infobox UK place
country = England
population= 28,672 (2001)
region= South East England
postcode_district = OX25 - 27
Bicester (Audio|En-uk-Bicester.ogg|pronunciation; IPA|/ˈbɪstɚ/) is a town in the Cherwell district of north-eastern
This historic market centre is one of the fastest growing towns in Oxfordshire. Development has been favoured by its proximity to junction 9 of the
M40 motorwaylinking it to London, Birminghamand Banbury. It has good road links to Oxford, Kidlington, Brackley, Buckinghamand Witney, as well as an excellent rail service.
Bicester has a history going back to Saxon times, The name Bicester, which has been in use since the mid seventeenth century, derives from earlier forms including "Berncestre", "Burencestre", "Burcester", "Biciter" and "Bissiter"(the
John Speedmap of 1610 shows four alternative spellings and Miss G H Dannatt found 45 variants in wills of the 17th and 18th centuries). Theories advanced for the meaning of the name include "of Beorna"(a personal name),"The Fort of the Warriors" or literally from Latin "Bi-cester" to mean "The 2 forts". The ruins of the Roman settlement of Alchesterlie 3 km (nearly 2 miles) south-west of the town and remains of an Augustinian priory established in 1180 survive in the town centre.
The west Saxons established a settlement in the 6th century at a nodal point of a series of ancient routes. A north-south Roman route, known as the Stratton (Audley) Road, from Dorchester to Towcester, passed through King’s End. Akeman Street, an east-west Roman road from Cirencester to St Albans lies 2 miles south, adjacent to the Roman fortress and town at Alchester.
The first documentary reference is the
Domesday Booksurvey of 1086 when it is recorded as Berencestra, its two manors of Bicester and Wretchwick being held by Robert d'Oily who built Oxford Castle. The town became established as a multifocal settlement on opposite banks of the Bure, a tributary of the Ray, Cherwell and ultimately the Thames. Early charters promoted Bicester's development as a trading centre, with a market and fair established by the mid 13th century. By this time two further manors are mentioned, Bury End and Nuns Place, later known as Market End and Kings End respectively. The latter was acquired in 1584 by the Coker family.
The Lord of the manor of Market End was the
Earl of Derbywho in 1597 sold a 9,999 year lease to 31 principal tenants. This in effect gave the manorial rights to the leaseholders, ‘purchased for the benefit of those inhabitants or others who might hereafter obtain parts of the demesne’. The leaseholders elected a bailiff to receive the profits from the bailiwick, mainly from the administration of the market, and distribute them to the shareholders. From the bailiff’s title the arrangement became known as the Bailiwick of Bicester Market End. By 1752 all of the original leases were in the hands of ten men, who leased the bailiwick control of the market to two local tradesmen.
By the early 18th century the town had become a well known venue for horse race meetings which attracted aristocrats and gentry from London and the surrounding area. Sir Edward Loganville was unfortunate enough to break his neck whilst competing at Bicester Races in 1718. Perhaps as a complement to the thrills and danger, balls and theatrical events were presented in the evenings by travelling companies to entertain the visitors. (Playbill ORO No P205.)
By 1755 Bicester Races were taking place in King’s End Fields and were advertised widely. This annual event over several days continued until 1837. Foxhunting began to be formalised from 1778 by J Ward of Swift’s House in King’s End and Sir Thomas Mostyn. Meets took place in the Market Square where drinking, dining and accommodation facilities were available at the King’s Arms, The Swan, The Cross Keys and the Crown. Craft specialists including farriers, saddle and harness makers, horse clippers, ostlers and grooms and equestrian tailors became a feature of town trade.
The vernacular buildings of the town have features of both the Cotswold dip slope to the northwest and the Thames valley to the southeast. The earliest surviving buildings of the town are the medieval church of St Edburg; the vicarage of 1500 and two post dissolution houses in the former Priory precinct constructed from reused mediaeval material. These buildings are mainly grey oolitic limestone, from the Priory quarry at Kirtlington, five miles west on Akeman Street, some ginger lias (ironstone) comes from the area around Banbury , and white and bluish grey cornbrash limestone was quarried in Crockwell and at Caversfield two miles north .
Early secular buildings were box framed structures, using timber from the Bernwood forest on the western slopes of the Chilterns five miles east. Infilling of frames was of stud and lath with lime render and limewash. Others were of brick or local rubble stonework. The river valleys to the south and east of the town were the source of clay for widespread local production of brick and tile. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Page-Turners had a brick fields in Wretchwick and Blackthorn and which operated alongside smaller produces such as the farmer George Coppock who produced bricks as a sideline.
