Dorchester on Thames

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Dorchester with the abbey tower in the background
Dorchester-on-Thames is located in Oxfordshire
 Dorchester-on-Thames shown within Oxfordshire
Population 992 (2001 census)[1]
OS grid reference SU5794
Civil parish Dorchester
District South Oxfordshire
Shire county Oxfordshire
Region South East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town Wallingford
Postcode district OX10
Dialling code 01865
Police Thames Valley
Fire Oxfordshire
Ambulance South Central
EU Parliament South East England
UK Parliament Henley
Website Dorchester on Thames
List of places

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Dorchester-on-Thames is a village and civil parish on the River Thames in Oxfordshire, about 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Wallingford and 8 miles (13 km) southeast of Oxford. Despite its name, Dorchester is not directly on the River Thames, but a few hundred yards from the Thame's confluence with it. Historically the Thames was only so named downstream of the village; upstream it is named the Isis, and Ordnance Survey maps continue to label the river as "River Thames or Isis" above Dorchester. In practice, however, this distinction is rarely made outside the city of Oxford.


The area has been inhabited since at least the Neolithic. In the north of the parish there was a Neolithic sacred site, now largely destroyed by gravel pits. On one of the Sinodun Hills on the opposite side of the Thames, a ramparted settlement was inhabited during the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Two of the Sinodun Hills bear distinctive landmarks of mature trees called Wittenham Clumps. Adjacent to the village is Dyke Hills which is the remains of an Iron Age hill fort.

Dorchester's position close to the navigable Thames and bounded on three sides by water made it strategic for both communications and defence. The Romans built a vicus[2] here, with a road linking the settlement to a military camp at Alchester, 16 miles (25 km) to the north.[3] The settlement's Roman name is unclear; back-formations from Bede's Dorcic are unsupported.[4]

In 634 Pope Honorius I sent a bishop called Birinus to convert the Saxons of the Thames Valley to Christianity. King Cynegils of Wessex gave Dorchester to Birinus as the seat of a new Diocese of Dorchester under a Bishop of Dorchester; the diocese was extremely large, and covered most of Wessex and Mercia. The settled nature of the bishopric made Dorchester in a sense the de facto capital of Wessex, which was later to become the dominant kingdom in England; eventually Winchester displaced it, with the bishopric being transferred there in 660.[citation needed] Briefly in the late 670s Dorchester was once more a bishop's seat under Mercian control.[5]

Dorchester again became the seat of a bishop in around 875, when the Mercian Bishop of Leicester transferred his seat there. The diocese merged with that of Lindsey in 971; the bishop's seat was moved to Lincoln in 1072.

In the 12th century the church was enlarged to serve a community of Augustinian canons. King Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey in 1536, leaving a small village with a huge parish church.


Dorchester Abbey[6] is both the village's Church of England parish church and its main tourist attraction. The Abbey has a museum.

Of the ten original coaching inns, two remain: The George[7] and The White Hart. The George has a galleried yard dating back to 1495 and it used to serve coaches on the Gloucester-Oxford-London route. The George was used as a filming location for ITV's Agatha Christie's Poirot in the episode Taken at the Flood in 2006.[8]

Festivals and events

Dorchester on Thames is the home of a number of annual events:

  • The biennial Dorchester on Thames Festival, a 10-day fundraising event held every other May[9]
  • The English Music Festival[10]

Nearby is Day's Lock on the Thames, where an annual "World Poohsticks Championship" is held.

Notable people from Dorchester


  1. "Area: Dorchester CP (Parish): Parish Headcounts". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 16 March 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "No definite public or administrative buildings have yet been excavated" note Barry C. Burnham and J. S. Wacher, The Small Towns of Roman Britain 1990: "Dorchester on Thames" p. 337
  3. Togodumnus (Kevan White). "DORCHESTER ON THAMES". Retrieved 25 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Barry C. Burnham and J. S. Wacher, The Small Towns of Roman Britain "Dorchester on Thames"
  5. Kirby Earliest English Kings p. 48-49
  6. "Welcome". Retrieved 25 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "The George Hotel, Doirchester : Webpage". Retrieved 25 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Poirot Locations - Taken at the Flood". Retrieved 25 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Dorchester-on-Thames Festival - Fun for all the family". Retrieved 25 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Welcome to The English Music Festival". Retrieved 25 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


External links