Developing Page – Data for Walks

A BRIEF HISTORY OF OLNEY HIGH STREET

(Basis for a walk to be published on both the ODHS and C&NM websites)

Photo of Start Point

It is suggested that the ‘StartPoint’ for this walk is the pavement outside ‘Westlands’ /’The Cherry Tree Restaurant’, as when traffic permits,  it provides a good general view of the wide High Street.

As this walk centres on the High Street newcomers should be aware of how Olneyites describe the direction of travel when walking from the Knoll to the Market Place. That is, Olneyites tend to walk in the southerly direction up to the Market Place (ie: up street) and walk in the northerly direction down to the Knoll (ie: down street). Incidentally, to be a Olneyite your home address at birth must have been within the parish.

1. The Wide High Street 

There appears to be no serious research to cite here that fully explains the development of Olney’s wide High Street, but hopefully a reasonable understanding can been gained, which is presented below, from three books written in the recent past by local authors. (See references at the end of this section.)

High Street (Southern End) c.1900

In centuries past there was a raised wide pitched causeway running down the centre of the High Street from where No. 6 High Street now stands to approximately where the Queen Hotel now stands. It was kept in repair by the Causeway Charity. The causeway was removed in 1790.

On the west side of the High Street there was a stream with its dilapidated banks propped up with wicker work with overhanging willow trees. The stream emerged from Spout Lane (now Spring Lane) and ran in a northerly along the High Street  until it met another flowing in the opposite direction from Yardley Road. They met  at a point called the High Arch (sited somewhere between Millward’s Entry and the Two Brewers) where they joined and flowed eastwards down across the meadow to the river.

High Street (Upper Central) c.1900

During the great fire of 1786 many dwellings escaped being completely burnt out because of the proximity of the stream in the High Street

Incidentally, this High Arch was the end of the town’s traditional whipping run which started at the town Pump on the Market Place. This drastic punishment at the cart tail was administered by the Town Beadle and must have been very effective, probably enjoyed by the watching townsfolk and, we hope, an awful warning to the youngsters witnessing the scene!

The High Street was lined with stone-built and thatched cottages, with here and there a well built house. It was not until the 16th Century that houses were built in Olney facing the street. Previously the front doors were in Courts or Alleys, as in the 20th Century we recall Aspreys, Berrills, Fields, Floods, Swains, Cobbs, Morgans and Yorks Courts

Olney was fortunate in that houses could be built from materials found locally; with limestone quarries near to hand, the forests on their doorsteps for oak for the beams and ash for the laths, with straw (reeds) available too for when they began to thatch.

High Street (Lower Central) c.1900

The street must have looked very picturesque with the stream running down it, but one wonders just how salubrious it was as there was no waste collection in those days and the temptation must have been quite strong to use the stream as a dumping ground or perhaps as the repository, for example, for the bodies of a dead cat or two. Incidentally, Mr Garrard, the lawyer, was the last person to hold the duck shooting rights down the High Street.

Now fast forward to the present; and let your eyes run along the roofline all the way down the High Street (on either side). The fact that no two houses are at precisely the same level is most noticeable and this certainly adds to the considerable charm of the town. Also, no houses are exactly alike and what could be described as almost a mansion stands cheek by jowl with the tiniest cottage – but each has its own individuality!

References:
1. Olney Past and Present, O Ratcliff & H Brown, Pub. 1893.
2. Through the Centuries in Olney and District, S Morgan, Pub. c.1980.
3. Let’s talk about Olney, J Styles, Pub. 1981.

Please take care while you take a gentle stroll down the west side of the High Street, say, as far as Stephen Oakley & Co. Estate Agents, taking your time to appreciate the variety of building styles during your stroll. 

(Alternative solutions are sought as to where the streams met?

Quite where these two streams met and veered east to the River Ouse has always been a little contentious, particularly as several minor parallel streams were still evident in the 1950s that ran eastwards across the meadow between East Street and the River Ouse.

You might suggest another route, but one alternative route for the Yardley Road stream was to run eastwards from the Knoll down Old’s Lane (now called Holes Lane) and connect with an existing earlier stream that ran adjacent to the ‘cow track’ footpath to the River Ouse. This route would also avoid water having, potentially, to run ‘uphill’ from the Knoll to Millwards Entry!!)

