Didcot is a small town in South Oxfordshire and is the place I grew up and lived for the first 23 years of my life. The town and it’s people and places shaped my life and made me the person I am today. The town today is nothing like the town I grew up in however as it is now at least 3 times the size it was….
Didcot was probably one of the oldest settlements in the area of South Oxfordshire dating back to about 200-600BC, it is only a few miles away from the Iron Age hill fort of Wittenham Clumps (recently excavated on Time Team) situated in the fertile Thames Valley below the ancient trackway of The Ridgeway which crosses the chalk downland through ancient Wessex.
The name “Didcot” is Saxon, deriving from “Dydda’s or Dudda’s Cot” literally the cottage of Dudda until relatively recent times (the 19th century) the village was known as Dudcot or Dudcote. In Saxon times there was a fortified farm on the site and the village remained small until the arrival of Brunel’s Great Western Railway- or God’s Wonderful Railway – in 1844 when the population exploded.
Old Didcot still remains centered around All Saints Church with several streets of thatched cottages, the streets further out – around the railway and up to the area known as Northbourne are red-brick Victorian terraces built for the railway workers. This area was a “new village” created for the railway workers apart from the old village of Didcot.
Didcot expanded again in 1915 when the Didcot Arsenal was built to support World War 1 and another huge influx of labour needed housing. Since World War 1 Didcot hasn’t stopped and by 2005 it became the largest town in South Oxfordshire with the building of the huge Ladygrove housing development- the first housing in Didcot to be on the North side of the railway line.
I myself grew up in a new housing development built in the mid 1960’s – the Brasenose estate – my parent bought our house as a plot and moved in as soon as it was built. My first school, Stephen Freeman, was built along with the housing estate for the new families moving in.
In the mid 1960’s Didcot Power Station was built just outside the edge of the town where my home was – to me it seems incredible that when my parents first moved to Didcot they went for a walk to Wittenham Clumps and then didn’t know which way to walk to get back…..all my life Didcot Power Station has been visible for miles in any direction along the flat, wide Thames Valley.
There are 2 secondary schools (High Schools) in Didcot, unusually they are both single sex – Didcot Girls School and St Birinus for the boys. St Frideswides school was built in 1931 and was a mixed school, St Birinus was built in 1935 and when it opened St Frideswides split with the girls remaining there and the boys going to St Birinus. Any girls and boys who passed the 11+ exam went to Wallingford Grammar School until 1958 when Didcot Girls’ Grammar School opened in what is now called the Cockcroft Building.
In the 1970’s when comprehensive education was rolled out Didcot Girl’s Grammar and St Frideswides combined to become Didcot Girls’ School – which I attended from 1980 to 1987. Going to a Girl’s school means that whenever I tell people this they always assume I went to a public school (for those of you in the US – a public school is exactly the opposite of that, its a private fee paying school!!)
Amongst Didcot’s claims to fame – one of the Gunpowder plotters, Robert Wintour or Winter, held a mortgage on the manor – Manor Farm on the corner of Brasenose Road and Foxhall Road is the only remaining building of this manor. There is no evidence that the plotters ever actually met there however.
The church of All Saints, which is on the highest point of the old town, may have been one of the places that St Birinus preached when he brought Christianity to this area in 634. The area around the church was certainly a place of worship as far back as the Romans. The yew tree beside the church door is said to have been planted soon after Birinus preached here and it is certainly over 1,000 years old.
I was baptised at All Saints as a baby, attended Sunday school, was in the choir from age 7 till about 17, confirmed their aged 15 and so when I got married in 2001 there was only one place I could have my wedding, despite moving from Didcot about 9 years before!
My parents and brothers still live in Didcot as do many of my friends from school and so I visit the town regularly.
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