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Didcot

Didcot is a town in the Thames Valley, in the English county of Oxfordshire (although formerly in Berkshire). The town is located approximately 8 miles south of the city of Oxford.

History and economy

Didcot dates back to the Iron Age. The settlement was situated on the ridge in the town, and the remainder of the surrounding area was marshland.

The Romans attempted to drain the marshland by digging the ditch that runs north through what is now known as the Ladygrove area north of the town near Long Wittenham.

Didcot first appears in historical records in the 1200s as Dudcotte, Berkshire. The name is believed to be derived from that of the local Abbot. Didcot was then a sleepy rural Berkshire village with a population of 100 or so, and remained that way for hundreds of years, only occasionally cropping up in records. Parts of the original village still exist in the Lydalls Road area and part of All Saints church dates back to the eleventh century. It was much smaller than several surrounding villages, which are now dwarfed by modern Didcot.

There are a number of major scientific employers nearby including the UKAEA at Culham (and the Joint European Torus (JET) fusion research project), Harwell Laboratory, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (the research council responsible for Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) and the Diamond Light Source synchrotron, which is the largest UK-funded scientific facility to be built for over 30 years. Didcot is also the base of operations for the Baptist Union of Great Britain and BMS World Mission.

The railway

1839 saw the arrival of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Western Railway at Didcot, and in 1844 his station followed, which enclosed the track completely in a similar style to Paddington (the original station burnt down in the later part of nineteenth century). The more obvious location for the original line to Bristol would have been the town of Abingdon a little further north, but the landowner, Lord Wantage, is reputed to have prevented the railway coming close to the town. This and the junction of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway created the conditions for the future growth of Didcot. The station's name also finally fixed the spelling of Didcot.

The position of Didcot at the junction of the routes to London, Bristol, Oxford and to Southampton via the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway made the location of strategic importance to military logistics, in particular during the campaign on the Western Front and the build up to D-Day. Although that railway line has closed and the large Army and Royal Air Force ordnance depots that were built to serve these needs have long since disappeared beneath the power station and Milton Park trading estate, there is still an army camp (Vauxhall Barracks) on the edge of town. The closure of the Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway in 1963 led to the loss of what could have developed into an important north-south freight route; Indeed the line continued to be used for freight for a further four years after closure to passengers, the bulk of this being oil traffic from the refinery at Fawley, near Southampton. This line was engineered by John Fowler and built by contractors T.H.Falkiner and Sir Thomas Tancred, who together also constructed the Forth Road Bridge.

After World War II technology changed, with steam locomotives becoming obsolete, and the motor car becoming common. The station was renamed Didcot Parkway in the mid 1980s and the site of the old GWR provender stores which had been demolished in 1976 (the provender pond was kept to maintain the water table) became a large car park so that the station would attract travellers from the surrounding area. The locomotive depot became the Didcot Railway Centre in 1967.

Power stations

The Didcot Power Stations (which are next to each other, and actually in Sutton Courtenay) supply electricity to the National Grid. Country Life magazine voted these the third worst eyesore in Britain, but some locals refer to them as "the Cathedral of the Vale" [of White Horse], a title which really belongs to the parish church at Uffington. The power station cooling towers are visible from up to 30 miles away due to their location, but won an award for reducing visual impact (six towers in two well-separated groups half a mile apart rather than a monolithic 3x2 block), much in the style of what is sometimes known as Didcot's 'sister' station - Fiddler's Ferry - at Widnes on Merseyside, constructed slightly earlier. Visually this station is just about identical although it has eight cooling towers in 2 groups of 4.

Reputation

Didcot featured in the 4th episode of the D series of QI. During the discussion it was revealed that Didcot Power Station was the third worst eyesore in the UK according to a poll by "Country Life". Number one was Wind farms. Didcot is also apparently home to the second oldest yew tree in the country. It's 1,600 years old. A point of humour as once again, Didcot could only boast about being second best.

Local Government

Didcot is the principal town of South Oxfordshire in the County of Oxfordshire. It is the largest town in the parliamentary constituency of Wantage, which has been represented since 2005 at Westminster by Ed Vaizey, Conservative. The outgoing MP at the last General Election was Robert Jackson, Labour.

Didcot is a parish, but has the status of a town. It is thus administered by a Didcot Town Council, which comprises 21 councillors representing the four wards in the town:

  • All Saints (5 councillors)
  • Park (5 councillors)
  • Ladygrove (6 councillors)
  • Northbourne (5 councillors)

Elected town councillors are unpaid and offer their time on a voluntary basis.

