The following summaries are taken primarily from the ‘Victoria History of the Counties of England’. Buckinghamshire was completed in four volumes between 1905 and 1927, with an index published in 1928. These volumes were noted for being particularly strong on their treatment of manors and churches but weaker on economic and social history at the parochial level.
The history of the manors around Olney is complex and a more detailed study is required to fully understand them. A complete catalogue of the available documentary evidence relating to medieval manors is now available online via the National Archives Manorial Documents Registry produced in 2008 by the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies and the National Archives.
This manor manor was first mentioned in AD 979. It was assessed at ten hides and granted to the Bishop of Coutances by 1066 AD. However, the Bishop’s lands were seized by the Crown by 1162. Early in the 13th century it passed to Randal, Earl of Chester and on his death in 1232 Olney passed to Hugh Daubeney, Earl of Arundel. Olney passed again by inheritance in 1243 to Roger de Somery. In 1282 Somery’s estate was held in trust by Roger’s four heirs, three of which maintained the manor at Olney – Margaret, widow of Ralph Basset, Mabel with of Walter de Sully and Maud wife of Henry de Erdington. In 1339 it was conveyed through marriage to solely to the Basset family henceforth descending with the manor of Hanslope. In 1492 the manor reverted to the Crown until Charles I included it in a large grant to the citizens of London in 1628.
First mentioned around 1232 when it was detached from the principal manor. It was reunited with Olney manor in 1353 under Ralph Basset until 1390 when it was seized by Henry Earl of Derby. It has since descended with the duchy of Lancaster.
Markets and Fairs
There are three main types of fairs, ‘Prescriptive Fairs’ which were based on the principle of trading and were established by custom, ‘Charter Fairs’, which were granted and protected by Royal Charter and ‘Mop Fairs’ which developed mainly in agricultural regions for the hiring of labourers, sometimes followed a week later by the ‘Runaway Mops’ which gave employers a chance to reconsider their decision and re-hire if necessary.
A Monday prescriptive market is first mentioned in 1205. It remained in place until the mid 19th century when it was moved to Thursday and held every two weeks. Not much is known about the administrative arrangements of the market as nothing is explicitly stated.
Olney fairs were also prescriptive. A license was obtained in 1316 by Ralph Lord Basset of Drayton for an annual fair to be held on 29th June, in addition to another at Easter. There is further reference to a market hall or town hall as well as a shambles in the Market Place in 1440.
It is thought that the ‘burgesses’ collected the market and fair tolls. A burgess is an inhabitant of a town or borough with full rights of citizenship.
First mention of a borough at Olney comes from 1237 when there were around 56 burgesses. The Borough was never incorporated and no burghal institutions survived in the 19th century.
St Peter & St Paul’s Church
The imposing Grade I listed parish church of St Peter and St Paul lies to the south end of the town, close to the bridge over the river Ouse. The building is constructed in a decorated style and much of the fabric is believed to date to 1330 with the distinctive tall tower and spire dating to the later 14th century. The church has had a number of subsequent alterations particularly in the 19th century including the removal of the clerestory and rebuilding of south and north aisles.
The discovery of burials at the north end of Olney has led to speculation as to whether SS Peter and Paul was the original site of the Olney’s church. See the paragraph entitled ‘The Old Churchyard’ and Christian Wells’ in the previous Saxon page. Archaeological survey and excavation may reveal evidence about the early history of the church, but to date there has been only one watching brief in the church yard which yielded archaeology dating to the post medieval period.
Olney manor house
There is much debate about the exact location of Olney’s medieval manor house. Olney Court a farm located 2 km to the north east of the town is believed to be the seat of the feudal lords. Another interpretation is that the manor was located on or near the site of the Great House, an 18th century mansion located in between the church and mill which was demolished c.1830.
