Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Cotswolds - Chipping Norton

Chipping Norton's Bliss Tweed Mill in the summer sunshine by Martyn Ferry Photography

As I'm in the middle of quite an extensive commission for the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, a local government run website and annual tourist guide, documenting the local towns and villages found in this part of the country, I've decided to start a regular series of blog posts with some of the images I've captured on my travels, and first up is the bustling town of Chipping Norton.

Chipping Norton is the highest town in Oxfordshire, The town's name means 'market north town', with "Chipping" (from Old English cēping) meaning 'market'. Chipping Norton began as a small settlement at the foot of a hill on which stood the motte-and-bailey Chipping Norton Castle. Only the earthworks of the castle remain.

One of the boutique shops found in Chipping Norton by Martyn Ferry Photography
Chipping Norton is home to a variety of independent shops.
An independent butcher found on Chipping Norton High Street by Martyn Ferry Photography
J R Kench Butchers, famous for their homemade sausages, pies and not least their hog roasts.

In the Middle Ages, wool made the Cotswolds one of the wealthiest parts of England. The many medieval buildings that fill the town as a result of that trade survive, they became the centre of town and remain so. Sheep farming was largely displaced by arable, but agriculture remained important in this part of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. Many of the original houses around the market place were re-faced in the 18th century with fashionable Georgian facades.

Fruit and veg for sale at the popular Chipping Norton market in the Cotswolds
There has been a market in the town since the 13th century, it takes place every Wednesday with a farmers market on the third Saturday of every month.

There is also a Mop Fair held every September. It is a tradition that dates back centuries, to the time after the Black Death of the 1300s, when widespread deaths from the plague meant that labour was often short, and hiring fairs were held to allow workforce and employers to meet.

According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1898, the phrase mop fair originated from the so-called 'Statute' or job-seeking fairs which were widely held at the time.

Different trades attached a different item to their hats - cart drivers added a piece of whipcord, shepherds a strand of wool and so on. When hired they added streamers to show they had a job. Some days later, a second fair was held for those not already hired - the Mop Fair - which mopped up the spare talent left on the job market.

Now days of course it's more about music, rides, hot dogs and short lived goldfish as prizes than employment opportunities.

Market day at Chipping Norton with hand woven baskets for sale
The market place is surrounded by 18th century buildings.

In May 1873 rioting took place following the conviction and sentencing of the Ascott Martyrs, 16 local women accused of trying to interfere with strikebreakers at a farm.

The women considered to be ringleaders, not defended by counsel, were sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour for between 7 to 10 days. By 9pm on 20 May 1873, a crowd of 1,000 people had surrounded the Police Court. They tried fruitlessly to free the women, breaking street lamps and windows. The violence continued for two hours. 

The local community remained furious at the treatment of the women, leading to questions being asked in Parliament and a personal appeal being sent to Queen Victoria. The Queen pardoned the women, who returned to their village as martyrs for the cause. In addition to the red-flannel petticoat and 5 shillings Queen Victoria gave each woman, the National Union of Agricultural Workers gave each of them £5 and enough blue silk to make a dress.

Independent shops in Chipping Norton by Martyn Ferry Photography
Thankfully things are a bit more peaceful now

One of Chipping Norton's oldest Inns, the Blue Boar by Martyn Ferry Photography
The Blue Boar looking very colourful

The Blue Boar is one of Chipping Norton’s oldest inns, first licensed in 1683. Originally a coaching inn, it still retains many of it’s old features, including the restaurant which was originally the barn and stables.

Bliss Tweed Mill at Chipping Norton with buttercups by Martyn Ferry Photography
The mill closed in 1980 and was converted into residential
apartments in around 1988.

Bliss Tweed mill was built in 1872 for cloth manufacturer William Bliss, to make fine tweed cloth from locally produced wool.

The main 5-storey spinning building is faced with local limestone and styled to resemble a country house, with square towers at each corner topped by stone urns. Unusually, a large chimney for the furnace to power the mill's steam machinery issues from a dome at the top of a circular tower built into one façade. The chimneystack is styled as a tall Tuscan column. Inside, the building is supported by cast iron columns that carry beams bearing brick vaults. An adjacent lower building was used for weaving the tweed cloth.