The 2008/09 Mayor of Didcot is Tony Harbour, a Conservative councillor.

One of the many youth projects in the town is the Didcot Youth Council. A group of young people who live in the town meet on a regular basis with the deputy town clerk, Stuart Carter, to organise events for the young people in Didcot as well as to highlight issues that they believe the Didcot Town Council should discuss. At present the youth Council is chaired by Richard Crispin, though Luke Doman is soon to take over the role in September.

Town Twinning

Didcot is twinned with the French town Meylan. The Didcot Twinning Association exists to encourage the building of friendships and relationships between the citizens of Didcot (and its surrounding villages) and Meylan, France. To encourage the co-operation of local businesses to the economic success of both towns and prosperity of citizens, and to exchange ideas on issues that impact on the lives of the citizens of both towns and those in the wider regional and national arenas.

5 km from Grenoble, Meylan is at the gateway to the Grenoble agglomeration. It is also situated at the mouth of the Gresivaudan valley and is an easy, accessible route for Geneva and the Swiss Alps. Meylan is the home of the Inovallé Technopole a hub of innovation and technology in fields of computer science, industrial electronics, robotics, artificial intelligence, automation and software. Didcot’s location among the science and innovation centres mentioned above make these two towns ideal twins.

Current developments

Didcot was formerly within the ceremonial county of Berkshire. A change in county boundaries in 1974 moved Didcot into Oxfordshire; it became the largest town in the new South Oxfordshire district, although it is situated right at its edge. Didcot is now home to around 24,500 people, with a new town centre, The Orchard Centre which opened in August 2005.

Didcot has been designated as one of the three major growth areas in Oxfordshire with the Ladygrove development set to double the number of dwellings in the town since construction began in the late 1980s to the North and East of the railway line on the former marshland. Originally, the Ladygrove development was planned to be complete by 2001, however, the final section to the East of Abingdon Road only had plans announced in 2006. In anticipation of the completion of the Ladygrove development, a prolonged and contentious planning enquiry decided that a 3,200 dwelling development will now be built to the west of the town, partly overlapping the boundary with the Vale of White Horse. The development will contain much-needed sports facilities as Didcot is currently amongst the poorest provided towns in Oxfordshire for leisure facilities.

Health

The district in England with the highest healthy life expectancy, according to the Office for National Statistics study, is the 1990s-built Ladygrove estate in Didcot.

“In 2001 the average UK healthy lifespan was thought to be 68.8 for women and 67 for men. People in Didcot, Oxfordshire, could expect 86 healthy years, while in parts of Middlesbrough the figure was 54.9. By contrast, the 1990s-built Ladygrove estate in Didcot, which officially tops the national table, may have received a boost from the local recreation grounds and sports centre. Tony Harbour, the Mayor of Didcot, told the Sunday Telegraph that he was not surprised that his town had done so well in the study. He said: "I suppose we are a healthy lot - people tend to walk everywhere. A real mix of people move here, for various reasons. There's a lot of young families.“ ” -BBC news

Education

Didcot is served by 6 primary schools: All Saints C of E, Ladygrove Park, Manor, Northbourne C of E, Stephen Freeman and Willowcroft. Along with these 6 schools based in Didcot, a further 7 local village schools form the Didcot Primary Partnership: Blewbury Endowed C of E, Cholsey, Hagbourne, Harwell Community, Long Wittenham C of E and South Moreton County.

The two state secondary schools in Didcot are St Birinus School and Didcot Girls' School. These two single-sex schools join together at sixth form. Didcot Girls' School has specialist Language College status, and St Birinus has Technology and Language College status.

Sport and leisure

Didcot Town Football Club play at RWE nPower Loop Meadow Stadium, situated on the Ladygrove Estate and won the FA Vase in 2005. The current home ground of Didcot Cricket Club is at Didcot Power Station in Sutton Courtenay

Didcot has three main leisure centres: Didcot Leisure Centre , Didcot Wave Leisure Pool , and Willowbrook Leisure Centre

Cornerstone, the new 278-seater multi-purpose arts centre, opened on 29 August 2008.

References

Further reading

  • Lingham, Brian (1979). The Long Years of Obscurity. A History of Didcot, Volume One - to 1841. Didcot: BF Lingham.
  • Lingham, Brian (1992). Railway Comes to Didcot: A History of the Town (Volume 2) - 1839 to 1918. Didcot: Sutton Publishing Ltd.
  • Lingham, Brian (2000). A Poor Struggling Little Town: A History of Didcot (Volume 3) - 1918 to 1945. Didcot: Didcot Town Council.

External links

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