Guide to the Thames Valley

The Thames Valley generally stretches from Swindon to Sough, and includes Oxford, Reading and Windsor. It follows the River Thames and part of the M4 Motorway Corridor west of London. The innovative and largely urban region is one of the most prosperous in the UK and is home to leading universities.

Defining the Thames Valley

The Thames Valley is an informal name given to counties in England that follow the River Thames between Oxfordshire and London. Although there is no formal definition, the region generally includes parts of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Surrey. Southwest London may also be referred to as the Thames Valley. The Thames Valley is part of the South East of England, one of nine official regions in the country. The South East wraps around the west and south of London. It includes the counties of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, the Isle of Wight, West Sussex, East Sussex and Kent.

History of the Thames Valley

Evidence of human habitation in the Thames Valley dates back to the Neolithic period. Iron Age Belgic tribes lived along the river when the Romans arrived, as well as Celtic tribes. The Romans erected fortifications along the Thames Valley, including at Dorchester and further downstream in London. Most of today's towns in the Thames Valley date back to the Middle Ages and were settled during the Anglo-Saxon expansion in Britain, including Reading.

The Thames has been of strategic importance since pre-Roman times. It served as a dividing area for British tribes, and was also used by Vikings when Danes and Anglo-Saxons fought to consolidate their control over England before one English crown emerged under Wessex in the tenth century. During the Norman Conquest, William I secured the Thames Valley before expanding into the rest of England. It was during this time that castles were built through the valley, including at Windsor. It was at Runnymede that King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215.

As well as a strategic river, the Thames was extensively used for transportation. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, barges travelled from the Thames Valley towards London with wool, timber, food and livestock. These supplies help feed the growth of London, with many goods from the Thames Valley going on to destinations in Europe and abroad for trade. By the eighteenth century, the river was one of the busiest waterways in the world.

Demographics of the Thames Valley

The Thames Valley is one of the wealthiest regions of the UK and Europe. As part of the South East of England, the Thames Valley is within the most populous region in the UK. The Thames Valley includes a number of large urban centres, including Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Reading, Slough and Swindon. Outside of these urban areas, the region is rural in character with smaller towns and villages. According to the 2011 Census, nearly 2.3 million people lived in the Thames Valley.

Towns and Cities in the Thames Valley

Oxford is a major economic centre in the Thames Valley. Manufacturing, publishing and technology firms are well-established in and around the city. It is also home to leading research and development and the renowned University of Oxford, the oldest English-speaking university in the world. The city is also an important publishing hub and the home of the Oxford University Press and Wiley-Blackwell. Home to 150,200 according to the 2011 Census, Oxford is also a major tourist destination for visitors from around the world.

The site of Reading Abbey and an important medieval town, Reading is a major commercial centre with strong links to information technology and insurance sectors. The city forms part of the Reading/Wokingham Urban Area, which is home to 318,014 and is the twentieth most populous urban area in the UK. Reading itself has an estimated population of 155,300. Several major companies have headquarters and offices in Reading, including Microsoft, Oracle, ING Direct, Prudential, Cisco, Ericsson, PepsiCo and others.

Windsor is a popular tourist destination thanks to attractions such as Windsor Castle and Legoland Windsor. Construction of the famous castle began in 1075. Windsor Castle continues to be used by the Royal Family and serves as a residence for Queen Elizabeth II. Nearby is Eton, home to an ancient school that has educated royalty, politicians and other important figures. The area is also famous for hosting rowing and canoe/kayak events during the 2012 Olympic Games, as well as annual regattas.

Swindon began as a Saxon village and emerged as an important railway hub during the nineteenth century. The town is home to Steam, the Great Western Railway Museum. The museum is based in a refurbished railway works building that also serves as the National Trust Headquarters. Traces of the Wilts & Berks Canal can also be found in Swindon. Built from 1795 to 1810, sections have been restored and are welcoming areas to enjoy the outdoors. Swindon is one of the largest towns in the Thames Valley and is home to over 185,609 people, according to the 2011 Census.

Other important towns and cities in the Thames Valley include High Wycombe, Basingstoke, Newbury, Maidenhead and Slough, one the most diverse communities outside London and a gateway to Heathrow Airport. With London's growth spilling into the areas surrounding the city, the Thames Valley is increasingly home to dormitory communities or commuter towns, including Maidenhead and Newbury.