Chipping Norton: Charmingly Chippy
PUBLISHED: 01:16 23 October 2011 | UPDATED: 21:39 20 February 2013
With its independent shops, eateries, architecture and fascinating history, Chipping Norton pretty much has it all. Emily Carlisle gives us the lowdown on 'Chippy'. Photography by Chris Fairweather
Chipping Norton: Charmingly Chippy
With its independent shops, eateries, architecture and fascinating history, Chipping Norton pretty much has it all. Emily Carlisle gives us the lowdown on Chippy. Photography by Chris Fairweather
Chipping Norton is often billed as the gateway to the Cotswolds, but viewing this busy market town as nothing more than a thoroughfare would be a mistake. The town is home to all manner of independent shops, superb eateries and stunning architecture, with plenty to interest those keen on history. Trade in Chipping Norton once centred around the textile industry, and although Bliss Mill has long since been converted to luxury apartments, its distinctive tower provides a familiar landmark for the town as you approach from Moreton-in-Marsh.
Chippy is full of quirky shops such as West Streets CoCa an Aladdins cave of furniture, knick-knacks and collectibles. Three years ago business partners Emma Carter and John Cooper took on a small shop and filled it with second-hand furniture and clothing.
We started off as a junk shop, Emma says, offering customers a fifty-fifty split to sell their unwanted items. The business grew steadily and this summer they moved into larger premises, selling a mixture of antiques and pre-owned household items. Ive always loved second-hand furniture, Emma told me, ever since I used to poke about car boot sales as a little girl. The quality is so much better than modern furniture and it can really add something special to a home. Amongst CoCas wares when I visited were a rosewood breakfast table, a fur coat and a battered old rocking horse, well loved but still sturdy enough for each of my children to try out.
The town centre is dominated by the newly refurbished town hall, built in 1841 to watch over the sloping marketplace, where traders have met weekly since the 13th century. Here too, more exotic fare can be found at the monthly Farmers Market.
Book shop Jaffe and Neale sits in prime position on the edge of the market square, tables and chairs set out on the paved terrace beneath their distinctive blue and white lettering. Owner Patrick Neale is passionate about Chipping Norton and believes independent book shops can offer something money cant buy. We give customers a little bit of calm in a busy world, says Patrick, who worked at Waterstones for fifteen years before opening Jaffe and Neale in 2001 with his partner Polly Jaffe.
Here you can have a coffee while you browse the shelves, or let us suggest something new to read. The shop won Independent Bookseller of the year in 2007 and is a key partner in Chipping Nortons first literary festival, to be held in April next year.
Culture abounds in Chippy, with a summer festival bringing the whole town out for a day of music and arts, and the Rotarians jazz festival each September, boasting fringe events across the town. Gastronomes will enjoy the annual food festival organised by Nick and Sally, restaurateurs and owners of Wild Thyme, a superb restaurant listed in this years Good Food Guide.
Residents of Chipping Norton are justly proud of the towns theatre, which sits just around the corner from The Chequers Inn, home to the Cotswold Comedy Club and arguably the best pub in town. The Theatre has a varied programme of plays, comedy shows and films, as well as childrens workshops and exhibitions. Director John Terry aims to provide affordable entertainment.
We believe it should be possible to experience the best in live entertainment without travelling to London, and you shouldnt have to pay extortionate prices to do so. The Theatre is renowned for its traditional Christmas productions and this years panto, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, runs from 22 November to 7 January. Oh yes it does.
If youre already thinking about your Christmas shopping, youll be spoilt for choice in Chippy. On the upper side of the town, known locally as top side, traditional department store Beales heads up a row of handy shops including proper hardware store Gill & Co, one of the few places remaining where you can still buy screws individually.
Further on, I find it almost impossible to walk past the window of jewellery shop Wild at Heart without touching the glass reverently and mentally compiling my wish-list. Emily and Adrian Wild opened their Chipping Norton store in 2006 (they have a second in Moreton-in-Marsh) after months of plotting and planning. We wanted to build a family business which would bring together stylish, modern and contemporary jewellery from around the world, Adrian says. We also source beautiful jewellery from local designers the Cotswolds are very creative. Like many of the shops in Chippy, the personal service makes all the difference, and their Tiffany-esque packaging is truly irresistible.
Across the road is my favourite part of Chippy. Pedestrianised Middle Row drops down below the level of the traffic, creating a sheltered sun trap, even in winter. The tables and chairs outside Whistlers Bistro lend a continental feel to the street, which is packed with tiny shops. Gail Savage owns All Dressed Up, a second-hand dress agency selling designer and high-end high street womens clothes. Its the perfect recession-proof business, says Gail, who exchanged a career as a chemistry lecturer for the world of fashion.
Women still want beautiful clothes, and I can help them find exactly what they need, without the high prices. She likens Middle Row to Oxfords Little Clarendon Street, with its boutique shops and busy restaurants. The Cotswold Deli hides out here in Middle Row too, selling artisan cheeses, olives and Bridgewater pottery. And at the end of the street theres no better way to while away an hour than with a tray of tapas on the roof terrace at Bitter and Twisted, a contemporary bar with bar staff in pink shirts and a tempting cocktail menu. Mines a Mojito.
Chipping Norton information
CoCa, West Street, 01608 644372
Wild Thyme, New Street, 01608 645060
Jaffe and Neale, Middle Row, 01608 641033
Chipping Norton Theatre, Spring Street, 01608 642350
Beales, High Street, 01608 645141
Gill & Co, High Street, 01608 641168
Wild at Heart, High Street, 01608 645767
All Dressed Up, Middle Row, 01608 646999
Whistlers, Middle Row, 01608 643363
Cotswold Deli and Cheese Shop, Middle Row, 01608 642843
Bitter and Twisted, Middle Row, 01608 644466
Chipping Norton market trades each Wednesday. The Farmers Market is the third Saturday in the month. For more information about the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, 20-22 April 2012, sign up to the mailing list at www.chiplitfest.com