|This article needs additional citations for verification. (August 2013)|
The Cornerstone and cinema
Didcot shown within Oxfordshire
|Population||22,762 (2001 census)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||South East England|
|Website||Didcot Town Council|
Didcot (//) is a town and civil parish in Oxfordshire about 10 miles (16 km) south of Oxford. Until 1974 it was in Berkshire, but was transferred to Oxfordshire in that year, and from Wallingford Rural District to the district of South Oxfordshire becoming the largest town in the new district.
- 1 History and economy
- 2 Railways
- 3 Power stations
- 4 Military
- 5 Local government and representation
- 6 Town twinning
- 7 Current developments
- 8 Health
- 9 Education
- 10 Sport and leisure
- 11 Notable people
- 12 In popular media
- 13 References
- 14 Further reading
- 15 External links
History and economy
The area around present-day Didcot has been inhabited for at least 9000 years, a large scale archaeological dig between 2010-2013 produced finds from the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Iron Age and Bronze Age.
The earliest known historical record of Didcot is from the 13th century when it was recorded as Dudcotte. The name is believed to be derived from that of the local abbot. Didcot was then a rural Berkshire village with a population of about 100 and remained that way for centuries, only occasionally appearing in records. Parts of the original village still exist in the Lydalls Road area and part of the Church of England parish church of All Saints dates from the 11th century. Didcot was much smaller than several surrounding villages, which are now dwarfed by modern Didcot.
There are now a number of major scientific employers nearby including the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority at Culham (and the Joint European Torus (JET) fusion research project), Harwell Laboratory, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (the research council responsible for Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) and the Diamond Light Source synchrotron, which is the largest UK-funded scientific facility to be built for over 30 years
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Great Western Railway
The Great Western Railway, engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, reached Didcot in 1839. In 1844 the Brunel-designed Didcot station was opened. The original station burnt down in the later part of 19th century. The more obvious alignment for the original line to Bristol would have been Abingdon-on-Thames slightly farther north, but the landowner, Lord Wantage, is reputed to have prevented the railway coming close to the town. This and the junction of the Great Western line to Oxford created the conditions for the future growth of Didcot. The station's name also finally fixed the spelling of Didcot.
Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway
Didcot's junction of the routes to London, Bristol, Oxford and to Southampton via the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway (DN&S) made the town of strategic importance to military logistics, in particular during the First World War campaign on the Western Front and the Second World War preparations for D-Day. The DN&S line has since closed and the sites of the large Army and Royal Air Force ordnance depots that were built to serve these needs have disappeared beneath the power station and Milton Park Business Park.
Remains of the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway are still in evidence in the eastern part of town. This line, designed to provide a direct link to the south coast from the Midlands and the North avoiding the convuluted Reading/Basingstoke route, was constructed from 1879-1882 after previous proposals had floundered. It was designed as a main line and was engineered by John Fowler and built by contractors T.H. Falkiner and Sir Thomas Tancred, who together also constructed the Forth Bridge. It was an very expensive line to build due to the heavy engineering challenges of crossing the Berkshire and Hampshire downs with a ruling 1 in 106 gradient to allow for higher mainline speeds, and this over-capitalisation coupled with initial traffic barely meeting expectations caused the company financial problems, meaning it never reached Southampton of its own accord but had to join the main London and South Western Railway line at Shawford, south of Winchester.
However, from the outbreak of World War II such was the growth of wartime traffic to the port of Southampton a decision was made to upgrade the line which included the complete doubling of the northern section between Didcot and Newbury, closing for 5 months in 1942/3 while this was carried out. Several of the bridges in the Didcot/Hagbourne area were also strengthened and rebuilt.
Although passenger trains between Didcot and Newbury were withdrawn in 1962, the line continued to be used by freight trains for a further four years, up to 11 trains a day each way according to some observers, and oil traffic to the north from the refinery at Fawley near Southampton was a regular feature. In 1966 however, this traffic also was withdrawn, and the line was then dismantled. The last passenger train was, of all things, a re-routed Pines Express in May 1964, diverted due to a derailment at Reading West. A section of the abandoned embankment towards Upton, now designated as a Sustrans route, has views across the town and countryside and is popular with walkers.
Didcot Railway Centre
After World War II, there was a gradual process of replacing steam locomotives with diesels, and in 1967 the now redundant locomotive depot became Didcot Railway Centre.
Didcot Parkway station
The station was renamed Didcot Parkway in 1985 and the site of the old GWR provender stores which had been demolished in 1976 (the provender pond was kept to maintain the water table) was made into a large car park to attract passengers from the surrounding area. An improvement programme for the forecourt of the station began in September 2012 and is expected to take around 15 months, this is viewed as being the first phase of better connecting the station to Didcot town centre.
