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CHIPPING NORTON - or "Chippy" as we call it in these parts - is still a real town - not yet entirely a tourist place. Its not pretty in the way that Broadway is pretty, or smart like Stow-on-the-Wold. But those of us who live here like it this way. As someone memorably observed, "Chippy" has the last fish and chip shop for 30 miles in the Cheltenham direction. "Chippy" is still the kind of town with "real" shops where the lady in the bank is the wife of the hairdresser who is the brother of your builder. "Chippy" is geographically mixed up. Move twenty miles in any direction and you know exactly where you are - the Midlands, the South West, the Home Counties or the South of England. But "Chippy" itself is not truly in any of one of these regions - marooned on its North Oxfordshire ridge in a kind of windy no-man's land. Certainly the weather comes from all directions.


Pedestrian only Middle Row


Politically, "Chippy" can be schizophrenic. Our last MP was elected as a Conservative and switched sides...and didn't stay to face the music. Our District Councillors have usually been Labour or Independent but a local stalwart like Mike Howes can get elected - despite his Tory Party label. No stereotypes here! Perhaps "Chippy's" quirkiness is characterised by the fact that one acknowledged -albeit ageing - icon of Britain's "yoof" culture lives in an exquisite Georgian house on the edge of town - and failed to scandalise anyone when he imported a huge American fighter plane to decorate his front drive. "Live and let live" also seems to be the principle that allows Brecht and Christmas Pantos to happily co-exist at the "Chippy" theatre.


Blue Boar.


Until not too long ago "Chippy" - apart from being a small market town - had a real industrial base in wool and tweed production but the impressive Victorian Bliss Tweed Mill is now converted into flats - although its chimney remains the main landmark and signature of the town. Furniture manufacture survives and Parker Knoll's factory seems to be thriving. "Chippy" remains a Co-op stronghold. They have deep roots in the town and still own a sizeable chunk of the Market Square. A couple of years ago they made a huge investment by undertaking a really impressive and sympathetic conversion of some of their old Market Square buildings into a modern department store retaining the original facades."Chippy" still has its own mayor and its own town council - a hangover from some mediaeval charter. "Chippy" is probably like the East End of London used to be - hanging on Canute-like in the face of encroaching gentility.  It certainly makes an interesting place to run an art gallery.


Spring Street - or is it Market Street?


"Chippy" has a lot to offer urban refugees. After all, its not very far from Oxford. Charlbury is only an hour from Paddington.  We are slap in the middle of an area of outstanding beauty. "Chippy" is chocabloc with lovely Georgian houses and little mews terraces. The "wool church" has a truly magnificent nave and clerestory. We have a stunning 200-seat theatre, which Tamara Malcolm has fought tenaciously to keep going since it was created from the old Salvation Army hall. The Theatre has an amazingly wide-ranging programme of touring productions throughout the year. It also has a delightful art gallery and crafts shop. There is a bookshop in town which is so expertly run that it always seems to have exactly what you're looking for (and recently guaranteed a continued - and hopefully prosperous - existence by its new owner Patrick Neale).


The Bookshop    The butchers


Harpers is a do-it-yourself shop that comes as a revelation to weekending Londoners. There are two real butchers, two bakers who sell "real" bread, a marvellous delicatessen and a Farmers Market. There are a dozen excellent antique shops.  Restaurants come and go... on its day the Anarkali is one of the best Indians you will find. But times are changing......Bliss Mill, the 30's cinema, the old telephone exchange, most of the town's garages and the local workhouse have all been converted into expensive flats and houses. Our old open air swimming pool is going the same way. A very stylish  multi-million pound Leisure Centre is now in business. The listed Lutyens-style old Post Office has become the headquarters of the Vintage Car Society. "Chippy" is  the home of the Benetton Grand Prix racing team. The Business Park is booming and seems to be full of IT-type companies.


View looking out of the Manor House gates



"Chippy" is a gem of a place. Worth catching while it stays real. But perhaps its too late and the moment has already past. What else to make of the big article in the September 2001 edition of "The Tatler" (no less). Having proclaimed Oxfordshire as the "sexiest county in Britain" us locals were startled to read that the "hottest spot is West Oxfordshire - in particular between Chipping Norton and Blenheim" and worse..."One eminent local described Chippy as the county's G-spot". Much more garbage like that and it really will be time to run up the white flag.





Discover a secret BACK ROAD to "Chippy" from the M40.

Ever wonder what happened to Fabrice and Rachel from Morel's restaurant in Chippy? Find out here.

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