A version of this article appeared in Chipping Norton News, May 2015
On 21 March, Oxford University’s Bodleian Library opened its new £80m Weston Library on Broad Street. The building, a greatly-altered version of what was previously known as the New Bodleian Library, now includes galleries open to the public – including a four centuries old tapestry map featuring Chipping Norton.
The 1590 Sheldon Tapestry Map of Worcestershire is exhibited on a wall of the main Blackwell Hall. At the bottom-right, it includes a small section of Oxfordshire – with ‘Cheping Norto’ clearly visible, with what could be St Mary’s Church rising above the town. Nearby settlements include Over Norton, ‘Chappel on the Heath’ (now Chapel House, the buildings on the A44 just south-east of the Shell garage), Cornwell, ‘Rowlewright Par’ and ‘Rowlewrig Mag’ (Little and Great Rollright). The Rollright Stones themselves are visible, although not labelled.
The Weston’s first exhibition, Marks of Genius, has other items with local connections including JRR Tolkein’s own 1937 watercolour design for the original dust-jacket for The Hobbit. Tolkein is thought to have drawn on Oxfordshire for inspiration; the Rollright Stones may have been the inspiration for the Barrow-downs of The Lords of the Rings.
Marks of Genius also features the Gough Map, dating from the 13th or 14th century. This is one of the earliest detailed maps of Great Britain, and shows around 600 locations, including 12 in present-day Oxfordshire. One of those is Chippy: a little to the left and below the city of Oxon, there is a small building labelled ‘Norton’.
The Weston’s public galleries are free to visit and are open 10-5pm Mondays to Saturdays and 11am-5pm Sundays. The Marks of Genius exhibition runs until 20 September, while the Sheldon Tapestry Map is due to stay on display for at least a year.
Marks of Genius: http://genius.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/
Further reading: The Gough map: the earliest road map of Great Britain?