Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

Cornish in Oxon

I thought I knew the Oxfordshire market town of Chipping Norton well but, as so often with places we visit frequently, there’s always another side street or two to explore, and I was delighted to find these 17th-century almshouses in Church Street.* You can see that we’re in the Cotswolds here: those stone walls and the broad gables built as upward extensions of the front wall are very Cotswold, as are the dripstones above the upper windows.

There’s a datestone that tells us that the almshouses were ‘The work of Henry Cornish. Gent. 1640’. Cornish died in 1649 and left these eight houses as dwellings for eight poor widows, together with an endowment providing 20 shillings a year for the building’s maintenance and 2 shillings weekly for bread to be given to the widows. I don’t know much about Henry Cornish, but one source suggests that he was an opponent of the royal taxation that pushed England towards the Civil War and was imprisoned by the royalists for his views and bailed out by his nephew, William Diston, who’s remembered in the name of Diston Street, around the corner from the almshouses.

Of course what attracted me to this building was, as so often, the fact that it’s attractive. The stone walls set back from the street behind a lawn have an air of tranquility. I hope it’s as pleasant a place to live in as it looks from the outside, and that many have benefitted from Cornish’s bequest and the way he acted on the instruction inscribed above the gateway: ‘Remember the poor’.

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* Church Street: yes, I have visited Chipping Norton’s late-medieval church before, but managed to approach it from another angle, without going along Church Street.


knirirr said...

Always nice to see somewhere local on your blog - in this case, only a street away.
If you've not yet seen it then this book might be of interest:


Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you. I'd not seen that.

Hels said...

I am sure the almshouses were small and the living simple, but the honoured widows of Chipping Norton lived with dignity.

Anonymous said...

Did you count the chimneys? ;)

Joe Treasure said...

Hels is probably right. Modest accommodation, but trouble was taken in the design and building. Though on a smaller scale, the row is fleetingly reminiscent of an Oxford quad of the same period.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Old almshouses are usually modest in size and facilities. I have known in my time people who have lived in almshouses and people who have been trustees of charities look after such buildings, and adapting buildings of this kind to make them suitable for use today can be a challenge, especially as ones of this age are almost invariably listed.