Steve Fuller, local photographer, shares stories of the other eclectic Camden Road!
There’s more than one Camden Road, and notably the one in my lovely home town of Tunbridge Wells in Kent is one that is worth exploring, and as a Tunbridge Wells photographer myself I wanted to create a little personal project about this unique road.
It’s a pretty special road in that all you will find there is a treasure trove of independent shops, run by some of the most dedicated and hard working folk you will ever find. Friends of mine own and run their own stores, and so I hear first hand about the sheer graft that goes into making a business successful.
Being self employed as I know all too well, is both incredibly rewarding and hard work, but add onto that leasing a shop and all the outgoings like business rates, paying staff and all the other things before you make a profit, then you begin to get and idea of what lengths owners go to in pursuing their dream.
Each store in Camden Road in Tunbridge Wells is uniquely different and has always interested me, so I’ve been planning this project for a while now.
I wanted to choose a handful of stores at random and to shoot a single portrait of the characters that run them, whilst also wanting to find out their personal story and journey that finds them where they are now.
So on with the stories, let’s get started…….
A lovely shop that can be found in Camden Road is Stampede which has been around now for 15 years, and specialises in quality children’s shoes. It’s headed up by Donna Marshall who has been at the helm since it moved to this larger store in Camden Road from the St John’s area.
Donna puts her heart and soul into Stampede, and along with being a member of the Society of Professional Shoe Fitters, wants to make sure that children are being fitted with the most perfect footwear for developing little feet. There are some high street chains that supply badly fitted shoes which can really cause problems for young feet, and so to have a store like Stampede at our disposal is surely a great thing and is somewhere that is a must visit for anyone with little people.
As a parent myself we have solely (no pun intended!) used Stampede for our kids shoes for the last 11 years and would’t look anywhere else, and no, I’m not on commission to say that either!
Plenty of coffee places adorn every town I walk into, but strangely very few get it right. These boys get it right. I popped in to chat to Ami (on the left) and Lelio about Gusta which has been running now for 4½ years.
Ami started up Gusta with Leilo’s brother Mirlo, originally having trained as baristas in their home town of Napoli, they now bring their great skills to Camden Road. Its’s always great to see friends running a successful business together, always a happy welcome and their coffee by the way is superb.
Something that is a rare sight in a modern high street these days is a quality greengrocer, so when Locality started up 6 years ago by the folk at Dowingbury Farm it was a welcome sight.
Niall Clarke started here 18 months ago and filled me in on the original ethos when Locality started up, which was primarily to source all their produce from Kent and Sussex which they still do today.
If you like your sleep then look away now! A 3am visit three times a week to New Covent Garden market is the norm, to ensure the best fresh produce and minimum wastage.
So great to see these guys doing well.
I’m loving this project as every time I visit Camden Road I discover new places and get to meet some really interesting folk. All too often we walk into a store, buy stuff, and then leave never knowing about the characters that run them.
Rose Stitches is one such place run by Ozkan Gul for the last 10 years. Ozkan who is from Turkey, is a tailor and who in the past has worked for big labels including Burberry and Laura Ashley to name a few. His shop is always busy and crammed full of character which is perfect for an environmental portrait like this one.
As someone who has always had a passion for mountain biking I’ve always loved the feeling of walking into an independent bike shop, and there is always without a doubt something tempting to buy. Velocipede Cycles is definitely such a place.
After mulling over ideas around a camp fire Jack Ward opened up the shop in 2013 and which has been going strong ever since. Jack and his workshop manager Chris provide a great and friendly service, whilst not only selling a mouth watering choice of bikes and gear (if you’re in the market for a new ride you should definitely check out the stunning Orbea bikes they sell there), also organise local rides for all abilities which sound like great fun. Do pop in and check them out next time you’re in town.
The fine fellow you see here is Jonathan Wright and he has proudly run Illuminations with his wife for 30 years.
Their shop is packed with such a huge selection of lighting and also, Jonathan was also proudly keen to tell me that they still sell ‘old school’ light bulbs which are hugely popular with orders coming in from around the world.
The town has seen plenty of changes in 30 years, and like many of the traders I spoke to Jonathan had some ideas how the council could incentivise shoppers more.
THE BICYCLE BAKERY
Right next door to Velocipede you’ll find these fine fella’s, Big Cass on the left and owner Jamie who has run this jewel of a bakery for the last 5 years. Work here starts at 4am with bread being made and baked right before you as you sit with your morning coffee.
Jamie who had moved up from Brighton to set up The Bicycle Bakery, has seen it become the deserved success it is today. The bakery originally occupied one half of the shop it is in now with originally a florists in the other, but as it inevitably grew bigger Jamie took over the florists and made it one big open plan area which I think is great.
The only independent bakery in Tunbridge Wells (to my knowledge) and if you like your pizza they do occasional pizza nights which is a must visit.
KAREN’S FOAM STORE
Karen Warner runs the lovely Karen’s Foam Store, which with it’s great bright blue frontage and bunting means you can’t miss it. Karen has run the store now for 6 years and is an incredibly popular lady as she is quite simply the best at what she does.
Previously Karen worked as a carer for 10 years before making a career change to work with her husband Derroll who runs a successful upholstery business a few doors down. The ball was well and truly rolling by then and what followed is what we see now in Karen’s own lovely store.
COMFOOT & KEYS
‘In the 1970’s when stilettos came into fashion, that’s when business here boomed’ Dennis (on the right) explains to me with a twinkle in his eye. He should know, being in the game 56 years and having previously owned Comfoot & Keys for 35 years, Dennis has seen trends come and go. It was back in the day when shoe fashion kicked off in earnest, and before the disposable society we have today (folk had to get things fixed then!) that shoe repair shops like his became in high demand.
Back in the day Dennis tells me, he wasn’t allowed out the front of the shop to be seen by customers, only the manager in his pressed white shirt and tie, and the smartly dressed staff ladies were permitted to do that!
The reigns have now been passed onto Dennis’s son Jerry (on the left) and whose son Billy is now heavily involved also, so a real family business. Yes the internet has changed how folk shop, but by diversifying like they have done keeps things ticking over nicely.
The longest running hair salon in town? Quite possibly.
Dorian Marsh has been in existence in Tunbridge Wells for well over 50 years, having originated way back when in Goods Station Road. Started up by Doreen (who wanted her name on the salon as Dorian, as she thought it sounded better!) and Queenie Marshall, the premises eventually ended up where they are now in Camden Road about 35 years ago, taking over from a newsagents that used to be there.
The lovely ladies you see here are, from left to right, Carole, the longest serving staff member who started washing hair at Dorian Marsh as a 15 year old, and in fact even today still has the same client visit each week from all that time ago. Rachel, who has been here for 35 years and Jackie for the last 7 years.
Salons like this are sadly disappearing from towns these days. Dorian Marsh has a long and great history and so I was glad to have been able to meet the ladies who have spent their working lives here, and to document such an important part of the town’s history.
If you’d like to follow my work you can do so on Facebook/SteveFullerPhotography or Instagram/sfullerphoto.
I also shoot children’s fine art portraiture and natural family photography which can be seen over on my other site Gingercatstudios.co.uk
First seen at and published with permission from Steve Fuller.
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