Didcot or is a town and civil parish in Oxfordshire about south of Oxford. Until 1974 it was in Berkshire, but was transferred to Oxfordshire in that year, and from Wallingford Rural District to the district of South Oxfordshire becoming the largest town in the new district. Didcot is known for its railway junction, power stations and for hosting two of the largest science and technology parks in Europe, Milton Park and the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus.
History and economy
Ancient and medieval
The area around present-day Didcot has been inhabited for at least 9000 years, a large scale archaeological dig between 2010-2013 produced finds from the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Iron Age and Bronze Age. During the Roman era the inhabitants of the area tried to drain the marshland by digging ditches through what is now the Ladygrove area north of the town near Long Wittenham, evidence of which was found during surveying in 1994.
In early historical records Didcot was recorded as Dudcote and Doudecothe amongst other similar names, deriving from the personal name Dydda and the Anglosaxon word for house or shelter, cott. The name is believed to be derived from that of Dida, a 7th century Mercian sub-king who ruled the area around Oxford and was the father of Saint Frithuswith, now the patron saint of both Oxford and Oxford University. Didcot was then a rural Berkshire village and remained that way for centuries, only occasionally appearing in records. At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 Didcot was much smaller than several surrounding villages, including Harwell and Long Wittenham, which are now dwarfed by modern Didcot. Didcot was not explicitly named in the Domesday Book with the closest recorded settlement being Wibalditone, with 21 inhabitants and a church, the name possibly survives in Willington's Farm on the edge of Didcot's present-day Ladygrove Estate. Parts of the original village still exist in the Lydalls Road area where the Church of England parish church of All Saints is located, the church's nave walls dates from 1160.
20th and 21 centuries
Didcot is currently home to around 27,000 people. The new town centre, The Orchard Centre, was opened in August 2005. There are now a number of major scientific employers nearby including the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority at Culham (and the Joint European Torus (JET) fusion research project), Harwell Laboratory, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (the research council responsible for Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) and the Diamond Light Source synchrotron, which is the largest UK-funded scientific facility to be built for over 30 years.
Didcot has been designated as one of the three major growth areas in Oxfordshire; the Ladygrove development is set to double the number of dwellings in the town since construction began in the late 1980s to the north and east of the railway line on the former marshland. Originally, the Ladygrove development was planned to be complete by 2001; but the plans for the final section to the east of Abingdon Road were only announced in 2006. In anticipation of the completion of the Ladygrove development, a prolonged and contentious planning enquiry decided that a 3,200 dwelling development will now be built to the west of the town, partly overlapping the boundary with the Vale of White Horse.
In 2008 a new £8 million arts and entertainment centre, Cornerstone, opened within the Orchard Centre. It contains exhibition and studio spaces, a cafe and a 236 seat auditorium. Designed by Ellis William Architects, the centre is clad with silvered aluminium panels and features a 'Window Wall', used to connect the building with passing shoppers.