Local roofing materials included longstraw thatch, which persisted on older and lower status areas on houses and terraced cottages. Thatch had to be laid at pitches in excess of 50 degrees. This generated narrow and steep gables which also suited the heavy stone tiles, from Stonesfield and elsewhere in the Cotswolds. The other widespread roofing material was local red clay plain tiles. Nineteenth century bulk transport innovations associated with canal and railway infrastructure allowed imports of blue slate from north Wales. These could be laid at much more shallow pitches on fashionable high status houses. Apart from imported slate, a striking characteristic of all of the new buildings of the early nineteenth century is the continued use of local vernacular materials, albeit in buildings of non-vernacular design. The new buildings were constructed alongside older wholly vernacular survivals and, sometimes superficially updated with fashionable applied facades, fenestration or upper floors and roofs.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century the two townships or Kings End and Market End had begun to evolve distinct spatial characteristics. Inns, shops and high status houses clustered around the triangular market place as commercial activity was increasingly concentrated in Market End where the Bailiwick lessees promoted a much less regulated mart than that found in boroughs elsewhere. Away from the market, Sheep Street was considered ‘very respectable’ but its northern end at Crockwell was inhabited by the poorest inhabitants in low quality, subdivided and overcrowded buildings.
Until the early nineteenth century the road from the market place to Kings End ran through a ford of the Bure stream and on to the narrow embanked road across the boggy valley. The causeway became the focus for development from the late eighteenth century as rubbish and debris was dumped on each side of the road to form building platforms, minor channels of the braded stream were encased and culverted as construction proceeded. By 1800, the causeway had dense development forming continuous frontages on both sides. The partially buried watercourses provided a convenient drainage opportunity, and many houses had privies discharging directly into the channels. Downstream, the Bure ran parallel with Water Lane, then the main road out of town towards London. Terraces of cottages were built backing onto the stream, and here too these too took advantage of the steam for sewage disposal, with privies cantilevered out from houses over the watercourse. Town houses took their water from wells dug into the substrate which became increasingly polluted by leaching of waste through the alluvial bed of the Bure.
The fire 1724 had destroyed the buildings on the eastern side of Water Lane. A nonconformist congregation was able to acquire a site that had formerly been the tail of a long plot occupied at the other end by The King’s Arms. Their Chapel built in 1728 was ‘surrounded by a burying ground and ornamented with trees. At the southern and downstream end of Water Lane, there were further problems of pollution from animal dung from livery stables on the edge of town associated with the London traffic.
King’s End had a substantially lower population and none of the commercial bustle found on the other side of the Bure. The manorial lords, the Cokers, lived in the manor house since 1584. The house had been rebuilt in the early eighteenth century remodelled in the 1780’sThe park was enlarged surrounded by a wall after 1753 when a range of buildings on the north side of King’s End green were demolished by Coker. A westward enlargement of the park also extinguished the road which followed the line of the Roman route. This partly overlapped a pre 1753 close belonging to Coker . The effect of the enlargement of the park was to divert traffic at the Fox Inn, through King’s End, across the Causeway to the Market Square and Sheep Street before returning to the Roman Road north of Crockwell.
The town is twinned with
Neunkirchen-Seelscheidnear Bonnand Colognein Germanyand also with Canton des Essarts in the Vendée, between Nantesand Bordeauxin France.
The town has a long-standing connection with the military. Ward Lock & Co's 'Guide to Oxford and District' suggests that Alchester was 'a kind of Roman Aldershot'. During the Civil War (1642-49) Bicester was used as the headquarters of parliamentary forces. Following the outbreak of the French Wars from 1793, John Coker, the manorial lord of Bicester King’s End, formed an ‘Association for the Protection of Property against Levellers and Jacobins’ as an anti-Painite loyalist band providing local militia and volunteer drafts for the army. When Oxford University formed a regiment in 1798, John Coker was elected Colonel.
Coker’s Bicester militia had sixty privates, and six commissioned and non-commissioned officers led by Captain Henry Walford. The militia briefly stood down in 1801 after the Treaty of Amiens. But when hostilities resumed after 1804 invasion anxiety was so great as to warrant the reformation of the local militia as the Bicester Independent Company of Infantry. It had double the earlier numbers to provide defence in the event of an invasion or Jacobin insurrection. The Bicester Company was commanded by a captain, with 2 lieutenants, an ensign, 6 sergeants, 6 corporals and 120 privates. Their training and drill were such that they were deemed ‘fit to join troops in the line’. The only action recorded for them is in 1806 at the 21st birthday celebrations of Sir Gregory O Page-Turner when they performed a feu de joie ‘and were afterwards regaled at one of the principal inns of the town’.
