Independent of the Month: Country Traditionals

It may be a new kid on the Cambridge block, but this pottery and homeware store looks like it’s always been here…

In the UK, Stoke-on-Trent and the surrounding villages are known as The Potteries, and they have a long and proud tradition of producing ‘spongeware’ – pottery and cookware hand-printed with paint using sponges. What you may not know is that the Polish equivalent is a town called Bolesławiec. The beautiful hand-crafted, hand-decorated pottery that the artisans make there is fired twice at temperatures over 1,250°C, so it qualifies as stoneware rather than earthenware, and the pottery is dishwasher proof, microwave proof and chip resistant. 

And as of December last year, you can find the gorgeous and unique designs of the region’s oldest and best workshops, Ceramika Artystyczna, in Cambridge, thanks to the opening of Country Traditionals on Magdalene Street. 

“I first came across the range when I was exhibiting another craft brand at fairs around the UK,” says Nicola Tame, owner of Country Traditionals. “I loved it straight away – it’s so pretty and different to anything else on the market. Five years ago we bought the business from its previous owner, and have been selling Ceramika Artystyczna stoneware ever since from our barn in Forest Row, East Sussex, and our first store in Stamford.”

Nicola and the team also supply the range to cafés and delis, who use the pieces to serve food and drink and also sell them. “Most people who eat a piece of cake or drink a cup of tea out of one of our beautiful plates or cups want to know where it comes from,” she explains, “and people are always delighted to find out they can buy the items to take home.”

Nicola was keen to expand into another city, and felt that Cambridge was a natural fit. “I’ve known and loved Cambridge for many years, and enjoy shopping here myself,” she explains. “I knew that Cambridge customers would really love our products, so we set out to find the right premises, which took a while.” In September last year, the Magdalene Street store became available, and as soon as Nicola saw it she knew it was perfect. “I just love the frontage,” she says. “Designing window displays is one of my favourite things about the business, and this shop has a really fantastic window. I knew our stoneware would look amazing in it, and that it would create a real impact on shoppers walking by.”

And she wasn’t wrong: the store is on one of the main bus routes into Cambridge, and Nicola sees a steady stream of customers arriving in the store who have seen the window display as they’ve gone past on a bus and have just had to come back and explore inside. “Ceramika Artystyczna stoneware makes a real impact on people,” says Nicola. “It’s so collectable, and you can either build up an entire collection of just one design, or mix and match the different prints, as they all work really well together.”  

One of the things that makes the pottery really special is that all the pieces – from mugs and bowls to teapots and lasagne dishes – are initialled by the artisan who made them. All of the artisans go through two years of artistic training before they can become decorative artists, and 70% of them are women. 

The store in Cambridge stocks a huge range of items, so that those customers who are collectors, or those looking for a particular piece to match something they already have, can easily find what they’re looking for. And the shop has got off to a roaring start. “December was crazy,” says Nicola, “as our pieces make wonderful Christmas gifts. Although, to be honest, we had plenty of customers who were open about the fact that they were buying things for themselves and not as presents at all!” Nicola works in the Cambridge shop herself two days a week, and has built a great team around her to help make the new member of the Country Traditionals family a big success.

“It’s such a great location,” says Nicola, “and we already feel completely at home here. Many of our customers have expressed surprise when they discover that we’ve only been here a few months!” Some of the customers already feel like regulars. “To be honest, once someone has bought one piece, or had something bought for them as a gift, they always come back and buy more. There’s something about the stoneware that really grabs people’s imaginations.” 

The shop certainly looks as if it’s found its natural home on Magdalene Street, and it’s clear that Cambridge has already taken Country Traditionals to its heart. 

18 Magdalene Street, Cambridge CB3 0AF, 01223 322007