Oxfordshire – Wikipedia

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.[5]

Oxfordshire’s county flower is the snake’s-head fritillary.[6]


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.[citation needed] 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.

Extreme points[edit]

Rivers and canals[edit]

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.

Green belt[edit]

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.


1995 7607
2000 10594
2003 12942

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.[7]

Year Regional gross value added[8] Agriculture[9] Industry[10] Services[11]
1995 7,607 120 2,084 5,404
2000 10,594 80 2,661 7,853
2003 12,942 93 2,665 10,184


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%.


Brasenose Lane in Oxford city centre, a street onto which three colleges back.

The University of Oxford’s Chemistry Research Laboratory.

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[12] 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.[13]


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.[14] 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.[15] It is considered to be a ‘textbook’ example of the English medieval manor house, and is a Grade I-listed building.[17]

Settlements in Oxfordshire[edit]

Emergency services[edit]

Settlements by population[edit]

Rank Town Population Year Definition Notes
1 Oxford 150,200 2011 Oxford non-metropolitan district
2 Banbury 46,853 2011 Civil parish
3 Abingdon-on-Thames 33,130 2011 Civil parish
4 Bicester 32,642 2011 Civil parish
5 Witney 27,522 2011 Civil parish
6 Didcot 25,140 2011 Civil parish 200 dwellings in the south-east of the town lie in neighbouring East Hagbourne parish.
7 Carterton 15,769 2011 Civil parish
8 Kidlington 13,723 2011 Civil parish Does not include Gosford.
9 Henley-on-Thames 11,619 2011 Civil parish
10 Wallingford 11,600[18] 2011 Civil parish
11 Thame 11,561 2011 Civil parish Includes hamlet of Moreton
12 Wantage 11,327 2011 Civil parish
13 Grove 7,178 2011 Civil parish
14 Faringdon 7,121 2011 Great Faringdon civil parish
15 Chipping Norton 6,337 2011 Civil parish
16 Chinnor 5,924 2011 Civil parish
17 Benson 4,754 2011 Civil parish
18 Eynsham 4,648 2011 Civil parish
19 Wheatley 4,092 2011 Civil parish
20 Kennington 4,076 2011 Civil parish
21 Sonning Common 3,784 2011 Civil Parish
22 Woodstock 3,100 2011 Civil parish
23 Charlbury 2,830 2011 Civil parish
24 Watlington 2,727 2011 Civil parish
25 Bampton 2,564 2011 Civil parish
26 Deddington 2,146 2011 Civil parish

Places of interest[edit]

  • Museum (free) Abingdon County Hall Museum[19] – housed in a 17th-century county hall building
  • National Trust Ashdown House – 17th-century country house in the Lambourn Downs
  • Museum (free) Ashmolean Museum – Oxford University’s museum of art and archaeology
  • Museum (free) Banbury Museum, Banbury
  • Bicester Village
  • Historic house Blenheim Palace and garden – UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Historic house Broughton Castle – 14th-century fortified manor house
  • National Trust Buscot Park, Buscot – 18th-century country house and landscape garden
  • Museum (free) Champs Chapel Museum of East Hendred – village museum in a 15th-century Carthusian chapel
  • Museum (free) Charlbury Museum
  • National Trust Chastleton House – 17th-century country house (limited access)
  • Accessible open space Chiltern Hills – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Heritage railway Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway – operated with steam and diesel locomotives
  • Museum (not free) Chipping Norton Museum[20]
  • Heritage railway Cholsey and Wallingford Railway
  • Museum (not free) Cogges Manor Farm Museum, Witney – a living museum of country life
  • Museum (not free) Combe Mill Museum,[21]Long Hanborough – working museum of stationary steam engines
  • Zoo icon.jpg Cotswold Wildlife Park and garden, Bradwell Grove, Holwell
  • Accessible open space Cotswolds – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Heritage railway Didcot Railway Centre – museum of the Great Western Railway
  • AP Icon.svg Dorchester Abbey, Dorchester-on-Thames – 12th-century church of former Augustinian abbey
  • National Trust Great Coxwell Barn – 14th-century tithe barn
  • National Trust Greys Court, Rotherfield Greys – 16th-century country house
  • Historic house Hampton Gay Manor – ruins of 16th-century manor house (no website)
  • Harcourt Arboretum, Nuneham Courtenay
  • Historic house Heythrop Hall – 17th-century country house: now a hotel, golf & country club
  • Hook Norton Brewery – working Victorian “tower” brewery that offers guided tours
  • Historic house Kelmscott Manor – Home of William Morris
  • Historic house Mapledurham Estate – 16th-century country house and 15th-century watermill
  • Historic house Milton Manor House – 18th-century country house[22]
  • English Heritage Minster Lovell Hall – dovecote and ruins of 15th-century manor house
  • Museum (not free) Museum of Bygones, Claydon – private museum including stationary steam engines
  • Accessible open space North Wessex Downs – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • AP Icon.svg Castle Museum (free) Museum (not free) Oxford
  • Museum (not free) Oxford Bus Museum and Morris Motors Museum, Long Hanborough
  • Accessible open space Oxford Canal – 18th-century “narrow” canal
  • Museum (free) The Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock
  • Accessible open space The Ridgeway
  • Museum (not free) River and Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames
  • Accessible open space River Thames
  • Rollright Stones – megalithic stone circle and Whispering Knights burial chamber, near Little Rollright
  • Historic house 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[23]
  • Country Park Shotover Country Park, Headington
  • Country Park Spiceball Country Park, Banbury
  • Historic house Stanton Harcourt manor house (limited access), with garden and 15th-century chapel and Pope’s Tower (no website)
  • Historic house Stonor House – country house and 14th-century chapel of the recusant Stonor family
  • Museum (free) Swalcliffe Tithe Barn – 15th-century
  • Museum (free) Thame Museum
  • Museum (free) Tolsey Museum, Burford (no website)
  • Accessible open space Uffington White Horse, Uffington Castle and Wayland’s Smithy burial chamber in the White Horse Hills
  • Museum (free) Vale and Downland Museum, Wantage
  • Museum (not free) Wallingford Museum
  • Museum (free) Wheatley Windmill – 18th-century tower mill[24]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ (abbreviated Oxon, from Oxonium, the Latin name for Oxford)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°45′N 1°17′W / 51.75°N 1.28°W / 51.75; -1.28