Nestled in a bucolic arcadia of merrie England, Winchester is the ancient capital of a forgotten kingdom. It has that venerable beauty you only get in a place with a long history. Moss covered slabs of liver-spotted limestone, sharp solid walls of angular flint, stone steps worn in the middle and the reassuring sense of a city well lived. Winchester’s history is so long that its story becomes a mix of apocrypha and legend in the crepuscular mists of dark ages. It is rumoured to be the site of that most evocative tale of Angliana, of Camelot and King Arthur. Did those feet in ancient times walk upon Winchester’s streets of cobble? Perhaps not, but it does have the round table and that’s really all that matters. Winchester is like a lost gem stone, half remembered and murky with time but whence again discovered, shines all the brighter. An old and precious place in the homiest of Home Counties.
As you amble down the high street from the crumbling westgate towards King Alfred’s statue you come to a darkened archway leading to an unseen path. The archway houses, unbelievably, not one but two pasty shops engaged in a deadly leak and potato face off; the one with the most flavour loses. They are a double helping of the greasily packaged ubiquity that blights contemporary high streets. However, as you push past the rotund patrons of Cornwall’s fauxest you are rewarded with a delightful and somewhat continental little square. It is populated with a refreshing mixture of independent clothes shops and eateries. When the sun shines it becomes swelled with coiffured youths and red-trousered crusties happily munching on their gourmet pizzas and bespoke coffees. But you must progress further on round the corner to find the real reason why tout le monde come to shop in Winchester.
You pass a clothes shop here and a kitchen shop there until you notice an understated sign of royal blue with the shimmering gold letters of CADOGAN emblazoned across the middle. Voluminous hanging baskets adorn the shop front, cascading the summer’s flowering bounty towards a shady aperture. A colourific overdose of luxuriant fabrics and leathery gifts await the incredulous eyes of anyone lucky enough to venture in. Harrods claim to be the shop that sells everything but this place would beg to differ. Cadogan has it all from purple handmade leather coin purses to literally priapic bottle stops. I’m not sure what comes between those two singular objects but Cadogan almost certainly have it, or if not they will try to get it. People say that you could spend a lifetime in the Vatican museum and never see it all, well you could peruse Cadogan’s michelangelesque wears for eternity and not get past the socks.
This really is an old style shop with the focus on customer service. There are no computer crashes here and the cash till has never failed to open because it uses the latest in wood-based technology, the drawer. As soon as you walk in you know this place is different combining a Victorian sense of practicality and service with a dash of Regency flamboyance and humour. An idealised English shop made manifest in a storybook city. How much better could it get?
Well, a lot better as it turns out because I haven’t even begun to mention the most curious thing about this curious shop. The double stitching on the hem, the cashmere in the jumper, the gilt embossing on the leather note book, the proprietor himself, Alexander Edwards. Alex is a Wildean mix of wit, charm and genuine kind heartedness. An enemy of no-one and a friend to everyone. From dukes to down-and-outs people come to talk to Alex. He describes himself as looking like a cross between Alfred Hitchcock and a baked potato and yet he seems to cut a near messianic figure through the town. At the end of the working day his disciples congregate at his brogued feet to hear the good word, “to the pub.” And once there they break bread and share wine, without a doubting Thomas in site. Cadogan is Alex and his extraordinary personality is the reason for this extraordinary shop.
Cadogan as you might expect attracts its fair share of the great and good. From grand old families like the Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpes, the Bonham-Carter’s and the Palmer-Tomkinsons to celebrities like Colin Firth, James Martin and even Sol Campbell, they all come. They come for the beautiful clothes, the impeccable service and the delightful atmosphere. Cadogan really is the place to go in Winchester.
I was once in the shop caressing a claret cashmere pullover when out of the corner of my eye I saw a corpulent gentleman of advanced years. He seemed to be mesmerised by the paisley swirls of a silken dressing gown and went to take a look at the price. As his gaze fell upon the tag a look of visceral terror, as if he had looked into the fiery eyes of Mammon himself, overcame him and he went into cardiac arrest. He did make a full recovery but they thought it best not to mention that the price he had seen was actually twenty percent off the original. The shop is expensive but not overpriced, the quality speaks for itself and you really do get what you pay for and unfortunately silk paisley dressing gowns cost about the same as Madonna pays for an African infant.
What is there left to say about this improbable place. Cadogan is a whimsical paradox; a modern throw back, a stylish tradition, a popular niche – it is unlike any other shop you have ever been to. People really do come from far and wide to shop here and many say that if you are not in London this is the place to go. But I get the nagging feeling that even if you are in London this is still the place to go. Nowhere in the London offers this much good humour with this much good choice. So if you do find yourself in the capital why not come to the old capital – just an hour by train – and discover Cadogan in Winchester. You may be surprised by what you find and you will definitely feel better.