With its stunning Victorian hoses and array of independent shops, it’s no wonder this leafy suburb is often likened to fashionable London areas such as Notting Hill.
Hoole in Chester was compared with the salubrious suburbs of the city in 1831 in his History of the City of Chester.
“It is hardly possible to pass this approach to the city without being reminded of the villas in the neighbourhoods of the metropolis,” he wrote.
“The width of the road, the respectable and good-looking tavern called the Ermine – the pool of water in front of an excellent footpath on the north side of the road over-hung with willow trees and the clean and rural appearance of the neighbouring cottages all have contributed to fix an impression upon my mind such as I have just stated.”
Hemmingway’s accolades were a far cry from those of the 12th century monk Lucian, who referred to Hoole as ‘the Valley of Demons’.
But thankfully this peaceful little suburb, just a mile north east of Chester Cross, has nothing so sinister about it these days.
And there’s a strong community spirit to be found in the independent bars, cafes and shops that line Faulkner Street.
“You get some characters down here,” Krystle, who runs Fresh of Chester florists told CheshireLive . “Everyone knows everyone, and we all look after each other.”
A remarkable number of the shops have retained their unique character for decades, with bosses passing the shop on to their apprentices upon their retirement, as Krystle explained.
“I’ve been here for eighteen or twenty years, I’ve grown up with this place,” she said. “Sue, my first boss was an apprentice of the last boss, who was an also an apprentice for the boss before that.”
Such is the case for Hoole Food Market, run by Leanne Shaw, who was a ‘Saturday girl’ at the greengrocer when she was 13, at a time when the shop was known as Mr Fruity.
Hoptons the Butchers was passed from father to son, and Pioneer Shoe Repairs, which has been on the street since 1900, is now owned by Jonathan Jenkins, 54, and brother Paul, who both started at the shop as apprentices in their early teenage years.
Further down Faulkner Street, past Hoole Food Market, which completes one-hundred home deliveries a day on their new electric tricycle; and past Bricklands fishmongers, which “had queues all the way round the corner” during Easter, according to shop manager Karen White; two tall, red brick pubs mark the start of Charles Street, which is teeming with independent restaurants, cafés and bars.
David Halliday sits in the Broomfield Arms with his father. “It’s always been a nice place,” he said. “It’s like its own little village. You’ve got everything you need here, so there’s no need to be going into town.”
These elements make Hoole a very attractive prospect for those looking to move to Chester, as Josh Buchanan, 22-year-old owner of Urban Lets on Charles Street told CheshireLive.
“It’s one of the most popular in Chester, if not the most. Everything just flies off the shelf, and prices rise and rise, for both buying and renting.
“Now, you’re looking at £350,000 for a two-bed terrace.”
Despite the inflation in property prices in Hoole over the last ten years, a two-bed terrace in Notting Hill can still fetch 10 times the amount of a similar house in Hoole, according to property website Rightmove.
But Hoole has managed to retain its unique, intrinsic character in a way that Notting Hill has not.
Over the past 15 years, famous independent shops on Portobello Road such as Culture Shack and markets like Lipka’s Arcade have been replaced by large corporations, as Starbucks, Greggs, AllSaints, Poundland and Tescos have all moved onto the famous London street.
The Faulkner Street/Charles Street run is broken only by the obligatory Sainsbury’s Local on the corner, a shop that replaced Peter’s – a family-run electrical firm that occupied the building for 55 years.
In Hoole, community spirit is a tangible thing fostered by local people and local businesses like The Suburbs bar, which supports charities such as Shelter and Black Lives Matter, provides food for the homeless on Sundays, and participates in events to help fund Hoole Community Centre, such as the popular Rum and Gin Festival.
In turn, the community centre has helped local businesses to operate during the Covid pandemic.
“The local community centre were amazing”, Leanne Shaw, owner of Hoole Food Market told CheshireLive.
“They got in touch and asked if we could use the hall as a picking area, that meant we could have more people working with social distancing.
“The queue was down the street all day everyday. People have found local shops and they’ve found independent retailers during the pandemic.”
In the Little Yellow Pig café on Charles Street, folk musician Toria Wooff discusses the songs of Fairport Convention and the guitar style of Nick Drake while making cappuccinos, as café owner Richard displays the Factory Records book that he keeps on the shelf.
He told CheshireLive that Hoole’s tight-knit community is the reason that the independent shops have weathered the numerous storms.
“Everyone here wants to support the independents, especially after the lockdowns. During the first lockdown, loads of people were wanting to buy vouchers or bags of coffee to make sure that we stayed afloat.
“Not to sound cheesy, but it’s the Hoole community spirit.”