Matt Clift, proprietor of Williams and Bunkell
Stroll down Claygate’s parade and you’ll be spoilt for choice of shops that come in all different shapes, sizes and colours. Ceramica, which features as Elmbridge Icon #2, definitely wins the award for most colourful. Yet it’s Williams and Bunkell, Claygate’s fishmonger, which looks particularly striking for its traditional flair and ability to take you back to a bygone era. But who’s behind Claygate’s most popular destination for fresh fish? Meet its proprietor, Matt Clift.
I started here as a Saturday boy when I was only 15 years old. I never earned much – just a few quid an hour, but I quickly grew to enjoy the job.
William’s and Bunkell used to own the butchers and the deli next door. In fact, where we now stand used to be a driveway; the shop was only built in 1989. In the end they shut the butchers and deli down, which just left the fishmongers.
In 2009 the owners decided to sell the business. I quickly worked out that I had two options: find another job or buy it. I went for the latter. I just thought ‘why not’, and went for it. Although at the time we were at the height of the recession – or the credit crunch, as it was known. This meant that lenders weren’t really lending, so it was tough to get the money together.
At the time, I was 28 and living back with my parents in the Claygate family home I grew up in, so my cost of living was relatively low. I borrowed off various people and managed to raise the cash in the end. I’m glad I did. I’ve never looked back.
People ask me how we managed throughout Covid. Ironically, it was the best year we’ve ever had; there were queues to the dentist! Supermarkets had shut down fish counters and people were enjoying cooking at home. I guess it’s down to luck in that we were classed as an essential business. Another question I’m regularly asked is what’s your favourite fish? It has to be Halibut or Sea bass. You can’t go wrong with a nice clean, white fish.
The shop’s certainly changed over the years. When it first started here it was all cod and just the basics. Now, with the rise in popularity of TV chefs who inspire, people are more inclined to try new things and experiment with new recipes. These days, people are even trying to impress when they host dinner parties, so there is demand for all sorts of interesting fish. Either way, we always try to support the day rate fishermen.
My daughter’s coming up to the age I was when I started here. She’s made it quite clear that she has no interest in becoming a fishmonger, though. I don’t mind her not wanting to follow in her dad’s footsteps. Besides, she wants to become a vet, which I’m delighted with.
Williams and Bunkell. 17A The Parade, Claygate, Esher KT10 0PD