Oxfordshire

OxfordshireHundredsMapOxfordshire, an Inland County, bounded on the South-West, South, & South-east by Berkshire, on the East by Buckinghamshire, on the North-East by Northamptonshire, on the North & North-West by Warwickshire, and on the West by Gloucestershire.  It extends from 51°-28′ to 52°-9′ (N) and, in its greatest breadth, which is a little North of the Centre of the County, from 1°-2′ to 1°-38′ (W); and comprises an area of 752 sq miles, or about 480,000 acres.

At the period of the Roman Invasion, the County formed part of the Territory of the Dobunni Tribe, who, desirous of releasing themselves from subjection to their Eastern neighbours, the Cattieuchlani, offered no resistance to the Romans, by whom, on their 1st Division of the Island, this District was included in Britannia Prima.  Its central situation retarded its final subjection to the Saxon Dominion, until the latter part of the 6thC.  It had been the scene of several sanguinary conflicts between the Saxons and the retiring Britons and became that of several others between the Sovereigns of Wessex & Mercia.  In the year 778, the County being ceded by Cynewulf, King of Wessex, to Offa, King of Mercia, the latter made a wide & deep Trench, as a Boundary between the 2-Kingdoms, which may still be traced at Ardley, Stoney-Middleton, Northbrook, Heyford, & Kirtlington.  The County lies in the Diocese of Oxford, & Province of Canterbury; and forms an Arch Deaconry, comprising, exclusively of Oxford, the Deaneries of Aston, Burcester, Chipping-Norton, Cuddesden, Deddington, Henley, Witney & Woodstock, and containing 212 Parishes.  For purposes of Civil Government, it is divided into the Hundreds of Bampton, Banbury, Binfield, Bloxham, Bullingdon, Chaddington, Dorchester, Ewelme, Langtree, Lewknor, Pyrton, Ploughley, Thame, & Wootton.  It contains the City & the University of Oxford, the Borough & Market Towns of Banbury & Woodstock, and the Market-Towns of Bampton, Bicester, Burford, Chipping-Norton, Henley-upon-Thames, Heyford, Thame, Watlington, & Witney.  Three Knights are returned to Parliament for the Shire, 2-Representatives for the City, 2 for the University, and one each for the Boroughs of Woodstock & Banbury.  The County is in the Oxford Circuit, and the Assizes and the Quarter-Sessions are held in the City of Oxford.

The shape of the County is extremely irregular: near the middle, at Oxford, it is not above 7-miles across, and though the Northern portion spreads out to a breadth of about 38-miles, yet that lying to the South of the City is nowhere more than 12-miles broad.  The surface of the Southernmost part has a fine alternation of Hill & Dale; and the Chiltern Elevations, more particularly, which are in some places clothed with fine Woods of Beech, and are partly Arable & partly in Open Sheep Downs, are beautifully varied.  The more central District has little inequality but is adorned with numerous Woods, presenting a rich aspect.  In the Northern & Western Districts of that portion of the County North of Oxford, the prospects are for the most part less agreeable, the Inclosures being formed by bare Stone Walls: in Wychwood Forest, however, are many Grassy Vales & Woody Glens, which afford charming Scenery.  The Rivers of Oxfordshire are among its chief natural attractions, flowing through nearly every part of it, and luxuriant Meadows almost everywhere bordering on their Banks.  In the vicinity of Oxford, the Vale of the Isis expands into a spacious Amphitheatre, bounded by some striking Hills, and in the Centre of which rise the majestic Towers, Domes, & Spires of that City, from behind the thick shade of venerable Groves.  To the South of Wallingford, in Berkshire, the Scenery upon the Banks of the River, now called the Thames, assumes an increased variety of beauty, and forms an extended Valley through the Range of the Chiltern Hills, which, gradually losing the appearance of Downs, exhibited by some of the more naked Summits in the distance, are marked by much picturesque effect, both of Art & Nature. Hamlets & Villages lie scattered in the neighbourhood of the Stream, and magnificent Seats occupy the declivities on each side; and having received the Waters of the Kennet & the Loddon from the South, it swells into a majestic River, and glides onward through the plain, until it becomes engulfed amidst the fine Hills around Henley, the scenery of which is among the most interesting in the County.

With regard to soil, Oxfordshire comprises 3 different Tracts, the limits of which are pretty clearly defined, and which may be distinguished as the Red-land District, the Stone-brash Land & the Chiltern Hills.  The Red-land, which includes the whole Northern part, much exceeds in fertility any other District of equal extent in the County and contains about 79,635 acres, consisting of a rich sandy loam of a reddish colour, well adapted to the production of every crop, and having a substratum of Red gritstone Rock.  The Stone-brash tract adjoins the former, and extends from the verge of Gloucestershire, on the West, nearly to that of Bucks, on the East, the Southern Border of it running from the Boundary of the County, near Broughton Poggs, in a North-eastern direction by Brize-Norton, Witney, North Leigh, Bladon, Kirtlington, & Bicester, to Stratton-Audley, and thence Northward, at a short distance from the Border of Bucks, to Mixbury. It comprises 164,023 acres.
The Chiltern District comprises the South-eastern extremity of Oxfordshire: the basis of this Tract, which contains 64,778 acres, is Chalk, covered to varying depths with a Clayey Loam, generally sound & dry, and containing a considerable quantity of Flints.  The remaining portion of the County, extending from this to the Stone-brash District, and calculated to comprise 166,400 acres, includes all sorts of soils.