Located only 2 km north of the town is the deserted medieval settlement of Olney Hyde. This was originally part of the manor of Olney and was a major medieval pottery production centre, supplying pottery to towns in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Northants. Olney Hyde produced two basic types of pottery fabric: Olney ‘A’, a limestone tempered ware of developed St Neots type, and Olney ‘B’, a sand tempered ware with some limestone. A portion of this extensive production area was examined by excavation in 1967 and 1969 which revealed a number of pottery kilns dating from 12th to 15th centuries.
It is known that Olney Hyde formed part of the 10 hides in Olney given in the AD 979 charter, however, the earliest documented reference to Olney Hyde is 1261. It seems that the hamlet suffered from the effects of famine and the Black Death in the 14th century; the decline in fortune is reflected in the imparkment of land (the conversion of land into parks) to the west of the hamlet for Olney Park in 1374, By 1411 the population of Olney Hyde was reduced to twelve customary tenants as well as freeman and cottagers. The archaeological excavation also corroborates the date of decline, as a croft ceased to be occupied and house and kilns fell into disuse.
It is unsurprising that excavations in Olney have shown that the abundant medieval pottery types tend to be the locally sourced Olney Hyde wares. Although what is unusual is that in most contexts there is relatively little Potterspury ware which is so abundant in excavations in other north Buckinghamshire towns.
A deer park was imparked by Ralph Basset by royal licence in 1374. Beyond the park’s ownership nothing further is known about the park in the medieval period, however its history does continue into the post-medieval period (see next web page).
Trade, mills and industry
It is thought that the location for the medieval mill remained unchanged, located to the south east of the church. However manorial records state that two mills were appurtenant to the Manor in 1343-4 but only one by 1411-12. (Appurtenants were those parts said to be attached to a manor, other than arable.) The introduction of the mill had some impact on the river Ouse with the creation of leet or mill stream. Although the mill stream has been improved and updated when the mill expanded in the post medieval period, it is believed that some sort of water management was in existence in the medieval period.
In the open letters patent of King Edward III (1334) there is an entry of a patent (grant) for repairing Olney Bridge. The parish register states that the bridge was built (or re-built!) in 1619.
Inns and Taverns
There are no inns or taverns documented as dating to the medieval period. However through Olney’s location on the arterial road to Kettering it seems a certainty that the town contained a number of inns and taverns to accommodate the travellers and visitors to the town.
War of the Roses
Olney is recorded as being the location for the capture of Edward IV by the Earl of Warwick after his defeat at Edgecote Moor in 1469. Local tradition has it that Edward used the church spire as a lookout for the appearance of the enemy.
Olney Castle (reputed)
Local tradition says that Olney once possessed a castle, at the north end of the town. The likely location was a field known as Christian Wells which also coincides with the location of the spring known as the Christian wells. Christian Wells field was developed in the 20th century and is now covered by housing. More details on the Saxon web page.
In 1284 there are several mentions of the vineyard in Olney: ‘part of le Wynyerd towards the highway extending from the bridge as it is divided by certain metes’ and ‘the purparty of le Wynyerd towards Langeford’. One cottage was also being rented by William le Vinerun for 12d, two hens and the service ‘of a cottage’.
The town layout of Olney can be broken down into four distinct plan elements: The church/ mill area, triangular market place, the High Street and the Knoll area. The church/mill and triangular market area appear to be the oldest surviving components of the town with probable origins in the Anglo Saxon period.
The form of the High Street has been identified as a classical example of medieval town planning, being a planned extension to the north of the Market Place and Church ends. Long narrow ‘burgage’ plots are laid out at right angles either side of the High Street and are serviced at the rear by two back lanes, East Street and West Street. Olney’s High Street layout is roughly symmetrical with the plot lengths roughly equal on the west and east sides. It is also arguably one of the best surviving examples of a medieval town planning in Buckinghamshire.
Archaeological evidence of medieval plots has provided an idea of the extent of medieval settlement. Evidence from the rear of 33 High Street shows that, by at least the 13th century, this area of Olney was built and relatively intensively used. In addition archaeological evidence has given some limited insight into the status of medieval households; excavations at the Old Manse, revealed evidence for a high status house including fine domestic pottery and the rare find of a c. 14th century chimney pot.