During the first world war an airfield was established north of the town for the Royal Flying Corps. This became a
Royal Air Forcestation, now Bicester Airfield
British Army's largest ordnancedepot - the Central Ordnance Depot of the Royal Logistic Corps(formerly the Royal Army Ordnance Corps) - is located just outside the town. The depot has its own internal railway system, the Bicester Military Railway.
;Rail linksBicester was included in the 'Railway boom' of the 1840s. The line from Bletchley to Oxford formed part of the ‘Buckinghamshire Railway’ and was completed in 1848 (see below - Varsity Line) along with ‘a neat station at the bottom of the London-road’ which opened in 1850. This is now Bicester Town Station. Bicester’s first fatal railway accident occurred at the station in September 1851.
* Bicester Town, located to the south of the town has a
branch lineservice to Oxford and Islip which follows the old Varsity Linetrack between Oxford and Cambridge.
;SchoolsBicester is home to two secondary schools:
Bicester Community College(BCC) and The Cooper School. There are also a number of primary schools - for example, Five Acres Primary School and Nursery, in the locality. More schools are set to be built as Bicester is projected to double in size from 30,000 to 60,000 in between 2007 and 2027.
;ShoppingThe historic shopping streets, particularly Sheep Street and Market Square, have a wide range of local and national shops together with cafés, pubs and restaurants. Sheep Street is now pedestrianised with car parks nearby. Weekly markets take place in the town centre along with Farmers Markets and an occasional French Market. The £70 million re-development of the town centre now looks unlikely to begin as predicted in 2008. South of Bicester beyond Pingle Field is the retail outlet
Bicester Village Shopping Centre. Further towards Oxford, is one of the largest Garden Centres in the UK called Bicester Avenue
;ChurchesBicester has numerous churches under the Churches Together banner.
* St Edburg's Parish Church (Anglican)
* Emmanuel Church (Charismatic Anglican, meeting in Bure Park School)
* the Church of the Immaculate Conception (Roman Catholic)
* the Methodist Church
* [http://www.obf.org.uk/ Orchard Baptist Fellowship] (meeting in Cooper School)
* Elim Lighthouse Church (Pentecostal - meeting in the Methodist church)
* [http://www.occ.org.uk/bicester/ Bicester Community Church] (meeting in the Salvation Army Church)
* and The Salvation Army itself.
Not part of the Churches Together group are the Bicester Baptist Church (meeting in Southwold Community Centre) and [http://www.hebrongospelhall.org/ Hebron Gospel Hall] .
*Anecdotes and Adventures of Fifteen Gentlemen (1821) by Richard Scrafton Sharpe, includes the Limerick 'There was an old soldier of Bicester...' http://www.nonsenselit.org/Lear/limbooks/fg04.html
*John Drinkwater's poem, "The Patriot" contains a reference to "Bicester brakes that violets fill"
* The anonymous rhyme "I went to Noke," commemorating the attempts to bribe locals to give away the names of Otmoor Rebels of 1831, includes the line "I went to Bister, they said ow'do mister" , indicating a polite but unhelpful response.
*The trilogy "
Lark Rise to Candleford" by Flora Thompsonwas based in the north east of Bicester. Some of the book's plot was set in the nearby villages of Juniper Hill, Hethe, Cottisfordand Fringford.
Oxfamhas its emergency warehouse in Bicester.
* Beesley. Alfred "The History of Banbury" (1841) (Extra illustrated version- vol. 16 OxLSC)
* Blomfield J C. "History of the present deanery of Bicester," Pt 2 (Oxford 1882-94)
* Bond C J. ‘The Small Towns of Oxfordshire in the Nineteenth Century’, in T Rowley (Ed). "The Oxford Region 55-79" (1980)
* Dannatt G H. Bicester in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. "Oxoniensia" vols XXVI/XXVII (1961/2)
* Dunkin John ."The History and Antiquities of Bicester; a market town in Oxfordshire" (1816)
* Dunkin John. "History and Antiquities of the hundreds of Bullingdon and Ploughley" (1823)
* Kennett White. "Parochial antiquities attempted in the history of Ambrosden, Burchester, and other adjacent parts in the Counties of Oxford and Bucks"
* Lawton, E.R. and Sackett, M.W., (1992), "The Bicester Military Railway", Oxford Publishing Co., ISBN 0-86093-467-5
* Mitchell, V. and Smith, K., (2005), "Country Railway Routes: Oxford to Bletchley", Middleton Press, ISBN 1-90447-457-8
* Parkinson R, "Continuity and Change in an Oxfordshire Market Town- Bicester 1801-1861". Unpublished dissertation- Kellogg College. Oxford (2007)
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