The Corn crops commonly cultivated are, wheat, barley, & oats: peas are occasionally raised; beans are sown on the heavier Soils, and the Common & the Swedish Turnip are both extensively grown.  Clover & Trefoil are cultivated, and Sainfoin is to be seen to a great extent upon all the Soils that are proper for it.  Of the Grasslands, the chief are the narrow flat Tracts on the borders of the Rivers, containing most of the Open-field Meadows, which are extensive, and situated so low as to be often overflowed by sudden Rains.  At Water Eaton is the best Dairy Land in the County, but it is very liable to summer floods: at North Weston, in the rich District near Thame, the Meadows are mown twice a year.  The Inclosed Pasture or Meadowland is almost confined to the central part of the County, near Oxford, where is a considerable tract of deep rich Soil.  Much Butter is forwarded to the London Market from some parts of Oxfordshire, particularly from the vicinity of Bicester; and in the County around Thame, many calves are fattened, to be sent as Veal to the same Market. The best feeding Land lies on the Banks of the Rivers Thame, Isis, & Cherwell; but the lower Meadows are subject to Floods, which sometimes do much damage to the herbage when they occur late in the Spring.

Oxfordshire may be termed a Well-Wooded County, excepting the Northernmost part of it; but it has, comparatively, very little Oak.  The Woodlands may be classed as follows: 1st, Groves on Spring-woods; 2ndly, Woods consisting of Timber Trees & Underwood; and 3rdly, Coppices of Underwood only.  Of the 1st class, the extensive natural Beechwoods confined to the Chiltern District are the principal.  Of the 2nd kind is the Woods in the vicinity of Stanton St John, called “the Quarters,” the Soil of which is a strong Clay: there are also numerous spots of Woodland of this description dispersed in various other parts of the County.  Coppices are not very numerous, and there are hardly any extensive ones besides those tracts of Wychwood Forest that are thus called, but which, containing timber trees, are more properly Woods.  There are extensive artificial Plantations in several places, particularly at Blenheim.  The Wastelands, excepting the large Tract of Wychwood Forest, are inconsiderable. Wychwood Forest is situated within a few miles of the Navigable part of the Thames or Isis, and between the Rivers Evenlode & Windrush, which form respectively its Boundaries on the North & South.  It is an exceedingly fine Tract of Forest Land, comprising with its purlieu Woods & Wastes nearly 7000 acres, and is interspersed with Hills & Glens covered with Copse Wood & Timber, abounding with Deer & Game, and diversified with wild & romantic Scenery.  There is excellent Building-stone within a few feet from the surface, in almost every part of it; also Freestone; hard durable plank, and fine Greystone, Slate; Limestone; and a Quarry of dark grey Marble susceptible of a very high polish and well adapted for Mantel-pieces.  Beds of gravel & sand of superior quality also abound. Otmoor, near Islip, 6-miles North of Oxford, contains about 4000 acres, and prior to its Inclosure, under an Act obtained in 1816, was used as Common by the Inhabitants of 8 adjoining Townships.  The Soil is generally a good loam, but the whole Tract is so extremely flat, and situated so low, that in wet Seasons much of it lies underwater for a long time, the consequence of which is that the cattle & sheep upon it become diseased.

The principal Rivers are the Thames (or Isis), the Cherwell, the Thame, the Evenlode, & the Windrush; the 4 last-named fall into the Thames within the limits of the County.  The Thames, which forms the entire Southern Boundary of the County, separating it from Berks, rises in Gloucestershire, and having been joined by different small streams near Lechlade, 1st touches Oxfordshire at its South-Western extremity, being then imperfectly Navigable, and bearing the name of Isis.  Having received the Waters of the Cherwell at Oxford, it becomes Navigable, and pursues a very devious Course, for the most part in a South-Eastern Direction, through an extensive tract of rich low Meadows, to a short distance below Dorchester, where it is joined by the Thame, and 1st popularly called the Thames.  The Oxford Canal, which is of great advantage to the County, by opening a Communication through other Canals with Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester & the Staffordshire Collieries, enters at its Northern extremity, and soon approaching the Cherwell, runs nearly parallel with the Course of that River, which it crosses a few miles to the East of Deddington & Woodstock, to the City of Oxford, where it communicates with the Navigation of the Thames.  The principal Manufactures are, that of Blankets, at Witney; and those of Gloves & articles of polished Steel, at Woodstock: Glove-making was established at that Town about the middle of the 19thC, and furnished employment to the lower Classes for many miles around.  A coarse kind of Velvet, called Shag, was made at Banbury: the female Poor in the Southern part of the County are chiefly engaged in Lacemaking.

