Here’s a complete guide to Chipping Norton.
I’ve travelled to Chipping Norton every day for the last five years to the point that I was totally complacent about everything it has to offer. Now that circumstances have lead me to spend a great deal of my week at home, I’m motivated to celebrate this gateway to the Cotswolds.
And it also gives me great pleasure to do so with my school friend and talented illustrator, Madeline, who to commemorate our passion for all things local has drawn the wonderful illustrations in this blog post. You can find her on Instagram and her website here.
This is my complete guide to Chipping Norton. We’ll start with a little bit of history, places to eat, where to shop, where to stay and finally why visit.
- A little bit of history
- A short guided walk through Chippy
- Where to eat
- Places to stay
- Places to shop
- And finally, why visit?
- How to get there – complete guide to Chipping Norton
A little bit of history
I don’t want to be a complete wikipedia entry for Chipping Norton – but rather provide you with a view of someone who, although might not be a resident, has worked there for a third of my lifespan.
Chippy, as it is known (and not to be confused with the other ‘Chippy’ – that is Chipping Campden) is a market town. The first written records date as far back as the 9th century, but there’s evidence to suggest that the area has been inhabited for far longer – especially considering the Rollright Stones nearby.
In the Domesday Book, Chippy’s referred to as ‘Nortone’. Chipping Norton comes into being from the royal writ of 1244 and continued to prosper through the Middle Ages as a result of the local wool trade. In fact, the town’s name basically means ‘Market of the North’.
A short guided walk through Chippy
In my day job I work for Twelve PR. Our office is on Chippy’s main street, above WH Smiths (pre-pandemic you’d be able to see me merrily working at my desk at the middle window), so on lunch break it’s possible to take a 45 minute walk taking in the town’s four most notable buildings. Starting from Smiths, cross the road towards Jaffe & Neale and head down Church Street.
These were founded in 1640 by the Puritan, Henry Cornish. Cornish was a member of the town’s first council as it were, or the Chipping Norton Corporation; he had 12 children though tragically none lived beyond their thirties, which perhaps explains the foundation of these Almhouses which were originally intended for eight widows. Cornish would still recognise the buildings today, although they are now four individual homes rather than eight. Carved over the gateway to the Almshouses, reads ‘Remember the poor’ and oddly, there are 9 chimneys rather than eight, and I’ve never quite got to the bottom of this.
St Mary’s Church
At the end of Church Street, is the parish church which mixes a whole host of architectural styles from Medieval Gothic, Early English to Gothic Survival. Founded in 1100s, the church has been elongated and reworked several times.
During reign Edward VI the English Prayer Book was introduced and Henry Joyce, the town’s vicar, helped lead the Oxfordshire Rising rebellion against these new religious changes imposed by royalty. The rebellion was quashed, and as punishment, Joyce was hanged in chains from the church tower.
Bliss Tweed Mill
From the churchyard you can cut through to Diston’s Lane, through to New Street. Turn right down the hill and eventually, you’ll walk up the other side to a pretty decent viewpoint to see Bliss Tweed Mill.
Bliss Tweed Mill is perhaps Chippy’s most notable building – built in 1872 for William Bliss to manufacture tweed cloth from local wool, it was supposed to look like a French Chateau when first envisaged by architect George Woodhouse. It’s colossal chimney is designed to look like a Tuscan column. During WWI, the mill produced khaki cloth for the British Army and eventually closed in the 1980s. Now it homes swanky apartments.
The Town Hall
Take the road back to the marketplace. The Town Hall dominates the marketplace.
After the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, Chippy became a borough and built this Neoclassical town hall in 1843. It’s been and is used for all sorts – a jail, a poultry market and a corn exchange. Now you can get married there or attend Chippy’s Country Market.
Where to eat
Chipping Norton has a lot to offer and I’ve written dedicated reviews of lots of places, but here are my absolute favourites and those I go to most regularly.
Bitter ‘n’ Twisted – I remember this opening with much excitement, somewhere you could get a decent cocktail after work. It’s hot pink interior has recently had a refresh, but it’s still a favourite for an after-work drink.
Whistlers – This bistro always has something differ to offer. It’s walls are plastered in theatre posters from Chipping Norton Theatre and downstairs there’s a huge mural in the Toulouse Lautrec style. Recently, the restaurant had a chef that appeared on Masterchef The Professionals, so that gives you an idea of the kinda top nosh food they deliver. It’s also ideal for a pre-theatre dinner. It’s also where Tom & I had our second date.
The Fox – This is owned by Hook Norton Brewery which spent over a million renovating the building a few years ago. It’s a good place for lunch and dinners (although I think it can be a bit hit and miss occasionally) It also has rooms, if you’re looking to stay somewhere with a bit of character. On Boxing Day, you can witness the Heythrop Hunt embarking on their traditional chase from here.
Blue Boar Pub – Used to be the culmination of a Friday night drinking session as it offered the only disco in town, however, two years ago it was bought by Young’s Pub and was sympathetically restored. They have the best gin menu in town, a seasonally changing menu that makes the best of local suppliers. This is the place we take clients when we’re doing a bit of schmoozing. Read our review here.
The Old Mill – I go here at least once a week for lunch. It’s by far the most comfortable place in town, with new booths, it has a solid menu offering sandwiches, hot dinners, fry ups, burgers and salads. My old favourite used to be the halloumi salad, which was big enough to feed a small village, but I have recently discovered the hot chicken salad which is both tasty and a more manageable portion. I don’t always feel the need for a siesta after. It’s also super reasonable. You can also comfortably order and eat within a one hour lunch break.
