Sign is a highly visible part of our town’s heritage

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THE OWNER of Ashbee & Son at 100 High Street Rye has written on the Rother Planning website a strident defence of her plans to pull down the iconic Victorian sign and to replace it with a new sign (having already removed the original sign earlier this year without seeking planning permission).

She complains of petty interference by the planning officials and the hindrance to her business that the historic sign causes because the shop, although bought by her as a going concern, is no longer a butchers and will therefore put off locals to whom the shop is focused.

I don’t understand how the new sign she proposes for ‘Elm Farm Kitchen’ is any more appropriate or less confusing. The rather splendid deli is not on a farm and it isn’t a kitchen cooking up fresh food on the premises. Nor is it solely an outlet centre for this previously anonymous farm, since the vast majority of floor and shelf space seem to be devoted to excellent fine wines and delicious, high quality food stuffs from the Mediterranean. Produce from Elm Farm appears to play a very small part in the business.

As an example of how an enlightened trader can retain and make use of an existing building and its historic signage, I would draw her attention to the Bibendum Building on Fulham Rd, London. This art deco building was purpose built by Michelin in the early 20th century as the UK HQ for the French pneumatic tyre company.

It was bought by Sir Terence Conran in 1985, who set up an eponymous interiors store and restaurant within it. The huge signs on the façade saying Michelin were retained, as were the mosaics and windows with the roly-poly cartoon character that is the Michelin logo. The Conran Shop, opened in 1987, and the Bibendum restaurant survive to this day. The retention of the original features/signage is a huge draw.

Interestingly, Michelin moved back into part of the building earlier this year. I’m not predicting that Ashbee & Son, purveyors of fresh meat, will be back at 100 High Street Rye in 26 years’ time, but you never know…

In the meantime, I wish the owner of 100 High Street every success in her venture and encourage her to take a leaf out of Sir Terence’s book and to embrace the possibilities that the wonderful heritage she now owns affords her.

Andy Stuart