Since January, we've been referring to it as 'the secret project' and struggling to keep our excitement under wraps. But here we are, finally able to shout about our new shop: The Hambledon at Cowley Manor.
The doors officially opened on Saturday after a whirlwind two-week fit out, undertaken by possibly the loveliest builders ever. We've worked with our very favourite interior architect David Rose who has completely reinvented the space. And now we have a light, bright, super sophisticated baby Hambledon in The Cotswolds; an edited (we like to think perfectly curated) mini version of the mother ship in Winchester, stocking womenswear, menswear, accessories and homeware.
A lovely lady had a face mask on in the C-Side spa when the email pinged up on her phone, announcing the opening. So she hopped, skipped and jumped just next door to become our very first, and very happy, customer. Here's to many more.
So here we are, with a new store in the grounds of one of the most famous buildings in the country. Be rude not to take you on a tour of our fancy new home.
The land on which Cowley Manor stands was originally owned by the Kings of England, until, in the 16th century, it passed to the Brett family where it remained until one member squandered the family fortune by over-indulging his passion for bell-ringing. Several owners later, the estate was snapped up by Sir James Horlick, the Malted Milk magnate, in 1890. Employing architect R.A. Briggs, he set about a vast building and landscaping programme.
Based on the Villa Borghese in Rome, an enormous, elaborate ballroom was incorporated (sadly no longer there today), as was a major spa complex with Roman, Greek and Turkish steam rooms. The Stable Block (where you'll find us) was built to house Sir James’s magnificent coaches and horses - the finest in the Cotswolds.
Over the course of three years, a whopping thousand trees a day were planted and cascades, follies, fountains and statues added to the gardens. Lewis Carroll was a regular visitor and local history has it that he was sitting at the top of the avenue of trees when he saw a rabbit disappear down a hole, providing the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland.
During the Second World War, Cowley was requisitioned to house the Cheltenham Ladies College – as a safe haven, as it was thought the Luftwaffe would find it difficult to launch raids down the narrow Churn valley. This proved to be correct, and the fine ladies of the College survived the War fully intact.
After the War, Cowley Manor fell into something of a decline with most of the original fittings and fixtures in the house and in the garden ripped out or allowed to disintegrate by the local council. It was bought by Peter and Jessica Frankopan in 1999 and over the next three years, Cowley Manor was scrupulously restored and rebuilt into the award-winning hotel that stands today.
Rob and Rich timed their annual buying trip to Berlin impeccably, landing slap bang in the midst of World Cup fever. The show they were there for had been transformed into a Brazilian favela, then on the Tuesday evening they watched Germany trounce Brazil in the company of the Edwin boys while the city around them erupted.
World Cup to one side, they got down to the serious business of buying menswear SS15. Orders went in the book for Our Legacy, Merz b Schwanen and Filson. They designed a new Hambledon exclusive shoe with Trickers, and found a very cool old/new sportswear brand.
Back to the football and they were on a hunt to find a bar to watch Holland vs Argentina when they spotted a group of Japanese guys outside a vintage store. A good sign they thought, so they went to explore and found Fein und Ripp, the highlight of Rob's trip. Here Marlon kindly provided lager and strudels while they sifted through the most amazing collection of vintage workwear and accessories, lots of it in orginal 1940s packaging. A must visit if in Berlin, just as much so as Mr Wong's where they rounded off their trip with really good noodles.
Saturday saw us take The Hambledon to the inaugural Blogtacular, a blogger event held at The Royal Institution of Great Britain in West London. Faced with the challenge of presenting the store in 1m sq market stall space in the foyer, we decided to keep it simple, opting for our vintage display counter filled with multi-coloured poms and a countertop stacked with our Italian Chiaverini jam.
All set to go with a serious caffeine injection, the next eight hours whizzed by in a flurry of excitement. We sold a vast quantity of jam, which proved to be a total hit; snaffled some beautiful Meringue Girls meringues; listened to some seriously inspiring speakers; tweeted and instgrammed non-stop, got a big hug from the lovely Yvonne Eijkenduijn of Yvestown; partook in a hands-on styling session with the super talented Ellie Tennant; and made lots and lots of lovely new blogger friends. Wow, what a day!
A set of very simple, long, white shelves has been the central focus of our homewares department since The Hambledon's very beginning. Stock comes and goes, but that set of shelves has been a constant. We fondly refer to them as 'the main run'. But now we have a new run, and it's quite a big deal in our world. This new set of shelves is solid and imposing, made of cast iron that's rusted and worn. It already feels perfectly at home, hosting out prettiest, pastilly wares; a huge delivery of pearl glassware, new ceramics from House Doctor, American milk glass, cookery books aplenty and our new range of Italian jam.
And it really was rather special. Familiar faces and impromptu visitors gathered around our late century French dining table, set with loaned crockery, tea lights and anenomes in milk bottles. They sipped speciality teas from our friends over the road at Walker, Austen & Alexander (spearmint and ginger is really nice) and worked their way through the results of a Hambledon team bake-off.
Victoria pulled off an impressive chequerboard chocolate cake (how did she do that?) while Rob introduced us to Weetabix cookies (ingenious!). It was master baker Mercy Webb who triumphed though, with her peanut butter button cookies (thanks to a recipe donated especially for the event by Great British Bake-Off champion, Francis Quinn).
The tea drinking and cake eating was all for a good cause, and we raised £300 for the Haven in Wessex, a specialist centre supporting those affected by breast cancer. All in all, a wonderful testimony to what can be done with the props right under our noses, the support of our lovely customers and a little help from our friends.
Not for us the glamour of Paris or the buzz of London. No. This buying trip we were all about the functional city of Frankfurt and an uber functional trade show at the Frankfurt Messe. 'Christmas World' was a little light on the festive spirit (no elves, no Santa, no music) but we did manage to dig out some super special gems for the holiday season. And even had time for a Frankfurter. We know how to live.
To hell with what the weatherman says, winter is long gone as far as we're concerned. Boxes of lovely new stock are arriving daily, rails are loaded with new season colour and we're all a whiff with the smell of fresh white paint and hyacinths. Come say hello and get a hit of our new season high. We promise it's quite infectious.
This year's European expedition saw the pair partying in Berlin with the guys at 14oz, eating noodles at Mr Wong's, hanging out with Nigel Cabourn, checking out Brandenburg Gate and Foster's Reichstag dome, rummaging in Florence's amazing vintage stores, papping a papper (Scott Schuman aka The Sartorialist, third row on the right) and returning to Il Latini for some classic Italian homecooking. Oh and they bought some mighty nice AW14 menswear too.
Each year Victoria's dad makes a special trip to Winchester to hang our beautiful shopfront garland; a masterpiece of fresh greenery, ribbons and lights. Observing from inside the shop, or the bottom of the ladder, it's always looked quite a feat. But we're assured it's straightforward, especially on a smaller scale, so this year we took notes from the master of the swag...
1. Arm yourself with secateurs, gloves and a ball of dark green twine.
2. Gather greenery. Ivy is a good option for bulking it out.
3. Cut a length of twine to fit the area you will hang the garland across, plus a bit extra for tying it up.
4. Start with the ivy to provide a good base and tie sections along the length of twine, leaving a section of bare twine at each end for tying up the garland.
5. Next intersperse your other sprigs along the length of the garland. Lay them out first to ensure you get an even spread of colour, then attach using twine.
6. Tie ribbons along the length for some extra colour, and then you're ready to hang.
7. Finish by weaving a string of lights in and out, and ta dah, you've got a swag to be smug about.