County of England
Ceremonial county in England
Oxfordshire[a] is a landlocked county in the far west of the government statistical region of South East England. The ceremonial county borders Warwickshire to the north-west, Northamptonshire to the north-east, Buckinghamshire to the east, Berkshire to the south, Wiltshire to the south-west and Gloucestershire to the west.
The county has major education and tourist industries, and is noted for concentrations of performance motorsport, car manufacturing and technology companies. The University of Oxford is widely considered one of the leading universities in the world, and is linked to a concentration of local technology and science activities at locations such as the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, while Oxford University Press is the largest among a concentration of print and publishing firms.
As well as the city of Oxford, other centres of population are Banbury, Bicester, Kidlington and Chipping Norton to the north of Oxford; Carterton and Witney to the west; Thame and Chinnor to the east; and Abingdon-on-Thames, Wantage, Didcot, Wallingford and Henley-on-Thames to the south. All its zones south of the Thames: the Vale of White Horse and parts of South Oxfordshire were within the historic county of Berkshire, including the highest point, the 261-metre (856 ft) White Horse Hill.
Oxfordshire’s county flower is the snake’s-head fritillary.
Oxfordshire was recorded as a county in the early years of the 10th century and lies between the River Thames to the south, the Cotswolds to the west, the Chilterns to the east and the Midlands to the north, with spurs running south to Henley-on-Thames and north to Banbury.
Although it had some significance as an area of valuable agricultural land in the centre of the country, it was largely ignored by the Romans, and did not grow in importance until the formation of a settlement at Oxford in the 8th century. Alfred the Great was born across the Thames in Wantage, Vale of White Horse. The University of Oxford was founded in 1096, though its collegiate structure did not develop until later on. The university in the county town of Oxford (whose name came from Anglo-Saxon Oxenaford = “ford for oxen”) grew in importance during the Middle Ages and early modern period. The area was part of the Cotswolds wool trade from the 13th century, generating much wealth, particularly in the western portions of the county in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. Morris Motors was founded in Oxford in 1912, bringing heavy industry to an otherwise agricultural county. The importance of agriculture as an employer declined rapidly in the 20th century; currently[when?] under one percent of the county’s population are involved due to high mechanisation. Nonetheless, Oxfordshire remains a very agricultural county by land use, with a lower population than neighbouring Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, which are both smaller.
During most of its history the county was divided into fourteen hundreds, namely Bampton, Banbury, Binfield, Bloxham, Bullingdon, Chadlington, Dorchester, Ewelme, Langtree, Lewknor, Pyrton, Ploughley, Thame and Wootton.
The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, the main army unit in the area, was based at Cowley Barracks on Bullingdon Green, Cowley.
The Vale of White Horse district and parts of the South Oxfordshire administrative district south of the River Thames were historically part of Berkshire, but in 1974 Abingdon, Didcot, Faringdon, Wallingford and Wantage were added to the administrative county of Oxfordshire under the Local Government Act 1972. Conversely, the Caversham area of Reading, now administratively in Berkshire, was historically part of Oxfordshire, as was the parish of Stokenchurch, now administratively in Buckinghamshire. The areas of Oxford city south of the Thames such as Grandpont were transferred much earlier, in 1889.
Oxfordshire includes parts of three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In the north-west lie the Cotswolds, to the south and south-east are the open chalk hills of the North Wessex Downs and the wooded hills of the Chilterns. The north of the county contains the ironstone of the Cherwell uplands. Long-distance walks within the county include the Ridgeway National Trail, Macmillan Way, Oxfordshire Way and the D’Arcy Dalton Way.
Rivers and canals
From the mid-point western edge to the southeast corner of Oxfordshire, via the city in the middle, runs the Thames with its flat floodplains; this river forms the historic limit with Berkshire, remaining so on some lowest reaches. The Thames Path National Trail follows the river from upper estuary to a source.
Many smaller rivers in the county feed into the Thames, such as the Thame, Windrush, Evenlode and Cherwell. Some of these have trails running along their valleys. The Oxford Canal links to the Midlands and follows the Cherwell from Banbury via Kidlington into the city of Oxford, where these join the navigable Thames. About 15% of the historically named Wilts & Berks Canal, in sporadic sections, has been restored to navigability, including the county-relevant[clarification needed] 140 metres near Abingdon-on-Thames where it could, if restored, meet the Thames.
Oxfordshire contains a green belt area that fully envelops the city of Oxford, and extends for some miles to protect surrounding towns and villages from inappropriate development and urban growth. Its border in the east extends to the Buckinghamshire county boundary, while part of its southern border is shared with the North Wessex Downs AONB. It was first drawn up in the 1950s, and all the county’s districts contain some portion of the belt.
This is a chart of trend of regional gross value added of Oxfordshire at current basic prices published by the Office for National Statistics with figures in millions of British pounds sterling.
|Year||Regional gross value added||Agriculture||Industry||Services|
The Oxfordshire County Council, since 2013 under no overall control, is responsible for the most strategic local government functions, including schools, county roads, and social services. The county is divided into five local government districts: Oxford, Cherwell, Vale of White Horse (after the Uffington White Horse), West Oxfordshire and South Oxfordshire, which deal with such matters as town and country planning, waste collection, and housing.
In the 2016 European Union referendum, Oxfordshire was the only English county as a whole to vote to remain in the European Union by a significant margin, at 57.06% (70.27% in the City of Oxford), despite Cherwell (barely) voting to leave at 50.31%.
