The name Burford is said to mean a defended settlement by a ford – an ideal setting for a settlement to develop at the easy crossing of the River Windrush.
The high wide ridge running east / west made for dry animal herding and trading routes. One and a half miles east deeply carved tracts show the path of an old salt road going down to the Windrush at Widford. Here the 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 Burfod was an agricultural village but that changed when its importance as a crossroads was recognised by the granting of a charter establishing a merchant guild between 1088 and 1107 allowing burghers to run and hold their own independent markets. It’s an ancient charter that makes Burford with a population now of only about 1.000, technically a town – in the middle ages it was a centre for making and trading. The men of the town could hold property for rent and so the long narrow burgage plots fronting onto the main street and market with workshops running back to rear access lanes developed.
During the first Elizabethan era the rich agricultural land and ideal sheep rearing countryside of the Cotswolds cushioned Burford in wool revenues. In the eighteenth century it was a flourishing commercial centre – its origins in the wool trade were less visible and other trades increased although leather tanning and working in existence since the twelfth century, continued. It was an important coaching centre – at one time over 40 coaches a day passed through stopping at one of the many inns. Not surprisingly brewing was also important in Burford.
There was disappointment when the Victorian railways were routed through nearby Charlbury causing a lull in Burford’s fortunes but this probably preserved its ancient charm from 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. From this time on catering for visitors became important – Burford’s prosperity again dependent on them.