1902 Encyclopedia > Oxford (Oxford county)

Oxfordshire
(also known as: Oxford county; Oxford; Oxon)




OXFORD, or OXON, an inland county of England, is bounded N.E. by Northamptonshire, N.W. by Warwick-shire, W. by Gloucestershire, S.S.W. and S.E. by Berks, and E. by Bucks. In shape it is very irregular, its breadth varying from about 7 to 27|- miles, and its greatest length being about 52 miles. The total area is 483,621 acres, or about 756 square miles. The character of the scenery varies greatly in different districts. The Chiltern Hills cross the south-western extremity of the county from north-east to south-wrest. On the west side of the ridge Nettle-bed Hill expands into Nettlebed Common, an extensive table-land, reaching at some points nearly 700 feet above sea-level. The Chiltern district is supposed to have been at one time covered by forest, and there are still many fine beeches, as well as oak and ash trees, although for the most part the district is now utilized as a sheep-walk or as arable land. Camden mentions the woods of Oxfordshire as a special feature of the county. The forest of Wychwood extended to 3735 acres of forest proper. In the district of Staunton St John there are considerable traces of natural woodland. The most extensive of the recent plantations is the great belt at Blenheim. Imme-diately to the east of the city of Oxford a range of hills stretches between the valleys of the Thames and Cherwell, the highest point being Shotover Hill, 560 feet. In the central district the surface is less varied, and along the rivers there are extensive tracts of flat land, but the finely cultivated fields and the abundance of wood lend an aspect of richness to the landscape. The northern part of the county is flat and bare, its bleakness and monotony being increased in some districts by the stone fences. Wych-wood has been recently disafforested by statute.

Oxfordshire abounds in streams and watercourses, the majority of which belong to the basin of the Thames, which skirts the whole southern border of the county, forming for the most part of its course the boundary with Berks. In the earlier part of its course it is called the Isis. Before reaching the city of Oxford it receives the Windrush, and the united waters of the Evenlode and Glyme. It then divides into various channels, but these soon unite, and the river flowing round the city receives the united streams of the Cherwell and the Ray, and passes south-east to Dorchester, where it is joined by the Thame. From this point it is called the Thames. The Windrush and Evenlode both flow south-east from Gloucestershire; the Cherwell traverses the whole length of the county south from Northamptonshire; and the Thame crosses its south-east corner from Bucks. The Thames is navigable for small craft to Gloucestershire, and for vessels of considerable burden to Oxford. The Oxford Canal, 91 miles long, begun in 1769 and finished in 1790, enters the north-eastern extremity of the county near Claydon, and following the course of the Cherwell passes south to the city of Oxford.

Geology.—The low ground in the north-west, along the vale of Moreton, on the banks of the Cherwell as far as Steeple Aston, and along the banks of the Evenlode, is occupied by the blue clays of the Lower Lias, the higher regions being occupied by the Middle Lias. The Lower Lias contains beds of hard shelly limestone called Banbury marble, which is worked into chimneypieces; and associ-ated with the blue limestone of the Middle Lias there is a valuable deposit of brown haematite iron which is largely worked at Adderbury near Banbury, the total quantity obtained in 1882 being 8614 tons, valued at ¿61507. At one time the marlstone was covered by the Upper Lias clays, but these are now found only in isolated strips and patches. Beds of Oolite, called Northampton Sands, rest on the higher ridges above the Upper Lias, and the Great Oolite is exposed on both sides of the Evenlode and extensively quarried for building purposes, the upper beds forming also a white limestone containing numerous fossils. Forest marble occupies the greater part of Wychwood Forest, Blenheim Park, and adjoining regions. A wide extent of flat uninteresting country in the south-west, stretching as far east as the city of Oxford, belongs to the Oxford clay. Coral rag, Kimmeridge clay, and wThite limestone occur at different places in the neighbourhood of the Thames. There are also various outliers of Upper and Lower Green-sand. At the junction of the Chalk with the Greensand there is a line of springs which have determined the sites of numerous villages. Chalk forms the ridges of the Chil-tern Hills, and Upper Chalk with flint extends eastward a considerable distance beyond them. In the northern and eastern districts there are large accumulations of drift along all the old river valleys ; and a considerable breadth of flat country on the banks of the Thames and Cherwell is occupied by alluvial deposits. Ochre of remarkably fine quality is obtained from Shotover Hill.





Climate, Soil, and Agriculture.—The climate is salubrious and dry, but generally colder than the other southern districts of Eng-land, especially in the bleak and exposed regions of the Chilterns. Crops are later in the uplands than in more northerly situations at a lower elevation. Agriculture is in a fairly advanced condition, but the possibilities of improvement are not by any means ex-hausted, as the soil is on the whole above the average in fertility. In the northern districts there is a strong yet friable loam, well adapted for all kinds of crops. The centre of the county is occupied for the most part by a good friable but not so rich soil, formed of decomposed sandstone, chalk, and limestone. A large district in the south-east is occupied by the chalk of the Chiltern Hills, at one time covered by a forest of beech, but now partly arable and partly used as sheep-walks. The remainder of the county is occupied by a variety of miscellaneous soils ranging from coarse sand to heavy tenacious clay, and occasionally very fertile.