Oxfordshire has a completely comprehensive education system with 23 independent schools and 35 state secondary schools. Only eight schools do not have a sixth form; these are mostly in South Oxfordshire and Cherwell districts. Oxfordshire also has a large number of leading independent schools, including public schools such as Radley College.
The county has two universities: the ancient University of Oxford and the modern Oxford Brookes University, which are both located in Oxford. In addition, Wroxton College, located in Banbury, is affiliated with Fairleigh Dickinson University of New Jersey.
The “dreaming spires” of the University of Oxford are among the reasons why Oxford is the sixth most visited city in the United Kingdom for international visitors. Among many notable University buildings are the Sheldonian Theatre, built 1664–68 to the design of Sir Christopher Wren, and the Radcliffe Camera, built 1737–49 to the design of James Gibbs.
Blenheim Palace, close to Woodstock, was built by the great architect John Vanbrugh for John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, after he had won the battle of Blenheim. The gardens, which can be visited, were designed by the landscape gardener “Capability” Brown, who planted the trees in the battle formation of the victorious army. In the palace, which can also be visited by the public, Sir Winston Churchill was born in 1874.
Chastleton House, on the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire borders, is a great country mansion built on property bought from Robert Catesby, who was one of the men involved in the Gunpowder Plot with Guy Fawkes. Stonor Park, another country mansion, has belonged to the recusant Stonor family for centuries.
Mapledurham House is an Elizabethan stately home in the far south-east of the county, close to Reading.
The Abbey in Sutton Courtenay is a medieval courtyard house. It has been recognised by the Historic Building Council for England (now Historic England) as a building of outstanding historic and architectural interest. It is considered to be a ‘textbook’ example of the English medieval manor house, and is a Grade I-listed building.
Settlements in Oxfordshire
Settlements by population
|1||Oxford||150,200||2011||Oxford non-metropolitan district|
|6||Didcot||25,140||2011||Civil parish||200 dwellings in the south-east of the town lie in neighbouring East Hagbourne parish.|
|8||Kidlington||13,723||2011||Civil parish||Does not include Gosford.|
|11||Thame||11,561||2011||Civil parish||Includes hamlet of Moreton|
|14||Faringdon||7,121||2011||Great Faringdon civil parish|
|15||Chipping Norton||6,337||2011||Civil parish|
|21||Sonning Common||3,784||2011||Civil Parish|
Places of interest
- Abingdon County Hall Museum – housed in a 17th-century county hall building
- Ashdown House – 17th-century country house in the Lambourn Downs
- Ashmolean Museum – Oxford University’s museum of art and archaeology
- Banbury Museum, Banbury
- Bicester Village
- Blenheim Palace and garden – UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Broughton Castle – 14th-century fortified manor house
- Buscot Park, Buscot – 18th-century country house and landscape garden
- Champs Chapel Museum of East Hendred – village museum in a 15th-century Carthusian chapel
- Charlbury Museum
- Chastleton House – 17th-century country house (limited access)
- Chiltern Hills – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway – operated with steam and diesel locomotives
- Chipping Norton Museum
- Cholsey and Wallingford Railway
- Cogges Manor Farm Museum, Witney – a living museum of country life
- Combe Mill Museum,Long Hanborough – working museum of stationary steam engines
- Cotswold Wildlife Park and garden, Bradwell Grove, Holwell
- Cotswolds – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- Didcot Railway Centre – museum of the Great Western Railway
- Dorchester Abbey, Dorchester-on-Thames – 12th-century church of former Augustinian abbey
- Great Coxwell Barn – 14th-century tithe barn
- Greys Court, Rotherfield Greys – 16th-century country house
- Hampton Gay Manor – ruins of 16th-century manor house (no website)
- Harcourt Arboretum, Nuneham Courtenay
- Heythrop Hall – 17th-century country house: now a hotel, golf & country club
- Hook Norton Brewery – working Victorian “tower” brewery that offers guided tours
- Kelmscott Manor – Home of William Morris
- Mapledurham Estate – 16th-century country house and 15th-century watermill
- Milton Manor House – 18th-century country house
- Minster Lovell Hall – dovecote and ruins of 15th-century manor house
- Museum of Bygones, Claydon – private museum including stationary steam engines
- North Wessex Downs – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- Oxford Bus Museum and Morris Motors Museum, Long Hanborough
- Oxford Canal – 18th-century “narrow” canal
- The Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock
- The Ridgeway
- River and Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames
- River Thames
- Rollright Stones – megalithic stone circle and Whispering Knights burial chamber, near Little Rollright
- Rousham House – 17th-century country house and landscape garden
- Rycote chapel – 15th-century chapel with original furnishings
- St Katharine’s church, Chiselhampton – 18th-century parish church with original furnishings (no website, limited access)
- St Mary’s church, Iffley – 12th-century Norman parish church
- Shotover Country Park, Headington
- Spiceball Country Park, Banbury
- Stanton Harcourt manor house (limited access), with garden and 15th-century chapel and Pope’s Tower (no website)
- Stonor House – country house and 14th-century chapel of the recusant Stonor family
- Swalcliffe Tithe Barn – 15th-century
- Thame Museum
- Tolsey Museum, Burford (no website)
- Uffington White Horse, Uffington Castle and Wayland’s Smithy burial chamber in the White Horse Hills
- Vale and Downland Museum, Wantage
- Wallingford Museum
- Wheatley Windmill – 18th-century tower mill
References and notes
- (abbreviated Oxon, from Oxonium, the Latin name for Oxford)
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