Judging Canterbury’s Christmas Windows 2019
This post was created in partnership with Canterbury BID. It’s that time of year again! For those of you who don’t know, for the past 5 years I’ve been a judge – along with the Lord Mayor and sometimes some other local dignitaries and business people – for the Canterbury Christmas Windows competition. The judging is my favourite way to feel festive each year, and each year I also take loads of photos and join up with the Canterbury BID team to bring you loads of photos of our amazing city at Christmas. So, if you’re up for a festive overload and to find out about some great independents to do your Christmas shopping in this year grab a glass of mulled wine (my recipe is in Student Eats (ad), or is a hot toddy more your thing?) and join me in a trip around town!
First: really, really big news. How did I not know that House of Secrets, a Harry Potter shop has recently opened in Canterbury?! They’ve got loads of great Harry Potter memorabilia which is great if you know someone, like me who needs more Potter in their homes. Personally I’ve got my eye on the Harry Potter doormats…
When we judge, we pay attention to three main criteria: creativity, festivity, and merchandising. This, unfortunately means that some stores are at a disadvantage as they don’t naturally sell physical products that scream Christmas (take restaurants for example, they can’t exactly keep Christmas food in the window all day) but sometimes this slight disadvantage creates some of the best windows. In this vein I was really impressed with Pybus Opticians‘ window with their beautiful white forest lit tree showing off the frames they have available.
The Chaucer Bookshop, ever since I first discovered it when I was at school has always been one of my favourite places to shop (speaking of which, have you seen my roundup of my favourite independent shops yet?) It is a carefully curated second hand and antique bookshop, and perfect to find something a little unusual. Their windows are always also worth a visit, traditional, Victorian, and wonderfully un-commercial.
When we judge, we also have categories for different type of shops. Recognising that sometime having a killer Christmas window is not just about the products you sell but the budget you also have available to you, so we judge small independents and big chain stores separately. Historically one of the best windows in town has been Fenwick at the top of the high street, with their big wrap around windows on three different streets allowing them to really go to town. This year I loved that the shop facing streets were white and elegant (The White Company have just arrived in the basement) while the side displays were a riot of colour, with the traditional toy display at the back featuring the ferris wheel that was displayed in the toy department even when I was a child. If you’re a Canterbury local or just visiting, to take the time to walk right around to catch it all.
Sometimes judging is really hard, especially when you have to choose one winner when you really want to award more. While I’ll share the two windows that we gave our judges awards to further down in the post, but here I want to share the window that literally just missed the cut by about half a point, and we wanted to give a special commendation to. The Ambrette is a fantastic modern Indian restaurant hidden down a back street (you can read my review here!) and this year they did some pretty awesome things with window painting. As I mentioned, doing a great Christmas window that is not just festive and creative, but that which also shows off what you do as a restaurant or other food location can be really, really hard but The Ambrette really pulled it off: on the outside of the restaurant they painted their windows in beautiful snowscapes, on the right hand side showing Canterbury Cathedral, but on the other tapping into the fact they’re an Indian restaurant with the Taj Mahal. They took Bollywood as inspiration for their entranceway in a riot of party season colour; from the outside, The Ambrette looks right now not just like a place with brilliant food, but also like somewhere you’ll have a really great time.
Two more windows that made me smile: Sowley’s, a wonderful gift and art shop down the high street always have really artsy windows with a lot of creativity. This year they’ve gone even further with their usual modern art / enchanted forest vibe with a window made almost entirely out of cut outs which, lit at night look particularly striking. They still show off what they do, with gifts being created at Santa’s elves feet.
Refectory Kitchen always make a big effort too, in spite of the fact they can’t do all too much with their window without losing tables inside the cafe. I loved how they used their cups and saucers to build a snowscape, therefore, saying what they do in a creative way to get their customers feeling festive.
My absolute favourite window this year, and the recipient of one of our judges choice awards was that of Luke Goldsmith. They usually do something similar, but it was just particularly magical this year. Handmade is big for their business, so they handmade and hand painted little house scened in miniature to display their jewels to make them look enlarged, creating stunning little features to enjoy as you worked around their windows; the attention to detail is absolutely brilliant, with the Cathedral just visible above the cities rooftops.
Sticking with jewellery, while I don’t think anything could possibly top Fitzgerald Jewellers Jungle Book themed windows I was so charmed by last year, I loved their curiosity cabinet theme this year with beautiful butterflies and golden bugs on display, and golden disco balls lighting up the street with puddles of iridescent light.
There is something to be said for tradition. I think I’d be upset if Cosmo China did not display their hand painted baubles against a cardboard backdrop of the Cathedral at night, looked on by their papier mache choir of cats and dogs, or if Cafe St Pierre had not painted their windows in a festive scene, this year depicting the Madonna.
The other store that always is worth seeing the windows of in the big store category each year is Lakeland, because who does not want to see everything to do with Christmas baking and edible gifting? However, I was a little disappointed by the windows this year as they were a little sparse, but not once I’d spied one thing that had so much attention to detail that it saved the whole thing: the traditional Christmas cake in the far window. The many layers had some wonderful sugar paste and fondant modelling, from tiny mince pies to festive clementines, but what really made it special was the layer of sacks of presents, all ready to be delivered, with, on tiny tiny little labels, the names of all the surrounding towns and villages the gifts are to be delivered to on.
Two more windows I loved: Lady Penelope‘s the florists, who again always do a beautiful one had some fantastic suspended wreaths, and I loved the big, bold and very effective window painting in The Drapers Arms – it just looked so inviting (by the way, did you read my review of their excellent pub food last week?)
Some windows, I think, are best viewed at night. Canterbury Pottery always has a nice window showing off all the festive items made in their own unique style, but once I returned in the dark while I was walking around getting a bit of Christmas shopping done before dinner the display had totally transformed, their Narnia theme lit up into something magical, a glowing gem sandwiches between the shoemakers and the pub looking so inviting you just want to take a step forward to take a closer look at all the snowcapped details.
The other shop that won one of our judges choice awards, Angels, is another that transformed at night. Narnia again with another lamp post lighting the way through the back of the wardrobe (it was quite popular this year!)
A few more pictures of Canterbury at night just to finish off (yes, there is a helter skelter in the High Street this year, and an ice rink in Dane John Gardens!) because for me, nothing is quite as magical as my hometown in December. Yes some of the London Christmas lights are pretty impressive, there are massive Christmas trees everywhere and even some of the independent windows on my local high street, Lordship Lane and worth a look, it is just not the same as twinkling lights, old buildings and the majestic Cathedral lit above the rooftops. Thank you once again to Canterbury BID for having me, and fingers crossed you’ll want me back next year!