An introduction to Charlbury and its history


A new history of the town has been written specially for us by Dr Geoffrey Ellis, and can be read by clicking here.

You can download various maps, guides and further information by clicking on the "Attachments" at the foot of this page.

For a street and satellite map of the town, click on our "Opening hours and map" link on the left.

There is a comprehensive map of rights of way and recommended walks provided online by Oxfordshire County Council, using both Ordnance Survey mapping and satellite photography.


Introducing Charlbury

Visitors will get an overall picture of what is going on in the town by visiting the Charlbury website. Most events are listed under 'Events', as well as being advertised by a poster on the noticeboard outside the Corner House (corner of Market Street and Browns Lane) in the town centre. The Corner House is used for meetings and also houses the public library and the kitchen for the local meals-on-wheels service. Behind it lies the Memorial Hall, the town's equivalent of a village hall, which can seat 150 and is used for regular activities such as badminton and yoga, as well as for the local amateur dramatic society (CADS) productions and the monthly films shown by ChOC (Charlbury's Own Cinema). There is a comprehensive list of contacts for the town's societies and organisations here.

On the Charlbury website under 'Community' you will find information on many of the town's organisations, churches and clubs, though sadly not everyone is sufficiently web-conscious to be on there. A great deal of information is also to be found in the Charlbury Chronicle, the town's free quarterly magazine: this is archived here where you will find the current issue as well as issues going back to 2003. Under 'Directory' you will find an extensive, but by no means exhaustive, list of well over a hundred businesses based in Charlbury. The 'Town' page has lots of additional information about the town, and to see it all in pictures look at the 'Gallery', though the impression that we're all lurching from one beer or music festival to the next is of course entirely false! (There are also pictures of the notorious floods of 2007, memories of which still make some people nervous when it rains heavily.)

The town's main attraction is probably that it has much of the charm of a small Cotswold town without the coach park. This also means that it exists mainly for its residents, and has never been overrun with tea shoppes and junk/antique shops. Tourists and visitors are very welcome, but the town doesn't rely on them. By way of introduction, the Charlbury Society publishes a useful Town Trail which walks you round the main buildings and open spaces while outlining the town's history: it is available post paid from ourselves in return for a cheque for £2.

There are excellent camping and caravanning sites nearby, but relatively little B&B accommodation in the town itself, which is a pity. That said, The Bull Inn has received some excellent recent reviews, and The Bell Hotel has recently undergone a change of ownership and a promising makeover: there is always some local controversy over which provides the better food. There is little self-catering accommodation in the town: but note the Stable and Banbury Hill Farm.

Many people commute to work in Oxford and London, but hundreds of people also work here, many of them from home. There are many more people in Charlbury during the day than may appear at first sight. Thus it can sustain, among other shops, a deli/sandwich bar, a gift shop and picture framer, a newsagent/café, three hairdressers, a post office, a chemist and our bookshop, as well as a remarkably busy small Co-op supermarket which supplies all basic needs and more. There is also an excellent Fiveways Londis store which is very imaginatively stocked indeed, and less used than it should be because it is away from the town centre. There is an Indian take-away next to it. On Friday evenings there is a fish and chip van at the Spendlove car park (next to the Co-op) from 5pm.

The town also has an excellent Museum (photo right): opening hours are limited, and there are no regular opening hours during the winter, but there are phone numbers in the window for you to call if you'd like to look round at any time of year and ask questions: the curator and his assistants are more than happy to help.

In 1977 four elderly Charlbury residents (Reg Smith, Sidney Price, Walter Busby and Fred Thornett) were interviewed on tape, talking about their lives in the town and including vivid memories of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Charlbury. During the interviews they talked about old photographs from the museum's collection, describing the people and buildings in them, or talking about the events shown in the pictures.

The interviews, together with the photographs, have been skillfully edited onto a DVD, Memories of Charlbury, produced by the Museum. It lasts about 50 minutes and is in three sections: the lives of the interviewees, places and events. It makes compelling viewing for newcomers and established families alike, and costs only £7.50. If you have friends or family who have moved away from the town, the DVD is a perfect gift to bring back old times (and beyond). Equally, if you want to learn a great deal more about the town's history over the last hundred years and more, buy one for yourself. We keep copies at the bookshop.

Charlbury is lucky to have four contrasting pubs. The Bell and has lots of accommodation and welcomes dogs both inside and in the long garden at the back. The Bull (dog-free) has tremendous ambience both in the bar and the very attractive dining room and offers B&B and a weekly quiz evening. The Rose and Crown is outstanding for its beers (it eschews food) and regularly wins awards from CAMRA (it also has live music on many Saturday evenings). The popular Olde Three Horseshoes Inn has a growing local clientele.

