Oxfordshire – area guide
Area size: 2,605 km2
Average house price (based on 3-bed semi): £328,698 (Source: Zoopla)
Key towns: Oxford, Abingdon, Faringdon, Bicester, Henley-on-Thames, Banbury, Didcot, Wantage, Chipping Norton, Kidlington, Witney, Thame, Chinnor
Oxfordshire is located in the south east of England within easy commute of London and neighbouring counties. The county’s economy is largely based around education, publishing, tourism, technical industries, research, and noted for the concentration of performance motorsport companies and facilities in the region. It is also the most rural county in the south east of England and has the lowest population levels – in fact, the city of Oxford houses 24% of the entire county’s residents.
Oxfordshire’s top five
- Transport links: Wherever you live in Oxfordshire, you’re within easy commute of London. Oxford is also a thriving hub within the region. As well as excellent rail links – in some cases making London less than an hour’s journey – the M40 runs through the county, as well as a number of major A roads.
- Quality of life: According to the Office of National Statistics, 80% of people in Oxfordshire would describe themselves as happy or very happy – that’s seven percent more than the national average. Oxford is also ranked as the best city in the UK for the financial success and wellbeing of its residents.
- Education opportunities: As home to one of the world’s most famous and oldest universities, much of Oxfordshire’s economy has been built around education. This has attracted some exceptional independent and state schools into the region.
- Parks and spaces: Oxfordshire has historically been an agricultural county and enjoys stunning countryside views. Areas of outstanding natural beauty include the Cotswolds, Chiltern Hills and North Wessex Downs.
- Retail therapy: Oxfordshire is known for its eclectic mix of shops, from boutiques, specialist food shops and farmers’ markets to the internationally renowned Bicester Village, which even attracts people who fly in to Heathrow and take a shuttle bus directly to the 130 luxury designer boutiques.
Oxfordshire is extremely popular with London commuters, which is served by three train lines through the county into the capital. One line comes from the Cotswolds to stop in villages such as Ascott-under-Wychwood and Charlbury before going on to Oxford, Dicot Parkway (44 minutes from London, five trains per hour at peak times) and London Paddington. Another line runs from Banbury to London Marylebone, a journey that takes 72 minutes. There are also fast trains from Oxford to London Paddington that take just under an hour. The latter makes Oxford the obvious choice for commuters.
There are also excellent rail connections between London Marylebone and Thame, Henley-on-Thames and Wallingford.
Trains from Twyford to London Paddington take 34 minutes with eight trains per hour during peak times; trains from Bicester North to London Marylebone take 50 minutes and there are two trains an hour at peak times; and trains from Haddenham & Thame Parkway to London Marylebone take 38 minutes.
Living or working in Oxfordshire will give you access to some of the UK’s biggest motorways. The M40 sweeps from London into Oxfordshire.
Major Oxfordshire A roads include the A34, A20, A40, A34 and A44.
There are comprehensive bus services in the region, including a number of park and ride services designed to minimise single occupancy car journeys.
Points of interest
Oxfordshire was first recorded as a county early in the 10th century and has historically always had some importance because of the agricultural land at the centre of the county, particular due to the Cotswolds’ wool trade, which generated a great deal of wealth.
Oxford University was founded in 1096 and grew in importance during the Middle Ages and early modern period, gradually adopting the collegiate structure it has today.
It would appear that, when Morris Motors was founded in Oxfordshire in 1912, the company brought heavy industry to the county’s economy, which had previously relied on agriculture. These days, just one percent of the county’s population are involved in agriculture.
There are many famous people connected with Oxfordshire, not least because of the presence of the University of Oxford. Famous residents, past and present, include Olympic winning rower, Matthew Pinsent; the first person in recorded history to run a mile in under four minutes, Sir Roger Bannister; Radiohead front man, Thom Yorke; tennis player, Tim Henman; Captain Blackadder himself, Rowan Atkinson; author, C.S. Lewis; author, Dame Agatha Christie; Beatle, George Harrison; author, J.R.R. Tolkien; author, Lewis Carroll; Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill; actress, Emma Watson; actor, Patrick Stewart; director, Tim Burton; actress, Helena Bonham Carter; chef, Anthony Worrall-Thompson; and comedian, Ronnie Barker.
