Shirley Leaf and Petal Co

58a High Street Hastings East Sussex TN34 3EN

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d strayed into Diagon Alley as you chance across this wonderfully retro-looking establishment in the heart of Hastings’ Old Town.  Like some magical florist’s, this is a quite astonishing array of flowers, leaves and petals – except that every one of them is a cloth imitation, made on the premises or by their team of home-workers. You can buy the product for your own purposes (such as evening wear or weddings) but the big customers are theatres, opera houses, and film and TV companies across the world. One of their largest projects was to supply tens of thousands of imitation rose petals to flutter down on the amphitheatre in the blockbuster Gladiator. Originally this trade was taught to disabled women, especially those missing an arm, and is said to be the last surviving business of its kind in Europe. Downstairs is the shop’s tiny ‘museum’ – featuring some 10,000 Victorian cutting tools and flower irons, and still in use. Much of the material they use is antique and of irreplaceable quality: vintage taffeta, silk and velvet from long-defunct English textile mills. Come home from this memorable factory visit with an inexpensive souvenir: buttonholes typically range from 50p to a tenner.

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