History

The name BURFORD is said to mean ‘a defended settlement by a ford’, the location being an ideal setting for a community to establish itself, set beside the easy, shallow crossing of the river Windrush.

The high, wide ridge running East to West (now the main A40 at the top of Burford Hill) was perfect for both dry animal herding and trading routes. One and a half miles to the East, deeply carved tracts reveal the path of an old salt road going down to the river Windrush at Widford. Here a chapel is built on the site of a Roman villa – a fragment of a mosaic pavement is still visible in the pews.

In the Domesday book, Burford was noted as an agricultural village; this changed when its importance as a crossroads – a main convergence of routes accessing the town from all directions – was recognised by the granting of a charter establishing a merchant guild between 1088 and 1107. This allowed the town’s burghers to run and hold their own independent markets and is an ancient charter that makes Burford, with a population even now of only about 1000 residents, technically a town.

In the Middle Ages Burford was a centre for both manufacturing and trading of goods. The men of the town could hold property for rent and so the long, narrow, burgage plots fronting onto the main street and market developed, with workshops running back to rear access lanes.

During the first Elizabethan era, the rich agricultural land and ideal sheep-rearing countryside of the Cotswolds comfortably sustained Burford with wool trade revenues.

In the eighteenth century, Burford was a flourishing commercial centre – its historic dependence on the wool trade becoming less significant as other trades developed, including a tradition of leather tanning and manufacturing dating back to the twelfth century. Burford was also an important coaching centre – at one time over 40 coaches passed through the town each day, stopping at the many inns for refreshment and lodging. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that brewing was also an important industry in Burford.

There was disappointment when the Victorian railways were routed through nearby Charlbury, causing a lull in Burford’s fortunes, but this probably ensured that its ancient charm and historic beauty remained unspoilt by the modernisation that followed the railways.

With the coming of the motor car in the early twentieth century, Burford’s prosperity was revitalised. People loved visiting its rural isolation and unspoilt charm. The hospitality industry once again prospered as visitors flooded to the town, creating a new dependence on the tourist market.