Going further afield

There are excellent footpaths within minutes of the town centre, and the attachments at the foot of this page will give you some ideas for walks. The photograph below was taken on the circular walk through the forest. The town is also on the Oxfordshire Way, and there is an excellent and straightforward walk via Stonesfield and Blenheim Park (the palace is expensive, but worthwhile, to visit, but there are good public rights of way through the beautiful park: a map is essential!) to Woodstock, whence the hourly Stagecoach bus from Oxford can run you home to Charlbury (not Sundays). Other walks take in Chadlington (an attractive village with café, pub, a renowned deli and an excellent butcher) where an Anglo-Saxon cemetery was discovered in 1929, and the pub-free hamlet of Spelsbury (burial place of the notorious second Earl of Rochester). At Taston the Thor Stone is surrounded by unsolved mysteries. Another nearby megalith is the Hawk Stone near Dean.

No one should miss the easy 35-minute walk west along the Oxfordshire Way past Walcot (a turning on the right a couple of hundred yards beyond the station) to Shorthampton, where the tiny church has box pews and the most amazing medieval wall paintings. Two of the paintings are particularly remarkable: one of St Zita, patron saint of servants, and one of the Miracle of the Clay Birds (left). Very occasionally recitals are held in the church, and they sell out very quickly. Look out for the annual Dean and Chadlington Festival each June/July for some very special musical events: several outstanding professional musicians live in Chadlington and Dean, and they have all the right contacts.

There are several excellent walks towards Ditchley and the rights of way in Ditchley Park are very rewarding indeed with one or two glimpses of the lake and the house beyond. The house is owned by the Ditchley Foundation, an organisation of considerable interest in its own right, but whose activities are strictly behind closed doors and off the record. The foundation's own website is here with details of past conferences, participants and summaries of the discussions. It is possible to tour the house if your party is large enough, and it occasionally hosts public concerts.

The Oxfordshire Way is a 68-mile recreational walk that runs south-east from Bourton-on-the Water through to Henley-on-Thames. The route passes through the most rural and scenic landscapes of Oxfordshire, including two areas of outstanding natural beauty, taking in not only the Cotswolds but also the Chiltern Hills, with their flint and brick architecture and famous beech woods. Detailed maps can be downloaded from the County Council website here.

The Oxfordshire Way has two alternative routes west out of Charlbury. The northern route (which sets off across fields from the bottom of Pound Hill and is scenically more varied) passes near Spelsbury and Chadlington. The southern route runs via Walcot to Shorthampton, Chilson and Ascott-under-Wychwood, where the two branches join. At Ascott there is a good village shop, though the pub closed recently. You can walk one way and return the other.

The Oxfordshire Cotswolds website has a number of downloadable walks here. There are also useful downloads at the foot of this page: scroll down.

There are some local cycling devotees, but it has to be said that the roads tend to be rather heavily trafficked. The Charlbury to Witney road is certainly best avoided wherever possible. Fatal accidents are frequent, and the fact that no cyclists have been killed in recent years is probably only due to the fact that few use it. You will find some suggestions here for getting around. The minor roads are generally quieter the further north and west you go from Charlbury. Too many commuters drive dangerously fast along the narrow roads during the morning and evening rush hours. There is an excellent new website here which suggests less congested and generally pleasant road-based routes which broadly follow the line of the railway, at least getting you from station on minor roads: there are excellent downloadable maps. A good ride, for example, with very interesting and agreeable stopping places en route, takes you from Charlbury to Moreton in Marsh, whence you can catch the train back.

Although the town overlooks the River Evenlode, the river is not very accessible. The Mill Field belongs to the town (reached by an inconspicuous track, Mill Lane, to the right off Dyers Hill before the river bridge) and lies between the river and the mill stream. Children and dogs sometimes paddle here, and the field is very popular for dog walking. It's the venue for the Riverside Festival each summer. At the far end of Mill Field the path crosses a bridge and joins the (northern route of the) Oxfordshire Way heading for Chadlington and Spelsbury, though it's often muddy and overgrown at this point (it improves after a couple of hundred yards).