2. Central High Street (East)

Moving on to address specific buildings in the High Street, noting that their number is severely limited because research resources are somewhat in short supply at the moment. But this project is planned to be ongoing and hopefully  more buildings will be added in due course. This also means that we are looking more information on other properties in the High Street. If you are in a position to share any such information please contact us at information@olneyhistory.org.uk

The Two Brewers Inn

The Two Brewers Pub 1953

An interesting listed building on the east side of the High Street which appears to have spent most of its time as two separate properties. A closer look at the ground floor reveals an archway between the two front entrances to the building; the centre of the arch housing the bar area. Until the early 1950s the larger building on the north side housed The Mechanics Institute and the Conservative Club and the smaller building on the south side The Two Brewers pub (formerly The Queen’s Head).

In earlier times the archway between them was the primary route for the fire engine to reach the High Street from the Olney Fire Station situated at the rear of property in East Street. After the siren had sounded, summoning the firemen to the station, it must have been exciting to watch the horse drawn fire engine, with its bell frantically ringing, emerge from the narrow archway into the High Street.

During WW2 a German bomber dropped a fairly large bomb in the meadow on the Clifton Reynes side of the river adjacent to the railway. It was, supposedly, intended for the railway bridge which it missed by a couple of hundred yards or so. However, the resulting blast was so severe that, having progressed towards Olney and up the two brewers yard it funnelled through the archway with such force that it completely blew out the two large shop windows of the shop, then called ‘Linco stores’ and is now ‘Stephen Oakley estate agents’ on the opposite side of the High Street.

QEII Coronation Festivities (1953) outside the Two Brewers Inn

In the 1950s the Two Brewers developed into a very popular and successful pub under the tenancy of Bob and Ida Ford as it catered for a broad age range. When they retired in the 1970s Jack Druce acquired the tenancy and again the pub prospered and arguably continued to be the most popular pub in town well into the 1990s. The business has continued to be successful to the present day.

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.Add the Two Brewers Inn’s connections with Olney Devil Lore?

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The Lindens 

The home of John Charles Hipwell, his wife Annie and their four young children in 1911. Probably the son of William Hipwell (Bull 1891 – 1866) See article and 1853 poster/advert for the Bull Hotel. The large garden of this splendid house was used annually for Summer Fetes in aid of the Parish Church if I remember correctly.  Building still belonged to Hipwells in the 1950s. Work in the Hipwell brewery article (MPN copy) Images of the fetes, etc?

Could expand to talk about the relevance of Hipwells brewery here using the Article in the mpn database and Ratcliffs 1907 Almanack.

In recent decades the property has been developed into a successful B&B establishment.

To be added later if required

Clifton House

Clifton House

Clifton House was a very imposing property on the High Street. Early details of the property are difficult to come by. In 1891 John Hamp, an Estate Bailiffe, and his wife Elizabeth lived in the house, whereas in 1910 the house was owned by Annie Cooper who resided there. By 1936 Horace Cowley, a shoe-factory owner, had moved in there with his family and the family still had a presence there in 1951.

The property was converted into flats in the 1950s which were often leased to American Servicemen. Later during that decade the building developed substantial  structural faults, with major cracks clearly visible on the southern face of the property. Sadly the building was demolished in the late 1950s, but one is left wondering whether a different decision would have been made today leading to the building being repaired and restored.

Was the house built over the stream near the High Arch one wonders?

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Carlton Lodge

Very little is known about the history of this house or the people (Eyles family) who lived in it.

A well proportioned (unlisted?) house which had a lovely landscaped rear garden. Known in previous times for the large monkey puzzle tree (botanical name?) in the small front garden.

Now known as The Carlton House Club (previously Olney Working Mens Club). which used Ian Cox’s house 47 High Street opposite until this property became available in the mid 1940s? The property has been extensively extended in recent decades to provide the facilities for a modern clubhouse, unfortunately, some would say, far from in keeping with the design of the existing house. But it does host an excellent (Olney) Jazz Club once per month!

To be added later if required

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The United Reformed Church

United Reformed Church (2013) temp image

The building next to Carlton Lodge is the United Reformed Church.

The original Independent Chapel built in 1762

In 1762 the Independent Chapel was built on the site. Just above the door the oval tablet can be seen to Ebenezer Abraham,the clockmaker. At that time there were several clockmaking businesses in the town of which Ebenezer Abraham was probably the best known.

