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Saxon settlers were arriving in Oxfordshire in numbers during the 5th and 6th centuries. They re-used some existing sites, as at Dorchester; others were abandoned, as at Alchester. Increasing numbers of settlements were established on the primary sites associated with Oxfordshire’s later villages, and now named in Old English. The study of local names (of villages, towns, fields, farms and other features) has become a major tool for Oxfordshire historians, aided by the work of leading exponents of this complex linguistic study. (See further reading section of Earliest History). Such research is possible because of the gradual emergence in this period of the first written local records, bringing with them the transition from prehistory to history (See original sources section of this website).


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The growth of written record was linked to other major developments, one the establishment of Christianity and the beginnings of the institutions of the church, and another the increasing intensification and organisation of the ownership and use of land. Christianity was brought to Oxfordshire by Birinus, a missionary sent by the pope to convert Wessex. In 635 he baptised Cynegils, king of Wessex, at Dorchester, with the Christian king of Northumbria, Oswald standing sponsor. The alliance was one of politics as well as faith, a mixture that was to be influential at many points in Oxfordshire history. 

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The two kings gave land for the establishment of a bishopric and Birinus became the first bishop of the West Saxons, with his cathedral at Dorchester, where he was to die and be buried c.650. Christianity was gradually established as a central feature of Oxfordshire life, but not without disruption. As the area was contested by the rival kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, the Wessex see was moved to Winchester in the 660s; Dorchester was twice more to be a cathedral, now within Mercia, in the 670s and from the 870s until the incoming Normans moved it to Lincoln in 1072. Maps of Oxfordshire's fluctuating position within dioceses shows just one of the unsettling consequences of its central location in this turbulent period. Locally, other religious institutions appeared. The great monastic house of Abingdon was founded, in 675. Minster churches, with groups of secular clergy, sent out to serve large surrounding areas were established, although numerous separate local churches appeared only late in the period.


Towns were not a feature of Oxfordshire until the later Saxon period. The first documentary mention of Oxford relates to 912. The foundation of St Frideswide’s Priory (now Christ Church) in 727, and Saxon archaeology found near Folly Bridge point to earlier settlement and the importance of the river crossing. However it was only in the 10th century that Oxford and Wallingford, just over the Thames and a planned burh fortified by Wessex in the late 9th century, began to exert major urban influence. Before this the main centres of power had been manorial, central places like the royal manors of Benson, Bampton, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Headington and Kirtlington, whose estates and jurisdiction covered large areas and continued to leave a mark on local history long after 1066.The full Solent Thames Research Framework - Anglo-SaxonOxfordshire can be viewed at STRF Anglo-Saxon Oxfordshire.


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