When Bob Hessian, co-founder of Bicester Local History Society, first delved into the area’s rich history, he uncovered some truly remarkable facts that many will be unaware of. Some of these have been commemorated on a brand-new timeline at Countryside’s popular Kingsmere development in Bicester, celebrating a history that dates back to the 600s.
Here, Bob gives us five fun facts about Bicester’s history.
Bicester’s first formation
With “cester” as part of the name, many would expect that Bicester was first founded by the Romans. However, Bicester was in fact first settled by the Anglo-Saxons around 600 AD and wasn’t called Bicester as we know it. The Romans did instead establish a town nearby called Alchester, none of which exists today. Interestingly, earlier iron-age and bronze-age settlements in the area, and two bronze-age ring ditches and a grave from the Beaker period (2000BC) were discovered on the Kingsmere site prior to its development.
The Domesday Book
In 1086, Bicester (Bernecestre), is recorded as a settlement of two manors and is home to approximately 200 people. At this time, Bicester was already becoming a thriving, but small town.
The Priory and its saintly shrine
An Augustinian Priory was founded in 1183 and occupied a large area to the east of the town. It contained the shrine of St Edburg, a former English saint and nun, and this brought many visitors to worship there. The Priory church was over twice the size of the current parish church. It was pulled down during the Reformation and now, no remains of the priory can be seen above ground. The legacy of St Edburg’s shrine lives on through its namesake, St Edburg’s Church of England Primary School, which now resides in a new school building on Kingsmere.
The Bicester we know today
Would not have formed had the railway, which arrived in 1850, not existed. The Oxford-Bletchley railway, and later, the Great Western Railway in 1910, brought with it industry and jobs that helped to transform the area. The arrival of the Ministry of Defence at Arncott and Graven Hill in 1941 also provided major employment and business opportunities for the town.
The makings of a successful market town
The jobs and industry that the railway brought with it helped to spark significant population growth. By the 1920s there was a steady population increase that helped to fuel the town’s reputation as a burgeoning market town. Hundreds of people from miles around Bicester travelled to the area for its markets, which were hugely popular. At the time, the main market was held on Market Square, while a livestock market was held on Sheep Street. Today, this cattle market no longer exists but visitors can instead find a thriving public market. The population continued to rise through the 1960s and beyond, which saw not only more people living in the area, but new homes for local residents too.