According to the agricultural returns of 1883, as many as 417,509 acres, or about eight-ninths of the total of the county, were under cultivation, corn crops occupying 152,437 acres, green crops 52,451, rotation grasses 44,472, and permanent pasture 153,898. Wheatand barley, with 51,796 acres and 47,611 acres respectively, occupy the largest areas among corn crops, and oats and beans come next with 31,771 and 14,389. Potatoes are not much grown, but turnips occupy-as many as 34,618 acres. The most common course of crops on lighter soils is a four years' rotation, sometimes lengthened to six years with pease, oats, or similar crops. On heavier soils the course is first turnips or other roots, second barley or oats, third three or more years of clover and grass seed, fourth wheat, and finally beans. Along the smaller streams there are very rich meadows for grazing, but those on the Thames and Cherwell are subject to floods. On the hills there are extensive sheep pastures. Horses in 1883 numbered 17,454, of which 13,716 were used solely for purposes of agriculture. The number of cattle was 50,209, of which 16,914 were cows and heifers in milk or in calf. The dairy system prevails in many places, but the milk is manufactured into butter, little cheese being made. The improved shorthorn is the most common breed, but Alderney and Devonshire cows are largely kept. Sheep numbered as many as 270,288, of which 157,243 were one year old and upwards. Southdowns are kept on the lower grounds, and Leicesters and Cotswolds on the hills. Pigs in 1883 numbered 44,682, the county being famous for its "brawn."

According to the latest return, the land was divided among 10,177 proprietors, possessing 452,232 acres, at an annual value of £1,073,246, an average per acre of about £2, 7s. Of the owners, 6833 possessed less than one acre, and the following 10 upwards of 5000 acres, viz., the duke of Marlborough, 21,945 ; earl of Ducie, 8799; earl of Abingdon, 8174; M. P. W. Boulton, 7946; Sir H. W. Dash wood, 7515 ; earl of Jersey, 7043 ; Edward W. Harcourt, 5721 ; earl of Macclesfield, 5491; Viscount Dillon, 5444 ; and Lord F. G. Churchill, 5352. Upwards of 30,000 acres were held by various colleges of Oxford, the largest owner being Christ Church, 4837 acres.

Manufactures.—Blankets are manufactured at Witney, and tweeds, girths, and horsecloths at Chipping Norton. There are paper mills at Hampton-Gay, Shiplake, Sandford-on-Thames, Wool-vercot,and Eynsham. Agricultural implements and portable engines are made at Banbury, and gloves at Woodstock, where the polished steel work has long ago ceased. A large number of women and girls are employed in several of the towns and villages in the lace manufacture.

Railways.—The county is traversed by several branches of the Great Western, which skirts its borders, and by the East Gloucester-shire and the London and North-Western Railways.

Administration and Population.—Oxfordshire comprises fourteen hundreds, the municipal boroughs of Banbury (3600) and Chipping Norton (4167), the greater part of the city of Oxford, of which the remainder is in Berkshire, and a small portion of the municipal borough of Abingdon, of which the remainder is also in Berkshire. It has one court of quarter sessions, and is divided into ten petty and special sessional divisions. The boroughs of Abingdon and Banbury and the city of Oxford have commissions of the peace and separate courts of quarter sessions. For parliamentary purposes the county is not divided; it returns three members, having previous to the Reform Act of 1832 returned only two. The borough of Woodstock returns one member ; and there are parts of four other boroughs within the county, Oxford city returning two members, and Abingdon, Banbury, and Wallingford one each. The uni-versity of Oxford also returns two members. The county contains 292 civil parishes, with parts of seven others. It is almost entirely in the diocese of Oxford. The population in 1801 was 111,977, which by 1841 had increased to 163,143, by 1851 to 170,439, by 1871 to 177,975, and by 1881 to 179,559, of whom 88,025 were males and 91,534 females. The average number of persons to an acre was 0 '37, and of acres to a person 2 '69.

