History of Oxfordshire

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Ancient extent of Oxfordshire
Map showing the parishes of Oxfordshire c. 1900

The county of Oxfordshire was formed in the early years of the 10th century and is broadly situated in the land 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.[citation needed]

Historically the area has always had some importance, containing valuable agricultural land in the centre of the country and the prestigious university in the county town of Oxford (whose name came from Anglo-Saxon Oxenaford = "ford for oxen"). Ignored by the Romans, it was not until the formation of a settlement at Oxford in the 8th century that the area grew in importance. Alfred the Great was born across the Thames in Wantage in Berkshire. The University of Oxford was founded in 1096, though its collegiate structure did not develop until later on. 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 has declined rapidly in the 20th century though; currently under one percent of the county's population are involved due to high mechanisation.

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.

The Vale of the White Horse district and parts of the South Oxfordshire administrative district south of the River Thames were historically part of Berkshire, but were added to the administrative county of Oxfordshire in 1974. Conversely, the Caversham area of Reading now belongs to Berkshire but was historically part of Oxfordshire as was the parish of Stokenchurch, now in administrative Buckinghamshire.

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