This chapel was taken down in 1879, and was replaced in 1880 by a much improved and attractive building. At the same time the opportunity presented itself of securing a frontage to the street by purchasing the cottage that blocked the earlier chapel (see image). The remains of the cottage are clearly visible on the cottage wall next door, above Millward’s Entry .  The chapel was then renamed – Cowper Memorial Congregational Church . It is now known as the Cowper Memorial United Reformed Church.

The splendor of the 1879 church before it was seriously damaged by fire in the 1960s

It seems extraordinary that in spite of all the poverty, that was widespread in Olney for so many years, the chapels of the Independents were constantly improved. In more recent times even recently when this Congregational Church was gutted by fire in the 1960s , in a very short time it was restored and in use again (see recent image).

The size of the places of worship in this town is surprising – for hundreds of years the population was under three thousand , so you can’t imagine that anyone had to fight for a seat!

In passing, it is worth noting that Millward’s Entry is one of the two remaining public passages from the High Street to East Street, the other being Fountain Court. Millward’s Entry is the primary route for pedestrians to access the extensive East Street sports facilities. Could add John Millward’s photo and image of No 44 if required.

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The Lace Factory

The completed Lace Factory (1928)

The Lace Factory a little further down the street incidentally never made lace. It is the last example of a commercial attempt locally to keep the lace industry viable, in spite of the changing economic climate and the vagaries of fashion. It was built by a slightly eccentric character , one Harry Armstrong who hailed from Stoke Goldington, who employed George Knight to build him in 1928 ‘something the like of which Olney has not seen before’. Here lace which which had been collected from the town and surrounding villages was packed and dispatched all around the world. Unfortunately, the venture came to an end with the death of its instigator.

Girls employed at the Lace Factory – July1931

The building was later used for several ventures,  the most successful of which was the manufacture of lampshades, before being converted into flats.

Add reference to Cis and Liz articles on the ODHS website. 

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Wilson’s Hardware Store

Wilson’s Hardware Store (2012) temp image

new image required of current shop – Gerald Wilson’s ironmongers shop is perhaps the only example in the town of a retail business that has consistently grown and developed since it was purchased in the ?1970s. Although it has a modest frontage width, inside the visitor is reminded of Dr Who’s Tardis, as the retail area extends progressively rearwards through a series of  sales areas filled with all manner of household goods.

Image? In earlier days (c.1930s – 1970s) the shop was a licensed grocery business owned by the Abrams family.

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The Old Doctors surgery

The doctor’s house with the surgery and waiting room annex on its right. c.1935

Number 100 High Street is another interesting house. For years it was the home of the Grindon family, members of which served the town as doctors for at least four generations. Hannah Wilson, who was Mrs Unwin’s niece figures in the ledgers of the Doctor Grindon of Cowper’s day; and one of the Grindons married Lady Austen’s niece. The doctor’s records also show numerous repeat prescriptions for Cowper and doubtless Mrs Unwin; and the Newtons too, took advantage of his medical skills.

But the Grindons didn’t only dedicate themselves to medicine – we’re told in 1884 when the weathercock was being repaired, in the absence of the steeplejack, Charlie Grindon climbed the spire and twirled the cock around to the amazement of the townsfolk.  The steeplejack removed his ladders, but the intrepid Charlie slid down a rope to the cheers of the spectators. Apparently generations of serious ancestors devoted to duty hadn’t entirely eradicated a daring spirit and a sense of fun!

Images of the garden in the 1930s available.

.A long line of notable doctors followed the Grindons at that address including Doctors Dickenson, Winterbottom and Swallow before the larger medical facility in Cobb’s Garden was opened in 1992.

Lord’s Malting

Lords malting in the High Street (2012)

This malting at 104 high Street was the only one (of five) not attached to a public house. It is possible that the Lord family transferred its malting business to the premises in the High Street after they left the Boot Inn c.1840. An old beam in Lord’s malting has the date 1 August 1835 carved into it, with the two carpenters’ names.

The three storey building is Grade II listed as early C19 maltings, altered, stone, slate roof, brick stack. The building has been used for several purposes since it ceased being used as a malting,  including the manufacture and storage of lampshades . It now used by a business designing bespoke packaging.

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Walking on towards the Knoll we pass Brocks Garage on the right, a popular garage that closed only in 2015.  Brocks was one of three garages in the town that sold petrol via gantries that swung out over the pavement. The other two garages were Sowmans on the South side of the Market Place and Souls in High South, opposite Alleluia Lamp-post. All three garages sold, maintained and repaired vehicles from those premises from broadly the 1930s to the 1980s – 2010s.

