Dorchester, Oxfordshire - Encyclopedia

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DORCHESTER, a large village in the south parliamentary division of Oxfordshire, England, 9 m. S.S.E. of Oxford by road, on the river Thame, 1 m. from its junction with the Thames. This is a site of much historical interest. There was a Roman station near the present village, facing, across the Thames, the double isolated mound known as Wittenham Hills (historically Sinodun), on one summit of which are strong early earthworks. In Dorchester itself the chief point of interest is the abbey church of St Peter and St Paul. This consists of a nave of great length, primarily of the transitional Norman period; a choir with arcades of the finest Decorated work; north choir aisle of the close of the 13th century, south choir aisle (c. 1300) and south nave aisle (c. 1320). The tower (western) is an erection of the late 17th century. The eastern bay of the choir is considered to have been added as a Lady chapel, and the north window is a magnificent example of a "Jesse window," in which the tracery represents the genealogical tree of Jesse, the complete execution of the design being carried on in the glass. The sedilia and piscina are very fine. The Decorated windows on the south side of the church form a beautiful series, and there are monuments and brasses of great interest.

Dorchester (Dorcinia, Dornacestre, Dorchecestre) was conquered by the West Saxons about 560. It occupied a commanding position at the junction of the Thames and the Thame, and in 635 was made the seat of a bishopric which at its foundation was the largest in England, comprising the whole of Wessex and Mercia. The witenagemot of Wessex was held at Dorchester three times in the 9th century, and in 958 lEthelstan held a council here. In the 11th century, however, the town is described as small and ill-peopled and remarkable only for the majesty of its churches, and in about 1086 William I. and Bishop Remigius removed the bishop's stool to Lincoln, as a city more worthy of the distinction. According to the Domesday Survey Dorchester was held by the bishop of Lincoln; it was assessed at loo hides and comprised two mills. In 1140 Alexander bishop of Lincoln founded an abbey of Black Canons at Dorchester, but the town declined in importance after the removal of the cathedral, and is described by 16th-century writers as a mere agricultural village and destitute of trade.

See Victoria County History, Oxfordshire; Henry Addington, Some Account of the Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul at Dorchester, Oxfordshire, reissue with additional notes (Oxford, 1860).

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