In many ways, Oxfordshire is synonymous with British life for many people across the world. The dreaming spires of Oxford have been in so many films and television series that the county feels incredibly familiar, even to new visitors. Today’s children recognise the Great Hall in Christ Church as the entrance hall to Hogwarts in the film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, while older generations will recognise the backdrop to Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour.
Living in Oxfordshire
In a survey by the Office of National Statistics, 80% of people living in Oxfordshire described their level of happiness is either high or very high (that’s seven percent over the national average). In addition, 65% said that their levels of anxiety were low or very low (again, this beats the national average).
Oxfordshire offers an excellent quality of life, mixing cosmopolitan towns and cities with breath-taking countryside and quaint market towns and villages. It offers the convenience of London combined with a slower pace of life.
In a 2014 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Demos, Oxford came out top of the list of 36 UK cities ranked for economic success and wellbeing.
Outside of Oxford, Oxfordshire’s main towns are Banbury, Bicester, Witney, Wantage and Henley. There are also smaller market towns including Faringdon, Chipping Norton and Abingdon. The county is very scenic and the towns are generally well-connected by public transport.
Housing throughout the rest of the county tends to be cheaper than in Oxford itself but costs can build up if you are commuting, so this is an important consideration.
In December 2014, the Government announced that Bicester has been chosen as the site for the UK’s second garden city. This means that up to 13,000 new homes will be built on the edge of the town to help deal with the UK’s housing shortage. It is also anticipated that there will be a new railway station to serve this expanded population. Priorities for garden cities are said to be: quality design, gardens, accessible green space near homes, access to employment, and good local amenities.
Country Life says that Sutton Courtney, Dorchester-on-Thames, Henley-on-Thames, Sonning, Stratton Audley, Great Milton, Hethe, and Blewbury are the best places for commuters to live in Oxfordshire.
Shopping in Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire offers an eclectic mix of shops, from specialist food shops, boutiques and brands, such as Cath Kidston, to high street names and department stores.
Thanks to its rich agricultural history, there is an abundance of farmers’ markets selling local produce throughout the county.
Bicester Village is an internationally renowned designer retail outlet, which features over 130 luxury boutiques including names such as Dior, Gucci, Chanel, and Alexander McQueen. Tourists from South East Asia often take shuttle buses from Heathrow to Bicester Village for a spot of designer retail therapy.
Oxford’s covered market is another popular shopping destination, which includes specialist shops such as shoe makers and saddle menders, while Henley-on-Thames is loved for its boutiques and art galleries.
Working in Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire’s proximity to London and excellent transport links make it popular with commuters.
As home to one of the world’s most famous universities, Oxfordshire’s economy is understandably based education and tourism; it is also noted for its concentration of performance motorsport companies and facilities. Oxford University Press is the largest among many print and publishing firms based in the county. The University of Oxford also attracts a large number of biotechnology companies.
According to Oxfordshire Insight, some of the county’s largest employers include Oxfordshire County Council, the University of Oxford, Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust, BMW (UK) Manufacturing, Thames Valley Police, Oxford Brookes University, NHS Oxfordshire, Waitrose, Royal Mail, BT, Nielsen, and Williams Grand Prix Engineering.
Oxford Science Park attracts innovative, leading edge organisations at the forefront of research and development.
People living and working in Oxfordshire are among the most highly qualified in the UK. Small and medium-sized companies have a high profile in the region as more than 75% of organisations in Oxfordshire employ fewer than ten people and 58% employ five or less.
Education in Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire is world famous for the educational opportunities it provides. The county boasts 23 independent schools and 35 state secondary schools, only eight of which do not have their own sixth form.
Oxford’s wide choice of private schools is a big draw for parents. Christ Church Cathedral School is the cathedral and Worcester College choir school; New College School provides the choristers for New College; and Magdalen College School for Magdalen College.
The Dragon School is the country’s largest prep school. Other private prep and primary schools in Oxford alone are Summer Fields and Emmanuel Christian School.
Private secondary school in Oxfordshire include Wynchwood, d’Overbroeck’s College and St Edward’s. Private schools that take children from nursery and/or reception through to sixth form include Oxford High, Rye St Antony, Headington School and Abingdon School.
In fact, Abingdon in particular is known for its high performing schools.
Outstanding state primary schools in the region include Appleton Church of England Primary School, Dr Radcliffe’s Church of England School, The Batt Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School, Longworth Primary School, and St. Andrew’s Church of England Primary School. Bartholomew School is an outstanding secondary school in the region.