You can see more images of the mill on a previous blog post here.

St Mary the Virgin Church at Chipping Norton by Martyn Ferry Photography
Church of St. Mary the Virgin

The Church of England parish church of St. Mary the Virgin was built on the hill next to the castle. Parts of the present building may date from the 12th century. It retains features from the 13th and 14th centuries. The nave was largely rebuilt in about 1485 with a Perpendicular Gothic clerestory. This rebuilding is believed to have been funded by John Ashfield, a wool merchant, making St. Mary's an example of a 'wool church'.

St Mary's a radition wool church at Chipping Norton by Martyn Ferry Photography
St Mary's is a grand example of a traditional 'wool church'.

When the new English Prayer Book was introduced under Edward VI, there was widespread unrest in Oxfordshire. One of the leaders of the resistance to Edward's new prayer book was Henry Joyce, the vicar of Chipping Norton. In 1549 Joyce was arrested for his part in the 'Oxfordshire Rising' and hung in chains from the tower of his church until he died. Its a sobering thought when you look up at the beautiful tower today, to realise that it was used in such a bloodthirsty manner.

The bell tower was rebuilt in 1825. The tower has a ring of eight bells, all of which were cast in 1907 by Mears and Stainbank of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. St Mary's has also a Sanctus bell cast in 1624 by Roger I Purdue of Bristol.

Beautiful interior of ST Mary the Virgin church at Chipping Norton by Martyn Ferry Photography
The huge and virtually continuous clerestorey windows flood the interior of the church with light. To the 
right of the picture is the 19th century “Creation” window.

The lofty nave at St Mary the Virgin Church in Chipping Norton by Martyn Ferry Photography
The impressive 15th Century nave.

The most outstanding feature, which is much admired by visitors, is the sumptuous and lofty nave, rebuilt about 1450 and attributed to John Smyth of Canterbury, designer of Eton College Chapel. Its complex pillars, derived from those in Canterbury Cathedral, soar upwards to the roof, and every inch of wall surface is worked into rich mouldings or geometrical stone panels.

Almshouses at Chipping Norton with flowers in bloom by  Martyn Ferry Photography
Chipping Norton Almshouses, founded in 1640
Henry Cornish, who died in 1650, was the founder of the almshouses. Named in Chipping Norton's Royal Charter of 1606 as one of the first members of the new Corporation which was to govern the town, he was clearly a man of property and considerable social standing in the community. The almshouses were provided at his own expense for eight aged widows who had to be 'of honest and godly life and conversation'.

The impressive Town Hall at Chipping Norton by Martyn Ferry Photography
The impressive Town Hall

Chipping Norton's Town Hall is a proud symbol of the days when the town was a Borough, and still dominates the heart of the town. During its 161 years it has seen many changes. It was originally built on arches with the entrance to the main hall and the Council Chamber up the broad flight of steps on the eastern side. Beneath were four lock-up cells for prisoners of the Borough as well as space for a weighbridge and fire engine.

The famous theatre in Chipping Norton by Martyn Ferry Photography
The famous theatre

The building began life as a Salvation Army Citadel, with the first stones being laid in 1888. In a strange quirk of fate, its designers and engineers were those behind many Victorian Music Halls, leaving it perfectly proportioned for its future theatrical life.

It is highly unusual for a town the size of Chipping Norton to have a theatre - it provides an eclectic programme of live theatre, music, dance and comedy, culminating in the famous annual pantomime, which attracts visitors from across the globe for its charm and tradition. The Theatre also screens a wide range of contemporary, classic, art house and foreign language films throughout the year.

Jaffe & Neal bookshop in Chipping Norton by Martyn Ferry Photography
Jaffe & Neal bookshop and cafe.

The town not only has its own theatre, but an annual literary festival, known at ChipLitFest, which attracts many well known authors from around the country, Perhaps not surprisingly, Jaffe & Neal are one of the festival partners.

And that's Chipping Norton in a nutshell, a very active little town with plenty going on. Next time it'll be the turn of Charlbury, a small market town surrounded by the great woodlands of Wychwood Forest.

You can see more images from the beautiful Cotswolds countryside on my website.

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