Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

At the Co-op

The things you see going shopping… I’ve noticed before some of the creative ways that various Co-ops have had with their store fronts, especially wonderful tiled ones from the 1930s. But now and then I come across one of an even earlier vintage, often showing what strikes me often about early shopfronts – that they were built to last in a way alien to most shopfitters and store owners.
Here’s an example of what I mean: the Co-op in the middle of Chipping Norton. Down at ground level, you’d hardly notice it. You just see a restrained version of the current local Co-op signage – plus the signs of other shops that occupy the rest of the building. But look up: an almost pristine stone-faced facade of 1890. No expense was spared, by the look of things. The whole front is done out in a kind of Renaissance revival, and when I say ‘Renaissance revival’ I don’t just mean symmetry, a couple of Ionic pilasters and some ball finials. This frontage has all that, but more: a lively frieze running along the top (beneath the balustraded parapet), a triangular pediment full of scrollwork and carved cherubs, another cherub balancing at the top of the pediment. Whoever did the sculpture put a lot of effort in – there are animal heads placed here and there in the frieze, and the cherubs, worn now, look well made. True, the lettering in the roundel saying ‘CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY LIMITED’ is lacklustre, but you can hardly see it from pavement level anyway.

A purist might well say that the decoration on this frontage is rather a hotchpotch – cherubs among reeds sitting on scrollwork…date stone and cherubs and triangles and swags all crowded together. But that hotchpotch is quite close to the spirit of the English Renaissance decoration of the 1500s and 1600s that this building is referencing. It always was a bit of a mash-up, but a charming and lively one for all that. They liked this sort of thing in the Elizabethan period, they liked it in the 1890s, and I like it too.


Anonymous said...

The 1890s section of the building you mention houses the town museum - worth a visit next time you're about, although I think it will close for the winter soon.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Knirirr: Thank you. I plan to be back – either before it closes in October or next year.