The Didcot Power Stations (between Didcot and Sutton Courtenay) supply electricity to the National Grid. Country Life magazine voted these the third worst eyesore in Britain. Some locals refer to them as "the Cathedral of the Vale" [of White Horse], a title which really belongs to the Church of England parish church at Uffington. The power station cooling towers are visible from up to 30 miles (48 km) away due to their location, but were designed with visual impact in mind (six towers in two separated groups 0.5 miles (800 m) apart rather than a monolithic 3x2 block), much in the style of what is sometimes called Didcot's 'sister' station - Fiddlers Ferry Power Station - at Widnes, Lancashire, constructed slightly earlier. The power station has also proved a popular man-made object for local photographers.
Local government and representation
Didcot is the principal town of South Oxfordshire in the county of Oxfordshire. Until 1974 it was part of Wallingford Rural District. It is the largest town in the parliamentary constituency of Wantage, which has been represented since 2005 at Westminster by Ed Vaizey, Conservative.
Didcot is a parish but has the status of a town. It is administered by Didcot Town Council, which comprises 21 councillors representing the four wards in the town:
- All Saints' (5 councillors)
- Park (5 councillors)
- Ladygrove (6 councillors)
- Northbourne (5 councillors)
Elected town councillors are unpaid and offer their time on a voluntary basis.
Didcot is twinned with the towns of Meylan in France and Planegg in Germany. The Didcot-Meylan Twinning Association exists to encourage the building of friendships and relationships between the citizens of Didcot and its surrounding villages with its twin, to encourage the co-operation of local businesses to the economic success of both towns and prosperity of citizens, and to exchange ideas on issues that impact on the lives of the citizens of both towns and those in the wider regional and national arenas.
Didcot is now home to around 24,500 people. The new town centre, The Orchard Centre, was opened in August 2005.
Didcot has been designated as one of the three major growth areas in Oxfordshire; the Ladygrove development is set to double the number of dwellings in the town since construction began in the late 1980s to the north and east of the railway line on the former marshland. Originally, the Ladygrove development was planned to be complete by 2001; but the plans for the final section to the east of Abingdon Road were only announced in 2006. In anticipation of the completion of the Ladygrove development, a prolonged and contentious planning enquiry decided that a 3,200 dwelling development will now be built to the west of the town, partly overlapping the boundary with the Vale of White Horse. The development will contain much needed sports facilities as Didcot is currently amongst the poorest provided towns in Oxfordshire for leisure facilities.
In 2008 a new £8 million arts and entertainment centre, Cornerstone, opened within the Orchard Centre. It contains exhibition and studio spaces, a cafe and a 236 seat auditorium. Designed by Ellis William Architects, the centre is clad with silvered aluminium panels and features a 'Window Wall', used to connect the building with passing shoppers.
The district in England with the highest healthy life expectancy, according to an Office for National Statistics (ONS) study, is the 1990s-built Ladygrove Estate in Didcot. While the average UK healthy lifespan was thought to be 68.8 for women and 67 for men in 2001, people in Ladygrove district of Didcot could expect 86 healthy years. It is believed Ladygrove may have benefited from the local recreation grounds and sports centre.
Didcot is served by six primary schools: All Saints' C of E, Ladygrove Park, Manor, Northbourne C of E, Stephen Freeman and Willowcroft. Along with these 6 schools based in Didcot, a further 7 local village schools form the Didcot Primary Partnership: Blewbury Endowed C of E, Cholsey, Hagbourne, Harwell Community, Long Wittenham C of E and South Moreton County.
The two state secondary schools in Didcot are St Birinus School and Didcot Girls' School. These two single-sex schools join together at sixth form. Didcot Girls' School has specialist Language College status, and St Birinus has Technology and Language College status, it is also working towards a third college status. The cook of All Saints primary school was voted cook of the year 2009.
Sport and leisure
Didcot Town Football Club's home ground is the RWE nPower Loop Meadow Stadium on Ladygrove Estate. The club won the FA Vase in 2005. Didcot Cricket Club's current home ground is at Didcot Power Station in Sutton Courtenay.
Didcot has its own chapter of the Hash House Harriers. The club started in 1986 (the first run was on 8 April of that year).
Cornerstone, the new 278-seater multi-purpose arts centre, opened on 29 August 2008.
Didcot Choral Society, founded in 1958, performs three concerts a year in various venues around the town as well as an annual tour (Paris in 2008, Belgium in 2009).
Didcot Dragons Korfball club was founded in 2003. The club has now expanded to two teams in the OKA Division 2 North. They train in Willowbrook Leisure Centre in the winter, and St Birinus School in the summer.
Didcot Phoenix cycle club  was founded in 1973 and is represented by over 70 members who participate in a range of cycling activities including touring, time trials, road racing, Audax, cyclocross and off road events.
Didcot was the birthplace of William Bradbery, the first person to cultivate watercress commercially. Former Oxford United F.C. footballer Paul Powell lives in Didcot, and now plays for Didcot Casuals in the North Berks Football League, Division One. Matt Richardson, comedian and current host of The Xtra Factor, lived and studied in Didcot.
In popular media
Didcot and Didcot Power Station were mentioned on episode 4 of Series 4 of the BBC's QI (Quite Interesting).Back in 2003 Didcot was ranked #20 in the book Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live In The UK written by Sam Jordinson, However, Didcot was not featured in the 2012 edition of the book
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