Tony Wright points to the black and white pressed street sign fixed to the wall on the corner of the building. “The name was already there in front of us,” he says of Otley’s newest cafe. “Bloomfield Square. It’s up there, bold as brass, well aluminium actually.” Tony came to the skinny latte trade a little late. He is a printer by trade, but is perhaps better known to many as the frontman of the Bradford-based band Terrorvision, who had a string of hits back in the 90s.
Both music and print are still very much part of Tony’s life, he tours regularly with Terrorvision and also as a solo performer and even when the band was its peak, he still kept his hands dirty at the printing press. The cappuccino business is a more recent addition to the CV and came after he and his partner Emma Thorpe bought an 18th century building and began a painstaking – and sometimes painful – renovation.
“It’s been a labour of love, but I must admit that the love wore thin on a couple of times,” Emma tells me as we move inside and settle by the wood burning stove. “I spotted the building, standing empty and thought that’s it, that’s the one.”
The building in question was originally a coach house. Describing what it is now is a little more difficult, since selling coffee is only just the start of it.
“Tony and I had been looking for a place to locate our business for some time,” says Emma, who graduated from Leeds College of Art with a first class degree in fashion and clothing and who now works as a freelance wardrobe consultant for film and television. “With my love of textiles and design, and Tony’s collection of antique printing equipment, we were looking for a place big enough to incorporate a vintage clothing and furniture shop and an independent printing press.
“I’d built up quite a collection of retro tables, chairs, sideboards and other bits and pieces and opening a coffee shop seemed like the perfect format for showing off our wares. The only problem is that all my furniture is now in use in the cafe, and while Tony’s printing press is up and running, it looks like my plans for a vintage shop might have to wait a little. We’ve been flat-out full with customers from the day we opened our doors just before Christmas.”
A third, as yet unopened room upstairs, was going to house Emma’s collection of vintage clothes, but it may well have to be given over to more seating on account of the unexpected popularity of the place.
The fact that Bloomfield Square has been full to bursting with customers every day since it opened is testament to Emma’s eye for the aesthetic, which has seen the walls hung with prints, paintings and etchings (all for sale) by local artists.
“We wanted to build a place that reflects the things we both love, art, design, music and print, oh and coffee of course,” says Tony. “Otley is an ‘inky town’, it’s famous for its history with the print industry.”
Should he feel the need to indulge his musical side, at Bloomfield Square a piano sits on a low raised wooden stage area at the back of the large, upstairs room. The high-ceilinged room, with its exposed beams and great acoustics, provides future musical potential.
Meanwhile a couple of 1960s Dansette record players and a selection of old vinyl long players provide a gentle background ambience.
Customers can pick and choose the tunes as they see fit (I went for April in Paris by Count Basie and his Orchestra).
Another key feature of Bloomfield Square is that it is a dog-friendly cafe. Emma and Tony are both dog lovers and wanted to provide for four legged as well as two-legged customers. Floor blankets, water bowls and edible treats are all available to the canine community. A lovely touch is reflected in the sweet little terrier shaped shortbread biscuit that comes served with every hot drink.
“That’s in honour of our beloved ‘Martyn with a Y’, he was a Scottie-Patterdale cross, who sadly died after a brave battle with cancer last year. He was only 10. He’s like the missing third partner of Bloomfield Square, we miss him so much.”
It’s at the back of the building where Tony has his print studio. It’s a stone floored emporium of various antique printing equipment,where perforating machines and proofing presses are surrounded by racks and racks of wooden and metallic cast type.
An old ‘Arab’ printing press takes pride of place at the front. Patented by Josiah Wade, and built in Halifax in 1895, the machine, the likes of which were shipped out to America’s Wild West where they were used for printing wanted posters in the Wild West, is still in perfect working order.
Less than a month after opening, bookings for his letterpress printing workshops are fast filling the diary and Tony sees it in part as writing the latest chapter in Otley’s long printing history. The famous Wharfedale printing press, with its stop cylinder and travelling bed, was invented and built in the town by David Payne in 1856. The Bremner Machine Company, John Kelly & Co at The Albion Works, The Falcon Works on Granville Mount are among some of the many companies which once secured Otley’s reputation as an inky town, as Tony described it. It seems fitting that Tony should put Otley back on the printing map 160 years later.
Through the internal window, looking back into the cafe, I can see Sam Barrett, the barista, signalling to me that my second flat white is ready. Sam, or ‘Serious Sam Barrett’ as he is known is a musician in his own right, a confident country singer with a track record (as well as a number of LP records) of gigging both at home and abroad. Sam is one of seven employees. The most recent to join is chef Muzzy, who had worked in London before moving to to Yorkshire and is keen to develop the Bloomfield Square menu beyond the sandwiches, quiche and cake currently available.
“Watch this space,” he tells me as he thumbs through a catalogue of catering equipment and focuses his eyes on a Thermomix food processor.
Watch this space indeed, there’s certainly few other places where you get the unmistakable smell of printing ink and freshly ground coffee beans.
• Bloomfield Square is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9-5pm. Bookings for letterpress printing workshops via firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01943 463683.