The Good Schools Guide and Ofsted reports provide excellent starting points for more information.
Higher education in Oxfordshire also has an exceptionally high profile as it is home to the ancient University of Oxford and the modern Oxford Brookes University, both of which are located in Oxford. Wroxton College in Banbury is affiliated with Fairleigh Dickinson University of New Jersey.
Sports and leisure in Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire’s stunning countryside seems to encourage people to get out and about in their spare time. There are excellent leisure facilities throughout the country, which include swimming pools, gym facilities, skating rinks, golf courses, and court hire. One such place is the White Horse Leisure and Tennis Centre where Tim Henman learnt to play.
Tisley Park has outdoor track facilities for athletics and Iffley Road Track is where Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954.
Outdoor pursuits such as cycling, walking, horse riding, and fishing are also popular throughout the county. Of course, rowing has a special place in the hearts of the people of Oxfordshire – as well as watching the student crews practising near the University boat houses, many people spend their leisure time rowing, kayaking and canoeing.
For an activity with a difference, Exciting Game is a popular destination where people – colleagues, friends or families – work in teams of three to five people to solve a mystery in just 60 minutes. For tree top adventures, try Go Ape in Wendover.
The landscapes the typify Oxfordshire attracts writers and artists aplenty, all keen to capture the beauty of the area in paints and prose.
Football is popular in the region with most towns having their own football club. Oxford United football club is currently in League Two nationally.
Oxford itself boasts several thriving theatres, two major cinemas, a number of fully equipped sports grounds and an ice rink.
Places to visit
Oxford is the sixth most visited city in the UK for international visitors, thanks to its ‘dreaming spires’ and the world-class reputation of the University of Oxford. The city offers some incredible sights and sounds with notable buildings including the Sheldonian Theatre and the Radcliffe Camera.
Blenheim Palace – birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill – is a monumental country house that is also popular with tourists. It has been the background for countless TV programmes and films, including Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Avengers, Kenneth Brannagh’s Hamlet, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, King Ralph, Young Winston and many others.
Other stunning country houses in Oxfordshire include Ashdown House, Broughton Castle, Chastleton House, Stonor Park, Greys Court, Kelmscott Manor (home of William Morris) and Mapledurham House.
Country Life recently listed seven hidden Oxfordshire gems that sit slightly off the tourism radar and yet are well worth a visit. These are the Maharajah’s Well in Stoke Row; Keble College, Oxford; Rollright Stones (see below); the Headington Shark; St. Katherine’s Church in Chiselhampton; Modern Art Oxford; and Dorchester on Thames.
Oxfordshire is the perfect place to live or work if you want a taste of country life. There are a variety of stunning green spaces, many of which have a rich history. Within the county, you can find the Chiltern Hills, North Wessex Downs and Cotswolds, both of which are designated Areas of Outstanding Beauty.
The iconic White Horse Hill at Uffington, in the Vale of White Horse, is the highest point in Oxfordshire at 261 metres and well worth a visit. Nearby Dragon Hill is said to be the site where St. George slew the dragon.
There are also a number of ancient burial grounds and monolithic stones, including the Rollright Stones, which attract many visitors.
Property in Oxfordshire is incredibly varied, from modern houses, flats and offices to period properties, cottages and country houses. This is particularly noticeable in Oxford where modern architecture blends with the magnificent, ornate university buildings, Colleges, museums and long-established residential properties.
As mentioned earlier in this guide, a 2014 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Demos found Oxford to be the top of 36 UK cities to live in. North Central Oxford is seen as the most exclusive residential area with large Victorian and Edwardian houses, as well as small terraced cottages. Summertown is a highly sought-after area which has a broad mix of housing types and great community feel.
Zoopla puts the average price for a three-bed semi-detached property at £328,698, a value that has risen by £32,658 over the past 12 months, while RightMove puts semi-detached properties at an average value of £327,304. Apparently, terraced properties accounted for the majority of sales over the past 12 months.
Commercial properties to rent and buy in Oxfordshire tend to offer a mix of retail spaces in period properties, offices, barn conversions, retail parks and industrial estates.
According to Zoopla, the highest value towns in Oxfordshire for property are Henley-on-Thames, Little Wittenham, Fawley and Maidensgrove.
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