Wantage, an idyllic Oxfordshire market town, has a long and rich history dating back to the 1700s. In the early eighteenth century, Wantage was a small but prosperous agricultural village situated in the Vale of White Horse.
Agriculture formed the backbone of life in Wantage during this period and many of the town’s inhabitants worked as tenant farmers or labourers on local farms. However, there were also some skilled tradesmen living in Wantage such as blacksmiths, wheelwrights and carpenters who provided essential services for the community.
In 1742 King George II granted Wantage its charter which made it a market town and allowed it to hold two annual fairs each year. This led to an increase in trade and prosperity as merchants from all over Berkshire could now come to Wantage to sell their wares at these fairs. It also meant that innkeepers, tailors and other tradesmen that had previously been unable to do business in Wantage were now able to do so.
The eighteenth century saw some major social changes in Wantage too. The first school was opened in 1766 by Revd Andrew Gifford and this enabled local children to receive a basic education. In addition, 1796 saw the opening of the first library which provided access to books and learning materials for people of all ages.
By 1800 Wantage had grown significantly and was beginning to experience industrialisation with numerous mills being built along the River Ock near East Hanney as well as brickworks at West Ilsley just outside of town. This expansion continued over the following decades leading up until today where Wantage remains an important centre for commerce and industry in Oxfordshire.