A sneaky peek into the astonishing 1855 in Sturminster Newton

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The interior of the old NatWest bank in Sturminster Newton has been veiled in secrecy for many months. Passersby couldn’t see through the boarded up windows, and the solid bank doors remained firmly closed to casual onlookers. The Sturminster Newton Economic Development Society took over the lease of the old building last year, and have promised an ‘indoor market of artisans’.

The BV got a sneak peek inside this weekend, ahead of the official opening next week – and it is a rich and beautiful surprise. Gone is the dull, austere banking interior. Instead the building has been stripped back to its elegant, airy bones – even revealing an original fireplace that no one knew was there. The history of the building has been used as a feature, not hidden and decorated over, creating a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. The space is light and airy, and is as far removed as possible from the simple jumbled collection of local makers items that was clearly expected by the invited guests.
Instead the welcoming interior showcases an eclectic bank of more than 30 carefully-selected artisans.

inside 1855 in Sturminster Newton
Inside 1855 in Sturminster Newton

‘Every single trader is connected to the Blackmore Vale area.’ manager Cheryl Basten told the BV ‘The one exception is Wolf Wine who are based in Bath: however, they have links to Sturminster Newton’s only winemaker, and next year will be stocking Sturminster’s own wine.

‘We do still have a few spaces available, and there is an application and interview process to go through – whether they are an artist, an artisan craftsperson, a drinks producer or a trader. The product has to sit well in the store, complement the other traders and be of an equivalent high standard.’

The result is a vastly varied mix of items which oddly work together in a room comfortably filled with bare brick, wood, and wire cages strewn with industrial lighting.

‘Traders pay a small rent for their space,’ said Cheryl ‘and then Sturminster Newton Economic Development Society take a 10% commission on all sales. We’re a non-profit, however – ALL proceeds go back into regeneration projects for the town.’

In the pending art gallery space at the back of the building, Nick Dobson thanked the team of volunteers and the managers Jackie Wragg and Cheryl Basten for their hard work in getting the space ready

The small room to the right of the entrance is currently filled with a range of bespoke cabinets by the Sturminster Newton furniture maker Original Crate – who has been creating distinctive bespoke wooden furniture on Sturminster’s Butts Pond Trading Estate for over 20 years, and yet is little-known in the town.

Original Crate Furniture are displying in the old bank manager’s office

In the main shop area, the individual traders each has a distinctly designed section to display their products. The tall free-standing glass case full of Elizabeth Shewan’s beautiful bronze jewellery caused more than one casual browser to pause. Lilypea’s beautiful candles and melts are nextdoor neighbours to local artist Beth Wood’s wildlife paintings. Stunning wooden sculptures from Jamie Hart stand alone in the centre of the floor, with a background of jewel-like colours of the fabrics from Treasures from the Silk Road.

The old bank vault has been cleverly re-purposed as a wine cellar!

‘It’s just wonderful!’ commented one browser. ‘It’s so welcoming, and such a surprise. Between you and me I did NOT expect it to be this fabulous!’ said another. ‘I’ve already bought something!’ said a third.
It is very clear that 1855 will quickly become a destination point for the town, offering such a wide range of choices – every browse around the shop reveals a new item. Late night opening for the weekends will allow a visit after work for a bottle of wine or a last-minute gift, and Sunday opening will hopefully encourage more trailway visitors to continue their walks up and through the town.
1855 in Sturminster Newton will be officially opened by Sonnaz, the repair shop expert, on Friday 25th November at 4pm and everyone is warmly invited.

The opening hours for 1855 in Sturminster Newton will be:
Mon-Tues 10am to 4pm
Wed-Fri 10am to 7.30pm
Sun 11am to 3pm.

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