Oxfordshire is a county in the South East of England, bordering Warwickshire to the northwest, Northamptonshire northeast, Buckinghamshire to the east, Berkshire to the south, Wiltshire to the southwest and Gloucestershire to the west.
The university 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. Morris Motors was founded in Oxford in 1912, bringing heavy industry to an otherwise agricultural county.
Throughout 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 the Barracks on Bullingdon Green, Cowley.
First settled in Saxon times, Oxford was initially known as “Oxenaforda”, meaning “Ford of the Oxen” (fords were more common than bridges at that time) it began with the foundation of a crossing in early 900 AD.
In the 10th century Oxford became an important military frontier town between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex and was on several occasions raided by Danes.
Severely damaged during the Norman Invasion of 1066, Oxford was assigned governor, Robert D’Oyly, who ordered the construction of Oxford Castle to confirm Norman authority. The castle remains survive to this day. D’Oyly set up a monastic community in the castle consisting of a chapel and living quarters for monks (St George in the Castle). Though never large, the community earned its place in history as one of the oldest places of formal education in Oxford. It is there that in 1139 Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his History of the Kings of Britain, a compilation of Arthurian legends.
A number of important religious houses were founded in or around the city and the Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians, and Trinitarians all had houses at Oxford, and Parliaments were often held in the city during the 13th century. The Provisions of Oxford, instigated by a group of barons led by Simon de Montfort, are often regarded as England’s first written constitution.
The county has major education and tourist industries. The main centre of population is the city of Oxford. Other significant settlements are Banbury, Kidlington, Chipping Norton, Abingdon, Wantage, Didcot, Wallingford and Henley-on-Thames to the south.
The University of Oxford is first mentioned in 12th-century records. Friction between the hundreds of students living where and how they pleased, the relationship between “town and gown” has often been uneasy, led to a decree that all undergraduates would have to reside in approved halls. Of the hundreds of Aularian houses that sprang up across the city, only St Edmund Hall (c 1225) remains.
Oxford’s earliest colleges were University College (1249), Balliol (1263) and Merton (1264). They were established at a time when Europeans were starting to translate the writings of the Greek philosophers which challenged European ideology and inspired scientific discoveries and advancements in the arts.
These colleges were supported by the Church in the hope of reconciling Greek Philosophy and Christian Theology. Christ Church Cathedral is unique in that it combines both a college chapel and a cathedral in one foundation. Originally the Priory Church of St Frideswide, the building was extended and incorporated into the structure of the Cardinal’s College shortly before its re-founding as Christ Church in 1546, since when it has functioned as the cathedral of the Diocese of Oxford.
The Oxford Martyrs were tried for heresy in 1555 and subsequently burnt at the stake, on what is now Broad Street, for their religious beliefs and teachings. The three martyrs were Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer.
During the English Civil War, Oxford housed the court of Charles I in 1642, after the king was expelled from London. The town yielded to Parliamentarian forces under General Fairfax in the Siege of Oxford of 1646. It later housed the court of Charles II during the Great Plague of London in 1665–66. Although reluctant to do so, he was forced to evacuate when the plague got too close.
In 1790, the Oxford Canal connected the city with Coventry. The Duke’s Cut was completed by the Duke of Marlborough in 1789 to link the new canal with the River Thames; and in 1796 the Oxford Canal company built its own link to the Thames, at Isis Lock.
In 1844, the Great Western Railway linked Oxford with London via Didcot and Reading and other rail routes soon followed.
By the early 20th century, Oxford was experiencing rapid industrial and population growth, with the printing and publishing industries being well established by the 1920s.
During World War II, Oxford was largely ignored by the Germans during the Blitz due to the lack of heavy industry such as steelworks or shipbuilding that would have made it a target, although it was still affected by the rationing and influx of refugees fleeing London and other cities.
It has been claimed that Adolf Hitler gave instructions that Oxford should not be bombed as he was impressed by its architecture and had plans for it to be his capital after the war.
Oxfordshire’s county flower is the Snake’s-head Fritillary.