Discover Charlbury … the best kept secret of the north Cotswolds

Having recently moved from a very quiet Ascott under Wychwood, we have been surprised how much is actually going on in Charlbury – we just didn’t know!

Only 5 miles away from Ascott, longer via the river Evenlode, Charlbury is only 75 minutes from Paddington which explains the growth on the other side of the Wychwood Forest. There are at least 40 active clubs! The population of Charlbury is around 3,000, so it is able to sustain a wide range of activities. Outsiders are very welcome.  Charlbury is the best kept secret of the North Cotswolds.

There are strong historic links with the Wychwoods as Charlbury was a major centre for glove making in the 19th century, employing 3,000, most of whom were female outworkers. Research into the Ascott Martyrs has identified many glovemakers.

In Victorian times, the most exciting event for local people was the Forest Fair in Cornbury.  Started in 1795 by the Methodists as a quiet family picnic and as an alternative to the debauchery of the Witney Feast, it grew until it was itself accused of excesses and debauchery and was banned.  Oh, and there were vaccination riots in 1897 when vaccination against smallpox was made compulsory and anti-vaxxers had their goods seized! (See picture courtesy of Charlbury Museum). Don’t mention this to the government.

Charlbury is very arty which supports an active Art Society with a total membership of over 200. About two thirds of the members live in Charlbury, half the members have exhibited their work in one form or another, and members include professional artists and craftspeople. The Society organises the biannual Charlbury Festival (10th to 19th June 2022), and promotes community art projects – most recently the set of mosaic Swifts mounted in the Community Centre. The Charlbury Garden Society also has 200 plus members and will be linking with the Festival with an Open Gardens on Sunday 10th June.

The social mix is interesting with many well-known people linked to Oxford University who contribute a lot to the community. Like any small town there is a lot of goodwill and caring for the community lead by a joint committee of the five churches with a charity shop offering support to the less privileged plus surplus food from the residents and local farms.

Charlbury was a major centre for the Quakers in the 19th century and certainly their positive egalitarian philosophy prevails.  Unlike a small village (Charlbury proudly calls itself a Town!) no one person dominates. There is a strong welcoming ethic; perhaps this is why it is regularly voted into media lists of the best/most fashionable places in Britain to live.

There is a well organised Bowls Club with over 50% of members living outside Charlbury.  It is very friendly and encouraging to new members with even special Dementia sessions as well as a youth programme and popular Bingo nights.

One of the ‘jewels in the crown’ is the Deli and Café in the centre where there is a small garden patio and the best coffee and cakes for miles!  The Bull is a busy restaurant pub but even more busy is close by – “Rosie” the Rose and Crown, drinks-only, and perennial regional Pub of the Year winner.

The museum which is also in the centre opposite the Deli Café is run by a small committee in the Charlbury Society whose 140 members now meet online allowing other local societies to link in.

Cyclists and the public are welcome behind the museum in the Corner House Garden.

The amount and variety of sport played in Charlbury has increased dramatically since the recent opening of the Football and Sports Clubhouse and the Charlbury Community Centre in September 2017. Both are managed as a not-for-profit charitable organisation for the benefit of the people of Charlbury and surrounding villages.

The Centre’s large sports hall, (plus a studio with sprung floor and mirrored wall), means that there is volleyball, basketball, netball, football, cricket, badminton and table tennis as well as yoga and Pilates. There are lots of circuit training sessions and a gym. Line Dancing and Strength and Balance classes are aimed at the more mature clients, but anyone can join in. Walking Football is very popular with those who like to take the beautiful game a bit more slowly! One new sport many people have never heard of is Pickleball. It has proved really popular and is a sort of tennis and is played by people of all ages.  ‘Vintage’ resident Anna Cherry is national champion (see picture). There are activities for infants and children and a Youth Club on Friday evenings for the over 11s.

The Community Centre also houses the town’s library, a café as well as an adjacent children’s play park and recreation ground.

If you do not want to go to the sports centre to get fit there is an active Morris Dancing and a recently set up WhatsApp walking group where one can join occasional, informal and impromptu walks………. sign up via 07974 565 618. There is music at the Cricket club on Friday evenings in the summer and recently a Tai Chi Club. There is something for everyone.

There are so many different clubs and societies that it is difficult to keep up but thank goodness for , a phenomenal real time website embracing everything (and I mean everything!) that is up for discussion and a live events board. Keep looking at it and discover Charlbury…………………. you will be very welcome.

Paul Jackson

February – March 2022