Oxfordshire is a county covering about 1000square miles, contained largely within the Thames Basin. Between Henley and Wallingford lie the beginnings of the Chiltern Hills, while in the north are the most easterly hills of the Cotswolds as well as rich farmland based on the clay soil that stretches up from Oxford to the Midlands. In the east, Henley is one of many attractive Thames-side settlements, towards the west are Faringdon and Witney, and in the north, Bicester, Chipping Norton and Banbury. The county is of course dominated by its capital, Oxford, which from the 12th century grew from a small and little known market town into one of the major seats of learning in the world. It also prospered as a central point of communication, first as a stopping point on Oxfordshire coaching routes and later with the coming of the canals and the railways. Industry grew, too, and in the suburb of Cowley, Lord Nuffield’s Morris car works were a major employer. Many palaeolithic, mesolithic and Neolithic finds have been made in the county, but the most eye catching early archaeological feature is the Uffington White Horse from the Iron Age. Dorchester and Alchester were the most important sites in Roman Oxfordshire, the Saxons built many settlements along the Thames, and the Danes over-ran the area in the 10th and 11th centuries. The county was heavily involved in the Civil War (1642-1651)and the towns of Oxford (for three years the Royalist headquarters), Banbury and Wallingford were all besieged by Parliamentary forces during the conflict.
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