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Woodstock is a small town 8 miles (13 km) northwest of Oxford in Oxfordshire, England. It is the location of Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. North Leigh Roman Villa, in the care of English Heritage is 7 miles away by road.
Winston Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace in 1874 and is buried in the nearby village of Bladon.
Edward, elder son of King Edward III and heir apparent, prince of Aquitaine and Wales, Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Chester was born in Woodstock Manor on 15 June 1330. During his lifetime, he was commonly called Edward of Woodstock.
During the reign of Mary I, her half-sister Princess Elizabeth was imprisoned in the gatehouse of Woodstock Manor.
The name Woodstock is Old English in origin, meaning a “clearing in the woods”, suggesting that English kings would log in the area. The Domesday Book of 1086 describes Woodstock (Wodestock, Wodestok, Wodestole) as a royal forest. Æthelred the Unready, king of England, is said to have held an assembly at Woodstock at which he issued a legal code now known as IX Æthelred.
Henry I may have kept a menagerie in the park. Woodstock was the scene of King Henry II’s courtship of Rosamund Clifford (Fair Rosamund). The market of the town was established when King Henry II gave Woodstock a Royal charter in 1179. Bear Hotel in the town centre opposite The Oxfordshire Museum dates to the 13th century.
Near the village was Woodstock Palace, a residence that was popular with several English kings throughout the medieval period. The building was destroyed in the English Civil War. Sixty years later the palace remains were cleared for the construction of Blenheim Palace.
From the 16th century the town prospered by making gloves. Today it is largely dependent on tourists, many of whom visit Blenheim Palace.
In the 17th century the town was altered greatly, when the 1st Duke of Marlborough became a permanent resident. One local inn, the Bear, was able to accommodate vast numbers of visitors and horses.
By 1626 James Keene, who had a bell-foundry in Bedford, had started one in Woodstock. Until 1640 another member of the family, Humphrey Keene, was a bell-founder with him. James died in 1654 and was succeeded by his son Richard. Richard Keene apparently closed the Woodstock foundry in the 1680s but continued casting bells at Royston, Hertfordshire until 1703.
Numerous parish churches still have one or more bells cast by the Keenes, including at Asthall, Cassington, Charlton-on-Otmoor, Chastleton, Chesterton, Duns Tew, Garsington, Islip, Kiddington, Merton, Milton, Oddington, Rousham, Steeple Aston, Steeple Barton, Stratton Audley, Tackley and Woodeaton in Oxfordshire, Stowe in Buckinghamshire and Martley in Worcestershire.
The Palace was designed by John Vanbrugh, in a heavy Italo-Corinthian style. It was designated to John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Most of the palace was paid for by the nation. Churchill was given this palace in honour for his victories over the French and the Bavarians at Blenheim in 1704.
The greater part of the art treasures and curios were sold off in 1886, and the great library collected by Charles Spencer, Earl of Sunderland, the son-in-law of the first Duke of Marlborough, in 1881. The magnificent park contains Fair Rosamund’s Well, near which stood her bower. On the summit of a hill stands a column commemorating the duke. Blenheim Park forms a separate parish.
When Thomas Wyatt led an uprising in 1554 to depose Queen Mary I and put Princess Elizabeth on the throne in her place, Elizabeth was imprisoned in a lodge in Woodstock as a precaution. The lodge was used because the now lost Woodstock Palace or manor house was too dilapidated to house her. A survey in 1551 reported that “the mansion… for many years past hath been decayed.” While imprisoned, Elizabeth wrote a poem. “Much suspected by [of] me, None proved can be.” She was released in April 1555 after nearly a year in captivity.
The little River Glyme, in a steep and picturesque valley, divides the town into New and Old Woodstock. Woodstock has two main suburbs, namely Hensington to the south and east of the town centre, and Old Woodstock directly to the north. The town hall of Woodstock was built in 1766 after the designs of Sir William Chambers, and there are a number of 17th century buildings in the centre. The almshouses were erected in 1798 by Caroline, duchess of Marlborough. Chaucer’s House was once home to the poet Geoffrey Chaucer.
The primary school and The Marlborough School, the secondary school, are both situated on Shipton Road. Nursery provision is available through WUFA (Woodstock Under Fives Association).
The Church of England parish church of St. Mary Magdalene has a Norman doorway. The church has a musical clock that chimes every hour.
The Oxfordshire Museum, the county museum of Oxfordshire, occupies a large historic house, Fletcher’s House, in the centre of Woodstock. The museum has a garden containing works of art and a Dinosaur Garden with a full-size replica of a Megalosaurus.
Oxford School of Drama is in Woodstock.