The Chipping Norton Tea Set – I’ve often wondered if this was a riff of the Chipping Norton Set (Jeremy Clarkson et al – one day I’ll ask Vicky, the owner – yeah we’re on first name terms) I go here when I’ve time to really enjoy it or I’m looking for something fancy to take visitors, but as well as doing a delicious afternoon tea on vintage crockery, you can get other lunch treats. (Plus, all the bread and cake uses Matthews Cotswold Flour in Shipton-under-Wychwood, which used to be a client, so they get extra points) The Tea Set is actually one of three – there’s a branch in Broadway, Quiet Women Antiques Centre in Chippy and the team are also behind the Cotswold Outpost near Burford.
The Chequers Inn – just round the corner from the theatre, I’ve also like the pub’s dining room for ambience and the front part ticks all the ‘cosy country pub vibes’ you might need.
Thai Shire – this little cottage offers the best of Thai and Malayasian cooking, book ahead as it’s not very big. My co-workers are big fans.
Places to stay
I don’t have much call for ever staying over in Chippy, considering I live 20 minute drive away (or if I’m really late for work I can do it in 12 minutes but that’s definitely not a legal drive). But a complete guide, wouldn’t be complete, without a few suggestions:
The Fox – as mentioned has a number of rooms. I’d probably book here over anywhere else I believe it marries cosy pub well with modern, bright rooms. And its super convenient with free parking.
Crown & Cushion – this has been a character of Chipping Norton’s high street since the beginning of time, literally. It’s the place the Literary Festival uses to put up all the authors who come and take part in the three day event.
Premier Inn – Chippy does have a Premier Inn and although lots of locals were apprehensive about a chain hotel arriving, I think in general this has proved to be a good thing, providing employment in the local area.
Places to shop
No complete guide to Chipping Norton would be complete without taking a look at where to shop.
Chipping Norton is nothing without its community of independent shops.
In 2015 and the again in the following year, the town was a finalist in the ‘Great British High Street’ competition. I was lucky enough to work with the Experience Chipping Norton team at the time helping with social media on both GB High Street bids, so here’s a rundown of what we have to offer in Chippy.
On Main Street:
Wild At Heart – Absolutely amazing for emergency gifts when remembered midway through my lunch break. Emily and her husband also have a branch in Broadway selling handpicked jewellery and crafts.
The Mighty Pie Company – Originally a remarkable food stall found at farmers markets, we were super pleased to have Mighty Pie Company open on the high street – hot pies, vegan pies, pork pies, sausage rolls, sweet pies…essentially pastry heaven provided by Nathan.
Gill’s Hardware – It’s like diagon alley. And the only place I know you can buy a single screw, a new plant pot or a new rolling pin.
Oats Health Food Shop – These guys were leading the refillable revolution before it was cool. Regular customer for all my eco-needs.
Nutmeg – Now the only ladies fashion clothes shop, stocking brands such as Seasalt and Joules. Nicky at work spends most of her paycheck there.
Mash – Gifts, homewares and a touch of luxury lifestyle. There’s both the main Mash store, next to Cafe Nero and also the Mash Pantry further down the street where you can get both get a mean coffee whilst shopping for latest styles curated by Justin.
And on the other side of street:
Jaffe & Neale Bookshop – Love. This. Bookshop. And a Chipping Norton icon, run by Polly & Patrick. They often sell signed copies and have a range of coffee and cake that keeps me coming back. Keep an eye out for special events which they advertise on their chalkboard outside.
Tickittyboo & Tickittyshake – These are two separate shops run by Julia. Tickittyshake is Chipping Norton’s only shake shop (it can keep unusual hours, so best check them out on social media first) and Tickittyboo has super cute kids toys and clothes. Read our full review here.
Bippityboo – Stocks lots of local gifts made by independent producers and craftspeople.
Fibreworks – I’ve been meaning to sign up for a knitting class here for the last 4 years and once we go back to ‘normal’ I’m actually going to do it. They’ll kit you out in all the yarn and needles you need. I also wonder if they are connected with Chipping Norton’s phantom knitter?
These are just my favourites, and by no means an exhaustive list, I hope they are enough to encourage you to shop local!
And of course, you could always visit either the Wednesday market in Market Square or Chipping Norton’s Country Market on Saturday mornings.
And finally, why visit?
Chipping Norton makes a great base for visiting other parts of the Cotswolds. Soho Farmhouse is nearby if you’re a member or staying there. Likewise, Daylesford Farm Shop is a stone’s throw away if you’d like to pretend your part of the Chipping Norton Set or maybe catch a glimpse of the Beckhams.
Stow-on-the-Wold, Burford, Witney, Woodstock and Oxford are also all within a 45 minute drive.
For a small town, of just over 6,000 inhabitants, Chippy also has an independent theatre. (Read our review of local arts here!) I made my own acting debut on stage, aged six with the leading role as ‘farmer’s child number four’ in a school production of the Gingerbread Man. Where I managed to muff up the one line I had – it was a short lived acting career. It regularly hosts leading comics on their warm up circuits to and from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, weekly blockbusters and of course, the crown jewel in the area’s festive crown, the Panto.
And in the summer, the Lido, which is heated, provides a little slice of Mediterranean holiday experience in the middle of the Cotswolds. On a hot summer’s day, it’s great to be able to walk there for a dip.
How to get there – complete guide to Chipping Norton
A44 runs straight through the town which connects Evesham to Oxford.
Nearest M40 junction is number nine, with A34.
Parking is free! There’s two long stay car parks and short stay in the market place (2 hours).
So there we have it, I hope I’ve convinced you that as soon as lockdown’s lifted, you’ll be finding your way there to take in the delights of Chipping Norton!