real Deals, and sporting his trademark ‘brothel creepers’ shoes, on this occasion a fancy red and ‘leopardskin’ pair.
Stewart runs Below Stairs, an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ specialising in 19th and early 20th century items. It’s open seven days a week but he does escape sometimes and recommended three dining spots:
• For a delicious and healthy lunch or snack and great for vegetarians or gluten intolerant people: Elians, (they also have a restaurant at Sunningdale).
• For afternoon tea or drink with friends: the newly refurbished Three Swans in the High Street.
• For an a la carte special occasion: The Red House, Marsh Benham.
The perfect day out
Fashionistas are expertly catered for in Hungerford. We all have our favourites, but three stand out for us.
Luna Too in Bridge Street has easy-to-wear but chic and stylish designs bringing back fans again and again - it’s no wonder that the original Marlborough boutique has grown to four outlets, including the Hungerford one.
Mojo & McCoy, run by Mima Lopes and Emma Harding, also in Bridge Street, is where you’ll find beautifully made clothes, from casual through to the glam end of fashion with designer labels.
At Barrs Yard on the Bath Road (worth a visit in its own right) you’ll find Jax Jeans, where stylist Jax Meehan has assembled a stunning collection to make us all look ‘leggy’, whatever our shape.
Read all about it
Whatever else you do in this fascinating town, park those shopping bags for a while and take pleasure (and undoubtedly something home) at the unique Hungerford Bookshop. There’s treasure at every turn and regular author events are held there.
So you want to live here?
Anyone moving from the capital, or even the eastern end of Berkshire, could well decide ‘The price is right’ here. You get all that historic market town ambience, surrounded by stunning countryside, as The London Effect starts to peter out.
And yet, the 7.37am commuter train from Hungerford will have you in Paddington an hour later.
A beautifully renovated Grade II listed five-bedroom townhouse right in the heart of Hungerford and dating from the early 18th century was recently listed at £675,000.
Luxurious new four-bed detached homes come in from around £750,000, while older but still substantial family homes might go for under £500,000 and you’ll find some well inside the £400,000 mark. This is a town where ‘character cottages’ can still be be picked up for under £300,000.
Head out into the countryside and you’ll find everything from converted farmhouses to stunning Georgian mansions in expansive grounds.
• The story of JAX Jeans in Hungerford - Jax Meehan knows quite a bit about racing ahead, so when she tired of heading to the capital for her favourite ‘smart casual’ styles and labels she set up shop in her home town