Well Walk tea rooms sells an assortment of antiques
FROM the outside, Well Walk tea rooms near St Mary's Church, looks about as traditional as it gets.
But behind the glossy facade is a sure feast for the eyes, stomach, and anyone with curiosity.
Inside, there are those comforting tea shop staples, from cream teas with fist-sized scones and slabs of Victoria sponge, to buttery tea cakes and beans on toast.
Stray up or downstairs, however, and you will find you've wandered into somewhere far more akin to the Mad Hatter's tea party from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland – and in the best possible way.
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Thanks to the particular passions of owners Tom Strutt and sister-in-law, Catherine Shinn, upstairs the tea rooms is a charming fusion of vegetable cakes, retro-antiques, and handmade crafts – often delicate 18th-century tapestries the pair has converted or 'up-cycled' into renaissance-style mirrors or cushions.
Tables are laid-up with genuine 1930s tea cups. On the menu there's red velvet beetroot cake, a courgette sponge with rose icing; sweet potato cake. A large Flemish tapestry dating back to the 1600s hangs on one side of the room, while around the corner, giant illustrations by Punch cartoonist John Tenniel lean against the walls.
"People seem to talk to each other here, which I really like," said Tom.
"When we're busy we can even put people onto tables with people they don't know, which is something you just wouldn't do in Costa or Starbucks. Then once they've had their cake, we find they want to buy the cups too."
Catherine added: "There's so much to look at, so the beauty of the tea shop is that antique- hunters can have a cup of tea and a cake, and really take their time to look at everything."
Take the stairs below pavement level and you'll find a bright grotto, filled with the hand-painted Victorian Christmas tree decorations that caught the eye of Downtown Abbey's prop-master, who once bought-up a load of the ornaments to hang on a 20-foot tree on the TV series' Christmas episode.
Tom, 48, supplied props for film and television in London before moving to Cheltenham, while Catherine is a self-made textiles and antiques specialist.
Together, their expertise has enabled them to keep busy hiring out Well Walk's antiques and textiles for big-name films such as Harry Potter, Gladiator, and the upcoming Dickens' movie, The Invisible Woman.