Public transport is excellent, except that none of the bus routes runs on Sundays. There are trains every 1-2 hours to Oxford and London (though disappointingly the last train from London leaves Paddington long before 10pm), and in the other direction to the Malverns, Hereford and Worcester. There are hourly buses to Oxford via Woodstock/Blenheim Palace (the journey is quite bumpy in parts and takes about an hour), and to Witney and Chipping Norton (both about 20 minutes). There are bus and train timetables in Church Street (look on the wall by the Rose and Crown), and bus timetables on most bus stops. The Bell in Church Street is the town's principal bus stop, and all buses stop on the same side of the road whichever direction they will ultimately take out of town (not just to confuse you, but actually to keep the buses out of the narrowest streets). With careful planning users of concessionary bus passes can spend the day in Cheltenham (where parking is hell anyway), or take in a matinée on a visit to Stratford. You can work it all out here.

Churches. The town has a strong dissenting tradition, and still boasts Methodist and Baptist chapels as well as a Quaker meeting house and a Roman Catholic church, in addition to the parish church of St Mary's. Until recently the town returned a Labour county councillor, but not since boundaries were re-drawn: today it returns two Lib Dems to the district council, and a Tory to the county. Political radicalism is also associated with the mill towns of Witney (where the mill owners were Methodist) and Chipping Norton.

Charlbury Station
was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The station is now a listed building. The Cotswold Line, opened by the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway Company in 1853 has given Charlbury its excellent communications link with Oxford and London. It narrowly escaped the Beeching axe though the track was made single: now the track is being doubled again, at enormous expense, to improve the service and increase the number of trains.

Cornbury Park originated as a royal hunting lodge in Wychwood Forest. By 1383 a stone wall was being built around the park and in 1642 Charles I gave Cornbury to the Earl of Clarendon in 1660. The Cornbury Park estate is now owned by Lord Rotherwick and contains some 647 acres that have been designated as a National Nature Reserve. There are a further 654 acres surrounding the reserve that have been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). For historical information about the house and estate, click here.

The footpath between Finstock and Charlbury passes the Cornbury deer park (left) and one of several lakes (right) on the estate. It's a lovely path, and The Plough Inn in Finstock is an excellent place to break your walk. It has also received accolades for its beer, its wine and its food in the Good Pub Guide: few pubs achieve this.

Finstock Church was built in 1841. The original church consisted of the present nave only. Parish registers began in 1860 when Finstock with Fawler became a separate ecclesiastical parish. The present choir and sanctuary were added in 1906. The churchyard contains the 1900 grave of Lady Jane Churchill (who had been Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting for 46 years and was one of her closest friends), as well as the mausoleum of the du Cros family.

The pulpit was given in memory of Frances, Dowager Lady Churchill who died in 1866. The screen is by Franklin's of Deddington, who also produced work for Oxford colleges, other local churches and private houses. The east window depicting the Crucifixion, with St. Mary and St. John was designed by Kempe, the well-known nineteenth-century stained glass artist. The reredos includes a statue of St. Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, to which the Oxford diocese belonged until the 19th century. A window in the S.W. corner commemorates the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. There is a stained glass window and mural tablet in memory of Sir Arthur du Cros, inventor of the pneumatic tyre. (There was a Finstock tyre produced by Dunlop at one time).

The du Cros family lived in Finstock Manor and their family mausoleum is in the churchyard. The poet T. S. Eliot was received into the Church of England in the church on 29 June 1927, a few weeks before publication of his poem Journey of the Magi. A commemorative plaque was installed on 23 June 1974, and above it a collage picture by Frances Kaye. On 3 June 1984 a wall plaque and an epistle lectern were dedicated in memory of the writer Barbara Pym, who lived in Finstock from 1972 to 1980 and is buried in the churchyard. The epidemiologist Alice Stewart, who retired to Fawler, is also buried there.


For further information on the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, on local attractions, services and accommodation please contact:
• Woodstock Visitor Information Centre, The Oxfordshire Museum, Park Street, Woodstock, OX20 4SN. Tel: 01993 813276
• Witney Visitor Information Centre, 26a Market Square, Witney, OX28 6BB. Tel: 01993 775802
www.oxfordshirecotswolds.org




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Jon Carpenter,
14 Nov 2009, 11:09
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Jon Carpenter,
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Jon Carpenter,
19 Nov 2009, 08:20
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Jon Carpenter,
14 Nov 2009, 11:13
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Jon Carpenter,
14 Nov 2009, 11:09
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Jon Carpenter,
14 Nov 2009, 11:13
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Jon Carpenter,
12 Dec 2009, 10:02
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Jon Carpenter,
13 Dec 2009, 02:21