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Chipping Norton is a market town in the Cotswold Hills in the West Oxfordshire district of Oxfordshire, England, about 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Banbury.
The Rollright Stones, in the care of English Heritage, is a stone circle 2.5 miles (4.0 km) north of Chipping Norton, is evidence of prehistoric habitation in the area.
The town’s name means ‘market north town’, with “Chipping” (from Old English cēping) meaning ‘market’. It is not clear what the original Saxon settlement was north of, but John Blair, Professor of Medieval History and Archaeology at the University of Oxford, suggested in 2000 at a lecture in Chipping Norton Town Hall that Charlbury to the south, now a smaller town, was in Anglo-Saxon times a more important minster town and that Chipping Norton’s “nor-” prefix refers to this geographical and pastoral relationship with Charlbury.
Chipping Norton began as a small settlement at the foot of a hill on which stand the motte-and-bailey Chipping Norton Castle. Only the earthworks of the castle remain.
The 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 certainly retains features from the 13th and 14th centuries. The nave was largely rebuilt in about 1485 with a clerestorey in the Perpendicular style. This rebuilding is believed to have been funded by John Ashfield, a wool merchant, making St. Mary’s an example of a “wool church”. The bell tower was rebuilt in 1825 and has a peal of eight bells.
In the Middle Ages wool production made the Cotswolds one of the wealthiest parts of England. Many of the mediaeval buildings built in the town as a result of that trade still survive. It became the new centre of the town and remains so today. There is still a weekly market every Wednesday and the “Mop Fair” in September. In 1205 a new market place was laid out higher up the hill.
Later, 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 rebuilt in the 18th century with fashionable Georgian frontages.
An inscription on the almshouses records that they were built in 1640 as “The work and gift of Henry Cornish, gent”.
In 1796 James and William Hitchman founded Hitchman’s Brewery in West Street. In 1849 the business built a larger brewery in Albion Street that included a malthouse and its own water wells. Three generations of Hitchmans ran the brewery, but in 1890 Alfred Hitchman sold the business as a limited company. The new company grew by buying other breweries in 1891 and 1917. In 1924 it merged with Hunt Edmunds of Banbury, and in 1931 Hunt Edmunds Hitchmans closed the brewery in Chipping Norton.
Other industries in the town included a wool mill (see below), a glove-making factory, a tannery and an iron foundry.
Chipping Norton had a workhouse by the 1770s. In 1836 the architect George Wilkinson built a new, larger workhouse. It had four wings radiating from an octagonal central building, similar to Witney workhouse, which also was built by Wilkinson. The architect G. E. Street added a chapel to Chipping Norton workhouse in 1856–57. It ceased to be a workhouse in 1929 and became a hospital in the Second World War. The National Health Service took it over in 1948, making it Cotshill Hospital which later served as a psychiatric hospital. The hospital was closed in 1983. and has since been redeveloped as private residences.
Chipping Norton was one of the boroughs reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. The borough built its neoclassical town hall in 1842.
Holy Trinity Roman Catholic church is also neoclassical. It was built in 1836 by the architect John Adey Repton, a grandson of the English garden designer Humphry Repton.
The Chipping Norton Railway opened in 1855, linking the town with Kingham on the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway. In 1887 a second railway opened, linking Chipping Norton to the Oxford and Rugby Railway at King’s Sutton, and the CNR became part of the resulting Banbury and Cheltenham Direct Railway. Extending the railway from Chipping Norton involved digging a tunnel 685 yards (626 m) long under Elmsfield Farm to the west of the town.
In May 1873, rioting took place following the conviction and sentencing of the Ascott Martyrs, sixteen local women accused of trying to interfere with strikebreakers at a farm.
In 1951, British Railways withdrew passenger services between Chipping Norton and Banbury. In 1962 BR closed Chipping Norton railway station and withdrew passenger services between Chipping Norton and Kingham. In 1964 BR closed the B&CDR to freight traffic, and thereafter dismantled the line. The disused railway tunnel is now bricked up at both ends to prevent access, both for people’s safety and to protect any bats that may roost inside.
Bliss Mill, on the western side of the town, was built as a tweed mill in 1872. In 1913 to 1914 the millworkers struck for eight months. The mill closed in 1980 and has since been converted into flats. It remains a local landmark, clearly visible from Worcester Road.
The town lost its status as a municipal borough in 1974, when the Local Government Act 1972 made it a successor parish within the district of West Oxfordshire.