When David and Barbara Bowen decided to open a gift shop in Long Bennington, it was the start of a new chapter in their lives for the couple.
Not only were they fufilling a life long dream but they were also opening a piece of living history.
Although the couple set up home in Balderton more than 25 years ago, Barbara’s heart has always belonged to Long Bennington after being born and raised in the village, surrounded by generations of her family.
She said: “My mum Joan Bowes, 82, still lives on Sparrow Lane in the village in our family home, which has been in the family for 110 years. My great-grandparents lived in one of the little cottages at the back of the shop and my great uncle William Bowes used to be a tailor’s apprentice in one of the little shops next to ours, before he ran away to join the army and was injured on the Somme in 1910.”
Despite moving away 25 years ago, Barbara always dreamt of returning to open a shop in the village.
“After I got married and moved away, I always knew that I wanted to return to the village one day to open a shop, but with three children to support, it became more like a pipe dream. It was only when my three daughters had grown up and started having children of their own, that I felt that the time was right to start putting my plan into action.”
The couple started to look for suitable premises in Long Bennington, but couldn’t find anywhere that matched up to their expectations - until they remembered the former sweet shop on Main Street.
The sweet shop had been located at the end of a row of small shops in a beautiful Georgian extension on the road running through the centre of the village.
Dating back to 1820, the shop served as a general store, a post office and a saddlers before it became a sweet shop. It was extremely popular throughout the second world war before it closed in 1958.
Barbara said: “I remember popping into the shop before getting the bus to school in the mornings. We didn’t realise that when it closed more than 50 years ago, that it wouldnt open again.”
Positive that they had found the ideal place, the couple took the plunge and asked the owners of the property, who were using it for storage, whether they could use it.
Barbara added: “As it wasn’t up for rent or anything, we simply knocked on their door.”
After getting to know the couple and listening to their plans, the owner happily agreed.
David said: “It was tough going to start with as we had to completely refurbish it. We spent two months decorating before opening on Good Friday in April.”
The Oriel Window, which takes it name from the original bay window at the front of the shop, sells gifts, cards, wrapping paper, homeware, gardenware and flowers and has been a huge hit with the villagers.
Barbara added: “The response from everyone has been overwhelming. Everyone has said it is just what the village needed and is what has been missing. We are not competing against anyone so it enables us to offer our items at competitive prices. It suits people who cannot get into town. We change our stock regulary and use small independent suppliers, so customers are always getting something unique.
“When we first opened, we loved seeing the reaction from customers as they first set foot in the door. Many of them could still remember it as a sweet shop and were so pleased they were able to see it being used as a shop again. It has brought back many fond memories for a lot of people.”
But it was getting to meet the daughter of the former sweet shop owner, Mrs Winters, that meant the most to David and Barbara.
Now in her nineties, she visited the couple shortly after the shop opened.
Barbara added: “She said how lovely it was to see it being used as a shop again. She showed us where her mum had set up the counter and how she had displayed the sweet jars in the window. Despite being in her nineties, she was still able to recall helping her mum out and pointed out where the parlour had been. The shop still has a door that leads to the house, that is now bricked-up, and her daughter remembers running up them when she was a little girl. It was lovely to listen to her stories.”
Since opening nearly four months ago, the gift shop has attracted a mixture of customers from young girls who love the fragranced soaps to retired folk who enjoy seeing the new stock.
David added; “By chatting to them, we have managed to really get to know some of them. We have listened to what they need at the shop and love to see them returning.”
Despite living together, the couple class being able to work together as one of the many perks of the job. Having being married for 30 years, they have already had a taste of working together by running an online business selling gifts and homeware for 17 years. Now they are proud grandparents to six grandchildren with one on the way, David and Barbara love being together and make a great team, which shows in the way they talk passionately about their plans for the shop.
Despite the shop’s elaborate history, the couple are still keen to move with the times and have created a Facebook page to engage with their customers. Since opening in April, the page has amassed over 5000 likes.
The Oriel Window is open five days a week from Wednesday to Sunday and the couple have high hopes for the future.
Barbara added: “We can see ourselves being here for a very long time.”
n The couple are appealing for anyone with information about what the shop was being used for in 1918 to contact them. The information will be used as part of a wider village event to commemorate the World War One centenary next year. If anyone has any information or would like to find out more about the shop, visit: www.facebook.com/theorielwindow/