Chipping Norton: The Town that Moved Up Hill

Chipping Norton Town Hall

Chippy, as locals call it, is one of the highest towns in the Cotswolds, but this was not always the case.

It began down in the valley of the River Glyme – the earthworks of the Norman castle built to keep the locals in order are still there. But the local lord William FitzAlan had ambitions to make the town a major centre, so he built a huge market square (bigger than area it covers today) up the hill.

Alley way in Chipping Norton

Houses were built to surround the market space, and the long, narrow alleyways behind them remain, showing that these were burgage plots: long, narrow sites that gave every shop a window onto the High Street – this is the origin of the phrase ‘window shopping’.

The medieval buildings around the market place benefitted from a makeover after 1704. The construction of Blenheim Palace down the road made the ornate baroque style fashionable, and lots of Chippy’s main buildings got a makeover with smooth-stoned, symmetrical frontages.

Bliss Mill

However, cattle, horses and sheep were still sold here, as well as wool, which led to the development of the town’s weaving industry and the building of the iconic Bliss Mill. The Bliss family played a huge role in the development of Chippy before they hit hard times and sold up in 1895.

The new management pushed down wages and resisted the rise of the workers’ rights movement. This led to a strike that is famous in trade union history, and one of Chippy’s alarmingly regular ‘riots’ as 50 policeman were needed to hold back picketing strikers when their fellow workers headed to do a shift at the mill.

Bliss Mill, Chipping Norton
Bliss Mill dates from 1872. Its distinctive chimney has been likened to a sink plunger!

Town Hall

Another uprising led to the 1845 trial of a policeman called Charles Knott who was over eager in calming down a belligerent pub customer, bashing him over the head with his cosh. The poor chap was flung into a cell underneath the new Town Hall. When they opened up the next day, he was dead. The policeman was found ‘not guilty’ because his victim, rather conveniently, was found to have an unusually thin skull.

Chipping Norton Town Hall
Mr Slatter, the pub brawler who got bashed over the head, was kept in the cells here in the newly built Town Hall.

Rock ‘n’ Roll

There were 20 coachhouses in Chippy at one time, giving customers and horses a welcome respite from the bumpy roads. When rail took over, many continued as pubs, and legendary drummer with The Who, Keith Moon, briefly owned one here from 1970

Many of his mates from the music industry would have been the other side of the bar, for the town had a recording studio from 1972 to 1997. Its walls echoes to hits such as ‘Bye Bye Baby’ from the Bay City Rollers, ‘Too Shy’ by Kajagoogoo, and ‘Baker Street’ by Gerry Rafferty.
Today the town is a hidden gem in the Cotswolds, with independent shops, a wonderful ‘Woolgothic’ church, and a terrific theatre that lives in an old Salvation Army chapel and puts on one of the top pantomimes in the country every year.
… Oh yes it does!

A bit about the author

Sean Callery runs regular walking tours of Chipping Norton through his Offbeat Cotswolds guiding operation ( www.offbeatcotswolds.com ).
He is a Blue Badge Guide for the Heart of England.

.

A Walk in the English Countryside

3 Must-See Attractions in Castle Combe

Castle Combe, otherwise known as the Prettiest Village in England, is nestled in the southernmost corner of the Cotswolds. Visiting this sleepy, rural community is like stepping back into the 14th century. Elegantly crafted stone houses, weavers’ cottages, stately gardens and narrow byways combine to create a traditional and picturesque English village. While the castle on the hill made famous by the Normans no longer exists, the village of Castle Combe is a beautifully preserved example of the way life used to be in the English countryside. If you are out on a walking tour of Wiltshire, be sure to stop here to have a pint and explore its ancient sites and quiet charm. Here are three must-see highlights.

1. A 14th century Market Cross can be found in the centre of the village. These stone landmarks were used to signify the market squares in medieval times. Adjacent to the Market Cross, you will also find a Buttercross. This stone structure is where traders and market goers would tether their horses.

2. Located in the centre of the village, St. Andrew’s Church was built in the 13th century. The tower was added in the 15th century. Wealthy wool merchants funded the tower. The tower’s clock, which was designed by a local blacksmith, is the most famous attraction at St. Andrew’s Church. The clock is not only faceless, which makes it unique, but it is also considered to be one of the oldest working medieval clocks in England.

castle combe church

3. Take a stroll from the Market Cross to By Brook. By Brook is the river that powered Castle Combe’s wool industry in the Middle Ages. The Town Bridge and the Roman Bridge both span this river, and they are charming, well-preserved relics of a bygone era.

 

Gloucester Cathedral

History at its Finest

The Great Hall in Harry Potter…

England is full of history, most of which is deep rooted into the culture of the people that live here. In addition to many historical buildings, churches and castles, the wide open pastures and fields are ideal for anyone who’s the adventurous type.

While all of England is rich with culture and history, the Cotswolds in particular are home to one of the oldest cathedrals in the land: Gloucester Cathedral.
Built in 678 CE by an Anglo-Saxon community, Gloucester Cathedral has stood the test of time, as it has seen everything from indoctrination to coronations of kings. Around 1000 CE, the cathedral became a Benedictine Monastery, and by 1100 CE, St. Peter’s Abbey was consecrated.

In 1216, King Henry III was the first king to be coroneted there, with several other chains of monarchies being reconnected thereafter.
Various historical ceremonies took place up until 2006, when the last known activity there was the replacement of gargoyles on the south aisle of the cathedral.
In addition to learning about the history, what else can you expect when visiting Gloucester Cathedral? Situated in the British countryside you’ll see centuries of some of the finest architecture seen in the area, active services because the church is still operational, music and even guided tours and group visits of the cathedral, tower and surrounding areas.
If you decide to tour the grounds and cathedral in a tour or by yourself, you’ll eventually pass the east window in the Chapter House. Crafted by Christopher Whall, a key member of the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century, the east window features arguably his finest work in the form of stained glass named The Lady Chapel. Gloucester Cathedral also plays a momentous backdrop to the Hollywood series, Harry Potter. The interior was extensively filmed as was many areas around the cathedral.
Considered by many to be the finest stained glass exhibition of that period in England, visitors will be able to witness one of the most beautiful examples of fine art in all of England.
If you’re ever in the Cotswolds, don’t forget to visit the Gloucester Cathedral. While the Cotswolds contain more sites and history than you could possibly get to in a day, the Gloucester Cathedral is one destination that you’ll be glad you fit into your schedule.