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Several very curious British Coins have been found in the County; and one of the most interesting remains of Antiquity which it contains is the Circle of high Stones, called Rollrich (or Rollright) Stones, supposed to be Druidical, in the vicinity of Chipping-Norton.

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Few considerable remnants of Roman Military Works exist in Oxfordshire: at Alcester, or Aldchester, in the Eastern part, are the traces of a Station, the Alauna of the Itinerary; and it is probable that there was another at Dorchester. Roman Coins & Pavements have been discovered, at different periods, in almost every Quarter; and in addition to these, may be noticed several Sepulchral Mounds formed of rude grassy squares of Turf, which, says Dr Plot, the Roman Soldiers were accustomed to raise over the Ashes of any eminent Warrior, and the most remarkable of which in the County is termed Astal Barrow, in the vicinity of the Akeman-Street: numerous Urns, and other Funeral Relics of the same people, have also been dug up.  One of the 4 Consular or Prætorian Ways passed through Oxfordshire, namely the Ikeneld Street. It crossed the Southern part, from North-east to Southwest: entering from Bucks, at the Parish of Chinnor, it proceeds along the base of the Chiltern Hills; leaves Lewknor, Shirburn, & Watlington to the Northwest; crosses the Vallum, or Ridged Bank, called Gryme’s Dyke; and passing Ipsden, may be traced to an Inclosure about 3-miles distant from the Village of Goring.  Its Course out of the County cannot be followed; but it is asserted by Dr Plot, that it quitted at Goring and the name of the Hamlet on the opposite Bank of the Thames, Streatley, seems to corroborate this opinion.  Of the Vicinal Ways, the Principal was the Akeman-Street, which enters from Bucks, in the Parish of Ambrosden, whence it proceeds to the North of Gravenel or Gravenhill Wood & Alcester, to Chesterton & Kirtlington, and crossing the River Cherwell, near Tackley, passes through Blenheim Park towards the Village of Stonesfield; here it crosses the Evenlode, and then passes near Wilcote & Ramsden, to Asthally & Asthall, and thence to Broadwell Grove, where its form is bold & perfect, and whence it proceeds nearly in a straight line towards Gloucestershire.  Several minor roads, traces of which are still visible, diverged from this or crossed it in different parts of its Course.  Between Mongewell & Nuffield, towards the Southern extremity of the County, is the Vallum, or long Earthwork, called Gryme’s Dyke.  It is very high, and only single until it approaches the vicinity of Nuffield, where it is double, with a deep Trench between the Ramparts: it has been conjectured that the other part of it was once likewise double-banked, but that the Trench was filled up by one of the Banks being thrown into it in the progress of Agricultural improvements.  Marks of the sanguinary contests between the Saxons & the Danes are distinguishable in many parts, consisting chiefly of Military Intrenchments & Sepulchral Mounds.
Map of the County of Oxford, from Actual Survey, by A Bryant, in the year 1823. Inscribed by permission to the Rt Honourable the Earl of Macclesfield, Lord Lieutenant, and to the Nobility, Clergy & Gentry of the County.

At the period of the general Dissolution, the number of Religious Houses, exclusively of the Colleges at Oxford, was about 40, including Hospitals, etc; the Principal relic is St Frideswide’s Abbey Church (Christchurch Cathedral), now the Cathedral of the Diocese. In the number and magnificence of it’s Public & Private Buildings, Oxfordshire at least rivals any other County in England.

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Blenheim House is well known as one of the most magnificent residences in the Kingdom; and many other Mansions of the Nobility & Gentry possess considerable beauty & grandeur, both of Exterior appearance & Interior decoration: among the chief are, Ditchley Park, Nuneham-Courtney, & Wroxton Priory.  The medicinal Springs are very numerous, the greater number being of the various kinds of chalybeate; and within Cornbury Park is one resembling the water at Dorton, in Buckinghamshire.  In the extensive Bed of Gravel on which Oxford stands, and which forms one of the Geological features of England, are found many remarkable Fossils, such as fragments of teeth, tusks & bones of Elephants; bones of the Hippopotamus, Horses’ teeth & Horns of a species of Stag.

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Michael Burghers – Map Of Oxfordshire 1677
Beautifully embellished Map of the County of Oxfordshire engraved by Michael Burghers for Dr Robert Plot’sThe Natural History of Oxfordshire” published in 1677, a work that contained descriptions & images of Fossils found in the County including the 1st known Illustration of a Dinosaur bone.  The defining characteristic of the Map is the extensive decoration of the Borders & Cartouches with 178 Coats of Arms of the Colleges of Oxford University, Noblemen & Clergy.  Also included is a Key explaining the Symbols used to identify various types of Locations on the Map.