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Dorchester Abbey.jpg
Dorchester with the abbey tower
Grid reference: SU5794
Location: 51°38’38"N, 1°9’58"W
Population: 992  (2001)
Post town: Wallingford
Postcode: OX10
Dialling code: 01865
Local Government
Council: South Oxfordshire
Website: Dorchester on Thames

Dorchester-on-Thames is a village in Oxfordshire between the Rivers Thames and Thame. The Thame flows into the Thames just south of the town, the little High Street, becoming Meadside-Henley Road and crossing the Thame. The greater river, the Thames, is to the west, separated from the body of the village by narrow farmland, a water-meadow and flooded gravel workings. The parish lies within the Dorchester Hundred, which is named after it.

Dorchester Abbey is both the village's parish church and its main tourist attraction. The Abbey has a museum.

Founded as a Roman settlement, remains of which can be seen here, Dorchester flourished in the Anglo-Saxon period as the centre of the Bishopric of Dorchester, covering much of Wessex and Mercia, until the Episcopal seat was moved to Lincoln after the Norman Conquest. From the Georgian period, Dorchester was a busy coaching centre, but of the ten original coaching inns, just two remain: The George and The White Hart.

Dorchester stands eight miles south-east of and downstream from Oxford, and three north-west of Wallingford in Berkshire.

The Thames above Dorchester can bear two names, as the students of Oxford, apparently, named it the "Isis", and the Ordnance Survey duly mark its reaches above Dorchester as "River Thames or Isis".


The area has been inhabited since early times. In the north of the parish there was a Neolithic site, now largely destroyed by gravel pits. On one of the Sinodun hills on the opposite side of the River Thames, a ramparted settlement was inhabited during the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Two of the Sinodun hills bear distinctive landmarks of mature trees called Wittenham Clumps. Adjacent to the village are Dyke Hills which are also the remains of an Iron Age hill fort.

Dorchester's position on the navigable Thames and bounded on three sides by water made it strategic for both communications and defence. The Romans built a vicus[1] here, with a road linking the town to a military camp at Alchester, 16 miles to the north.[2] The settlement's Roman name is unclear; back-formations from Bede's Dorcic are unsupported.[3]

In 634 a bishop named Birinus was sent to convert the Saxons of the Thames Valley to Christianity and King Cynegils of Wessex gave Dorchester to Birinus as his seat, so he became the first Bishop of Dorchester; the diocese was extremely large, and covered most of Wessex and Mercia.

After the Norman Conquest, the centre of the diocese was moved to Lincoln but the Abbey remained a monastic house. In the 12th century the church was enlarged to serve a community of Augustinian canons.

King Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey in 1536, leaving the small village with a huge parish church.

Festivals and events

Dorchester on Thames is the home of a number of annual events:

Nearby is Day's Lock on the Thames, where the annual World Poohsticks Championship is held.


  1. "No definite public or administrative buildings have yet been excavated" note Barry C. Burnham and J. S. Wacher, The Small Towns of Roman Britain 1990: "Dorchester on Thames"p. 337.
  2. Romano-British Town: Dorchester on Thames, Oxfordshire
  3. Barry C. Burnham and J. S. Wacher, The Small Towns of Roman Britain "Dorchester on Thames"


  • Aston, Michael; Bond, James (1976). The Landscape of Towns. Archaeology in the Field Series. London: JM Dent & Sons Ltd. p. 47, 52, 61, 62, 64. ISBN 0 460 04194 0. 
  • Lobel, Mary D, ed (1957). A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 5: Bullingdon Hundred. Victoria County History. pp. 56–76. 
  • Lobel, Mary D, ed (1962). A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 7: Thame and Dorchester Hundreds. Victoria County History. pp. 39–64. 
  • Sherwood, Jennifer; Pevsner, Nikolaus (1974). Oxfordshire. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 576–586. ISBN 0 14 071045 0. 
  • Tiller, ed (2005). Dorchester Abbey: Church and People 635–2005. Stonesfield Press. ISBN 0-9527126-4-4. 

Outside links