25 Apr THE DULL TRUTH ABOUT CHIPPING NORTON
We all have our own preconceptions of what Chipping Norton is like, I think, with the vividness of these imaginings dependent on our proximity to its eponymous “set.”
I, for one, expected that this upmarket market town in the Cotswolds would be a riotous orgy of right-wing celebrity. Murdochs and Camerons cosying up in the tea shop. Alex James drag-racing Jeremy Clarkson down cobbled lanes. Secrets shared and media empires wooed over flat whites, artisan cheese and organic veg. Our lizard rulers unsheathing themselves from their human skins the moment the last visitor leaves.
For this is the town which, in 2012 or so, became the subject of sudden public fascination (and scorn). As the Leveson inquiry rumbled into action, David Cameron’s links to high-profile media figures were scrutinised. Revelations, such as the fact that Cameron signed off emails to certain Chippy chums with a cheery “LOL”, thinking it meant “lots of love”, reverberated far beyond the Cotswolds.
“I expected a riotous orgy of right-wing celebrity, Alex James drag-racing Clarkson. Our lizard rulers unsheathing themselves from their human skins the moment the last visitor leaves”
The Camerons’ home (and Dave’s famous shepherd hut) is actually down the road in Dean; James, Clarkson and other members of the semi-mythical tribe are dotted through the local countryside. It seems that no members of the Chipping Norton set actually live in Chipping Norton proper – just close enough to have sullied its reputation.
In fact, the CNS appear to have been keeping a low profile in recent times, but now they have some new pals. Leaping aboard the downwards-slope-of-2000s-celebrity bandwagon, the Beckhams have been doing up a pad nearby. They recently riled their neighbours by building an enormous treehouse for their children, the council’s verdict being that the Beckhams can keep it, so long as they turn the lights off by 4pm, as per the “interests of the rural character and appearance of the area.”
What a disappointment, then, to learn on visiting Chipping Norton that it is fairly normal and down-to-earth. There are pretty almshouses and fancy boutiques. Creaking pubs and gleaming cars. Old money and new money. A lido and a big, old church.
A blue plaque marks the site of the recording studios patronised by Kajagoogoo and Radiohead, though sadly not at the same time. But there’s no whiff of scandal, no drag racing. Just welcoming locals and a broad, good-looking market street.
Even the remnants of industry look like an Evelyn Waugh daydream. Chippy is surrounded by countryside of the manicured variety. In the divot between two hills nestles a beautiful former tweed mill, styled after a country house, with a single, slender chimney stack. Emerging from the peak of a ribbed metal dome, it’s meant to look like a Tuscan column. To my eye, however, it resembled a massive sink plunger.
And speaking of things that just won’t go down, we did manage to spot one celebrity, or at least an impressive lookalike, on his way to the members-only Soho Farmhouse. Is Toby Young, the journalistic provocateur-turned-free-school-impresario whose offensive tweets cost him a job at the Department for Education, the man to resuscitate the Chipping Norton set? Until then, the town will continue to slowly shed its notoriety. No more scandal, no more scrutiny.
Or that’s the lizards’ plan, anyway.
Eight good reasons to visit Chipping Norton
The excellent Jaffé and Neale is both a bookshop and café. Upstairs is a lovely reading room that looks over Market Street.
Drama, cinema and comedy at the Chipping Norton Theatre. Now showing Manwatching, a hit play in which a man reads aloud a woman’s vivid and funny account of her sex life. chippingnortontheatre.com
If you’re walking in the countryside surrounding Chippy, make time to see the Rollright Stones, a collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments that include a scraggly stone circle.
The petting farm
You can pet alpacas, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits and much more at Fairytale Farm, which is just a short drive from the town centre. fairytalefarm.co.uk
The Chequers Inn is under new management, but remains as cosy as ever. chequers-pub.com
Enjoy modern British dishes with Mediterranean flourishes at Wild Thyme, on New Street.
The local glitterati tend to be members of Soho Farmhouse, the hotel and members’ club in the countryside outside Chippy. Non-members can stay the night here, too. sohofarmhouse.com
Original article by Tom Ough | 24 February 2018 • 8:00AM | The Telegraph. Photo credits: John Lawrence