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Three earlier farmyards which were fully operational up to around the 1970s are visible from Brocks Garage. The farm buildings on all three sites are now barn conversions. Town Farm (farmed by Longlands then Pibworths) in the large house on the west side of the High Street, Kitcheners farmyard on the east side is located next to Brock’s Garage, and Colsons farmyard was in Dartmouth Road (near the bus shelter). Cows from these farms were driven from the meadows up and down the High Street for milking on a daily basis well into the mid 1950s.

 

Town Farm

‘Town Farm’ is an C18 Grade II listed property and is a splendid example of an in-town farmhouse and farmyard. The entrance to the farmyard was on the north side of this extensive property.

The photo below provides evidence that cows did traverse the High Street, albeit in 1898 in this instance, and continued to do so regularly up to the mid 1950s on their way to and from the milking parlours in the farmyards at north end of the town.

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Incidentally the vehicle is a 1898 6 hp 2 cylinder Daimler Wagonette Body built by Mulliner of Northampton and owned by the Newport Pagnell Motor Bus Company.

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Also note that the buildings visible on the west side of the high street remain structurally unchanged after 120 years. (photo taken from an upstairs window of the ‘corner shop’ on Dartmouth Road).

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The Knoll and the Northern End of the High Street

The Churchyard Elm (from a photograph)

It is possible that a castle or monastery of sorts actually stood not too far behind the Castle Inn (now the Maya Indian restaurant). There is less doubt that, before the church was re-built in its current position in the 14th Century, a church once stood behind the Castle Inn. Evidence in the form of human remains found when digging out the footings the Feoffee Cottages in Dartmouth Road, together with the existence until the 1950s of an elm tree known as the Church Elm opposite the Queen Hotel, suggests that once this north end was the most important part of the town.  There are no records to indicate why the church moved to its current site although, of course, theories abound!!

Olney Railway Station 1911

Moving along the time-line a good bit, a couple of centuries ago,  the northern end of Olney, with the exception of a handful of properties, ended at the Knoll. Beyond the Knoll today is predominantly the development that came with the coming of the railway. The building of the new streets was intended to accommodate the number of workers that would use the railway to work outside the town, probably in Northampton of Bedford. In reality most, particularly office workers,  used buses as the frequency of the trains was in sufficient for their needs. As it happened most properties were let, initially at least, to shoe industry workers as the majority had workshops, even mini factories,  built at their rear which could be used by the tenants, as outworkers, to service the larger factories.

Circa 1900

In the 20th Century at the north end of the Knoll stood two buildings. The building on the left was the Castle Inn, a very popular inn after WWII when managed by ‘Auntie’ and ‘Uncle’ Fred Lyon. It was the only pub in the town that was not owned by brewers Hipwells (and later Phipps, a Wellingborough brewery). It was not a free house but owned by NBC, the Northampton Brewery Company. (No such thing as ‘guest beers’ in those days.)

Circa 1910

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The building on the right was a blacksmith’s workshop which continued shoeing horses well into the 1950s. The last blacksmith was Alistair Bull who lived ‘over the shop’. The Castle Inn was substantially extended into its current form after the demise and demolition of the smithy.

In the coloured image above, note the track just in front of the cyclist and lamp post. There were two such tracks across the high Street, one at each end, which were apparently kept clean so that the ladies did not soil the hems of their clothing with mud, or even worse!

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Olney Silver Band -1899

A photograph taken by George Lett in 1899 of Olney Silver Band preparing to play on the Knoll , obviously on a Sunday as everyone was turned out in their ‘Sunday best’ clothes. (George Lett pr0bably took the picture from an upstairs window in Number 12 Beauchamp Terrace – Home of Harry Lett ) (Note the cottages in West Street (now demolished)

.The Knoll was not surfaced at that time (neither was the Market Place) and I have been reliably informed that the surface was far from flat owing to children using it on a regular basis to play marbles!

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.In past decades the Knoll could have been described as a mini Market Place at the North end of the town. Today it is essentially a traffic island but is occasionally pressed into service, e.g,  as a Sunday market on  ’Dickens of a Christmas Day’.

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Circa 1948

.An image of the Knoll circa 1948 shows no structural or environmental  changes over 50 years since 1899 except for converting the Knoll itself  into a garden. But who would have thought that after another 50 years the A 509 road, now a ‘trunk route’ with numerous  heavy vehicles and commuters speeding past this junction to Milton Keynes and the M1, would completely shatter the peaceful nature of this part of town.

