The high street heroes of Highcliffe-on-Sea

PUBLISHED: 10:01 17 May 2016 | UPDATED: 09:36 20 May 2016

Harry and Rose Selfridge (Denis Carlton and Mandy McGuinness) outside Highcliffe Castle

Harry and Rose Selfridge (Denis Carlton and Mandy McGuinness) outside Highcliffe Castle

Hattie Miles 07907 645897

Jeremy Miles meets some of the local movers and shakers who are breathing new life into this delightful seaside village Photographs by Hattie Miles

Just a glance at the luxury house conversions and super-modern apartments emerging along the clifftop tell you that the once sleepy village of Highcliffe-on-Sea is enjoying a renaissance.

A few years ago it was considered by many to be little more than a ‘blink or you’ll miss it’ area of ribbon development. The last gasp of Dorset before you crossed the county line into Hampshire. It had a largely elderly population and, as one longtime resident told me recently, was in danger of becoming “the village that time forgot”.

Not any more. New businesses are breathing life into the High Street, younger people are moving into the area and redevelopment is rife.

Groups like the Highcliffe Centre Partnership have been helping the village’s revival with programmes of cleaning, planting, weeding and litter-picking. Last year the Queen of Shops herself, Mary Portas, praised their efforts to shrug off the retirement village label. Portas stressed that a vibrant high street benefits not only business but residents and tourists too.

Meanwhile Highcliffe Castle is enjoying a new lease of life. Not only has it just received a £2.8 million Heritage Lottery grant for restoration work but it has a new high-profile status courtesy of ITV’s blockbuster series Mr Selfridge about the larger than life American retail giant Harry Selfridge whose Oxford Street store revolutionised the British shopping experience. Harry and his family lived at the 19th-century castle for six years during and just after the First World War. Only one episode of the TV show was actually filmed at Highcliffe but it’s been enough to put the stately pile well and truly on the map. The Castle Tea Rooms, which stage Mr Selfridge tours each ending with a suitably extravagant cream tea, currently has some 1,500 advance bookings from all over the country. 

Karen Gold: Highcliffe Revival Food Festival

Aiming to help Highcliffe capitalise on its new found popularity is Karen Gold, one of the prominent figures behind both the castle tours and the village’s Revival Food Festival. The Festival is, as its name suggests, a celebration of all things foodie but also acknowledgement of the wind of change that’s blowing through Highcliffe itself. It made a very successful debut last year and the 2016 Festival, on Saturday 21 May, looks like being even bigger.

“It’s exactly what Highcliffe needs,” says Karen. “No one wanted to see our beautiful little village lose its soul and become one of those places full of estate agents and empty charity shops. But you have to be careful. Highcliffe has a certain dignity about it. It’s not a kiss-me-quick kind of place. The Revival Food Festival is a perfect event for Highcliffe with lots of artisan stalls, entertainment and all manner of locally sourced food.

“The first festival was incredible. Everything we’d wished for and more. We had the celebrity chef Valentine Warner as a special guest. In fact he enjoyed it so much he’s back again this year.”

Find out more at

Michelle Beaton: Cliffhanger Café

Also involved in the Revival Food Festival is the popular Cliffhanger Café on Waterford Road. Its operations director Michelle Beaton, who has worked there since it opened nine years ago, says the knock-on effect from the village’s growing popularity is making a real impact. “We’ve always been popular with hikers and geologists who study the beach and cliffs but now there is also a steady stream of people who just happen to find us when they’re out walking on the clifftop.”

In response the Cliffhanger has also been expanding its appeal by holding tribute act nights as well as having midweek music by Indie bands - find out more at The cafe is also the embarkation point for regular guided walks which are held on the first Tuesday of each month. Led by photographer and local historian Hattie Miles, these information-packed treks take walkers along the coast path from the Cliffhanger to the Highcliffe Castle and back, ending with a light lunch or cream tea depending if you have taken the 10am or 2pm walk.

For more dates and prices of the walks please visit

Monica Demetriou: The Lifestyle Concept

Meanwhile in the High Street a newly vitalised entrepreneurial spirit is stirring. Among recent arrivals are business partners Tracey Beesley and Monica Demetriou whose boutique, The Lifestyle Concept (on Highcliffe Corner), opened late last year. The two women decided to go into business together after becoming neighbours. “Tracey had already been very involved in trying to revive the High Street,” explained Monica. “People were coming into Highcliffe, building bigger and more modern houses but there seemed to be very little to appeal to them retail-wise.”

And so The Lifestyle Concept, offering a quirky mix of gifts, clothing and other goods, was born. “We meet lots of younger families who have moved here, professional people who are leaving London, Essex, Hertfordshire, Surrey. Something’s happening in Highcliffe. You can definitely feel a shift.”

Find out more at

Chris Watson: Award-winning family butcher

One thing that chimes with both the High Street shopping experience and the Revival Food Festival, is the arrival of award-winning family butcher Chris Watson on Lymington Road.

Chris, who has been a butcher for 27 years, arrived in Highcliffe with his wife Monica just 18 months ago. They made a near instant impact and no wonder. In recent years Chris has won a dizzying array of awards including being voted Best Butcher in Dorset Magazine Food, Drink & Farming Awards 2015.

Chris is probably best known for his prize-winning sausages. “It’s down to only using the very best ingredients. My sausages have an 82 per cent meat content and we use a special selection of seasoning and other ingredients to create a unique flavour.”

Chris believes the way to attract customers who are used to supermarket shopping is to maintain a clean and presentable shop and display meat in a way that seems familiar but delivers spectacular results. “We have to satisfy both the modern and the old school customer,” he declares.

Find out more at

Denis Carlton & Mandy McGuinness: The Local Actors

Perhaps the real current success story in Highcliffe is its castle and the wonders of the ‘Selfridge effect’. Actors Denis Carlton and Mandy McGuinness play the roles of Harry Selfridge and his wife Rose during regular tours of the castle.

Denis, a sometime member of the Bournemouth Shakespeare Players, says he’s amazed at the interest that has been generated by the TV series but admits that Harry Selfridge is a compelling character. “When I first started doing this in December I thought I ought to do a bit of research. Now I reckon I probably know more about Harry than I do about myself. He was so ahead of his time - a real innovator.”

Find out more at

Martyn Brewster: The Artist

The craggy cliffs, wooded walks and spectacular views that Harry Selfridge would have enjoyed from the bottom of his Highcliffe garden have long acted as a magnet to painters and poets. Dorset artist Martyn Brewster is highly regarded for his abstract studies of coastal light. He has been visiting Highcliffe on drawing expeditions for years. “The view from the castle looking across the water to the Isle of Wight is sensational,” he says. “Highcliffe also has a wonderfully natural beach and a rugged beauty that contrasts with that of its neighbours. It’s just a fabulous place.”

Latest from the Dorset