History and Antiquities.—At the Eoman invasion the district was inhabited by the Dobuni. To this early British period probably belong the circle of stones and cromlech near Chipping Norton, the cromlech called the "Hoarstone" at Enstone, and the scattered stones called the Devil's Quoits at Stanton-Harcourt. Ioknield Street crossed the centre of the county from Goring in the south-west to Chinnor in the north-east, and joined Watling Street in Northamptonshire. Akeman Street crossed the county from east to west, entering it from Bucks at Ambrosden, and passing through Chesterton, Kirtlington, Blenheim Park, Stonesfield, and Asthall to Gloucestershire. Between Mongewell and Nuffield there is a vallum with embankment 2J miles in length called Grimes Dyke or Devil's Ditch; and there are remains of another with the same name between the Glyme and the Evenlode near DitcMey. Traces still exist of Roman and British camps, and on the east side of the Cotswolds the square and the round camps lie together in pairs. Numerous Roman coins have been found at Dorchester, and tes-selated pavements at Great Tew and Stonesfield. For a long time Oxford was the residence of the monarchs of Mercia. Cuthred of Wessex in 752 disowned the overlordship of Ethelbald of Mercia, whom he defeated at Burford. From this time a portion of Oxford-shire seems to have been subject to Wessex, but Offa of Mercia inflicted in 779 a severe defeat on the West Saxons under Cyne-wulf, after which Oxfordshire probably became Mercian. The district of Oxford was frequently the scene of conflict during the long contests between the Saxons and the Danes, the latter of whom reduced the city of Oxford four times to ashes, and in the 11th century occupied nearly the whole region. In 1387 the insurgent nobles defeated the earl of Oxford at Eadcot Bridge near Bampton. In 1469 the farmers and peasants of Yorkshire, to the number of 15,000, under the leadership of Robin of Redesdale, marched to Banbury, and defeated and captured the earl of Pembroke at Danes Moor on the borders of Oxford. During the civil wars the county was frequently entered by the armies both of the Parliament and the king, the more important incidents being the seizing of Oxford, Banbury, and Broughton by the Royalists ; the assembling of the adherents of the king at the city of Oxford in 1644; the capture of the city by Fairfax in 1646; the surprise of the Parliamentarians by Rupert at Caversham; their repulse at Chalgrove Field, where Hampden received his death-wound ; and the defeat of the Royalist forces by Cromwell at Islip Bridge.





Some portions still remain of the old Norman castle at Oxford; there are traces of a moat at Banbury; of the castle at Bampton, the seat of Aylmer de Valence in 1313, there are a chamber and other fragments; and Broughton Castle is a good moated house of various periods. Among old mansions, mention may be made of Shirburn Castle, Mapledurham House, Chastleton House, Rousham Park, Crowsley Park, Hardwick House, Shipton Court, Stonor Park, Stanton-Harcourt Manor House, and Wroxton Abbey. In regard to Burford Priory, the High Lodge at Blenheim Park, and the old manor houses of Holton and Minster Lovell, the interest is chiefly historical. The most interesting churches, in addition to those in the city of Oxford, are Iffley, Norman, one of the finest specimens of early ecclesiastical architecture in England; Thame, with tombs and brasses ; Bampton, mostly transitional from Early English and Decorated; Kidlington, Decorated, with a chancel and tower of earlier date ; Ewelme, Perpendicular ; Adderbury, with a chancel built by William of Wykeham; Bloxham, with spire said to have been erected by Wolsey; Burford, Norman and later; Chipping Norton, with brasses of the 14th century; Dor-chester, once an abbey church; Stanton-Harcourt, with Early English chancel; Witney, Early English and Decorated, with Norman doorway. Among the religious foundations in addition to those in the city were a college and hospital at Banbury ; an abbey of Austin canons at Bicester; a Cistercian abbey at Bruern; a hospital at Burford; an Austin cell at Caversham; an alien priory at Charlton-on-Otmoor; a Gilbertine priory at Clattercote; an alien priory of Black monks tit Coggs ; an Austin priory at Cold Norton ; a hospital at Crowmarsh ; a priory of Austin canons at Dorchester ; a hospital at Ewelme ; a Benedictine abbey at Eyns-ham ; a priory of Austin nuns at Goring ; a preceptory at Gosford; a Benedictine house at Milton; an alien priory at Minster Lovell; an abbey of Austin canons at Osney; a preceptory at Sandford-on-Thames ; a Cistercian abbey at Thame ; an establishment of the Mathurins at Tuffield; a hospital at Woodstock ; and a house of Austin canons at Wroxton. There was a bishopric at Dorchester as a West Saxon see from 634 to 705, which was restored towards the close of the 9th century as a Mercian see. The bishopric was transferred to Lincoln in 1067, from which Oxfordshire was separated and erected into a see in 1545. The diocese was enlarged by the addition of Berks in 1836 and of Bucks in 1846.

See Plot, Natural History of Oxfordshire, 1677 ; Walker, Flora of Oxfordshire, 1833 ; Skelton, Antiquities of Oxfordshire. 1823 ; Domesday Book Facsimile, 1862; Davenport, Lords Lieutenant and High Sheriffs of Oxford, 1868; Id., Oxford-shire Annals, 1869; Phillips, Geology of Oxford and the .Thames Valley, 1871.



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