The History of Burford

Burford through the ages

The first certain reference to Burford is in the Domesday Book of 1086. Around 1090, during the reign of William Rufus, Burford was granted a charter by the forward-thinking Robert Fitzhamon. This was one of the earliest Charters in the country and gave the men of Burford various rights – to hold a market, rent out their property and sell or bequeath leases as suited them, and it removed them from the feudal system. Run by a merchant guild and presided over by an Alderman, the town honoured its founder by taking as its seal Fitzhamon’s coat of arms, despite its modest size, Burford has remained a town for over nine hundred years. Records and Charters dating from these early years are now housed in the Tolsey Museum on the High Street.

The market, and therefore the town, developed over the centuries to incorporate all the local industries. From sheep farming came wool, the mills, the weavers, tanners and, at one time, the best saddle makers in Europe. From agriculture came the flourmill and a reputation for being the best and most innovative farmers in the country. Local stone produced stonemasons and builders. And to wet all those thirsty throats was the brewery, now sadly gone, together with the annual fairs and the race course which once made Burford one of the four wealthiest towns in the county.

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Since motoring became popular after WWII, many more visitors have come by car, coach and bicycle to discover the old-world charm of the town. Once again, the lifeblood of the Town relies heavily on trade and hospitality to visitors.

Burford Oxon Domesday Book entry

Burford's entry in the Domesday Book

From the National Archives

Burford’s geographical position on a major north/south and east/west crossroads ensured visitors were frequent and trade was buoyant and at one time nearly every famous coach in the south of England passed through the town, enjoying its countless inns and hostelries

 

It was the unspoilt character of Burford that interested Antiquarians and those with transport came to discover its charm. The lack of rail transport meant that almost no industry came here, and no mass housing, and subsequent planning regulations have preserved the small envelope of the town. In fact, well over 90% of Burford’s old properties are listed, many Grade 2 - one of highest percentages in the country.