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Town Farm (2013)

Town Farm – Town Farmhouse Grade II listed Early C18 altered, stone, early tiled roof with coped gable ends,

A splendid example of an in-town farmhouse and farmyard. The entrance to the farmyard was on the north side of this extensive property.

 

 

 

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Newport Pagnell Motor Bus Company 1898 6 hp 2 cylinder Daimler Wagonette Body built by Mulliner of Northampton

Evidence that cows did traverse the High Street, albeit in 1898 in this instance, but did so regularly up to the mid 1950s on their way to and from the milking parlours in the farmyards at north end of the town. The buildings visible on the west side of the high street remain structurally unchanged after 120 years. (photo taken from an upstairs window of the ‘corner shop’.

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4. Central High Street (West)

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Olney Centre /Infant and Junior School

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Cobbs Gardens

Cottage fronts!!

31 & 33

57 &59

63 &65

87 & 89 Bakehouse and Sunday roasts

91 &93 Cobbs Gardens

95 High St

The Courts and Mews

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Olney’s New Hall and ‘Electric’ Cinema

Mr Lewis Thompson, who was an Olney grocer trading at 9 High Street in the early twentieth century, had a hall built to be used for concerts, meetings and dancing; and having a stage the hall became very popular. Often at Election Meetings it could get a little rowdy with opposing supporters almost coming to blows. The building was called ‘The New Hall’ and it was used by the townspeople for a good few years.

Some years later, in 1919, it was bought by Mr Clifford, who converted the front of the building to form a cinema. The front of the building stood a few metres back from the pavement with two steps leading up to the two front doors. Inside was a vestibule with a ticket office on the right hand side. The projection room was built over the front porch, with an outside staircase leading up to it. The first proprietor was Mr Clifford. His wife was known as ‘Madam’ Clifford..

.The seats installed near the screen were more like forms. Behind them came the wooden single tip-up seats and then a few rows with padded seats. The seats at the rear, just inside the left hand side of the hall, were plush padded with arm rests, and the floor for these had been made a little higher so that people could look over the heads of those in front. 

In the early days, since there was no sound to accompany the film, when a performance was ready to begin, ‘Madam’ Clifford walked, much like a Duchess, down to the piano. When she was sitting comfortably on the piano stool the cinema was plunged into darkness and the projectionist, Mr Chapman, started the performance by turning a handle to feed the film through the projector. As the story unfolded ‘Madam’ Clifford would play very softly and slowly for a sad scene, and fast and loud for galloping horses or cowboys and indians fighting.

In the cinema’s later years when silent films were long gone, Mr Webster was the proprietor, Mrs Pettit the cashier and refreshment sales and Alistair Bull was the projectionist.  The cinema closed in the early 1950s.

Subsequently the building has been used for shoe manufacture, a photographic studio and for some time now a beauty and fashion boutique.

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Orchard House – Nos 67 & 69 High Street

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Orchard House was converted from two eighteenth century houses in 1904 for Joseph William Mann; the architect was Alexander Ellis Anderson. J W Mann was at that time Olney’s largest employer, having moved to Olney from Northamptonshire in 1880, founding a shoe factory there in 1884 with his partner, William Hinde. J W Mann was not only of some standing in the town as a local manufacturer and employer, but also seems to have been a generous local benefactor, as well as being involved in bringing social and economic improvements to the town in the early twentieth century.

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It is not clear when J W Mann purchased Nos. 67 and 69 High Street. Early Ordnance Survey maps show that they were two properties in 1882 but were already one by 1900, although very different in plan to the present. It is recorded that Orchard House was the first house in Olney to have electricity, which was powered by a generator housed in a small brick building in the garden.

Add short caption.

J W Mann was not only an astute business man but also a meticulous dresser. He was a familiar sight walking down the middle of the High Street from Orchard house to his large factory on the corner of Midland Road dressed in his bowler hat, silver topped cane and grey spats over his Hinde and Mann shoes.

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5. The Top End of the High Street

Evelyn & Olney Houses Allens Solicitors

Garrard @ no17

White House / no 21 Farmers!

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 The Manses

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The Linco

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 Olney House – Solicitors

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Grocers/ International stores

Grade II C18 altered, stone now painted, slate roof with brick stacks.

.Thomas T Coles born 1834 developed a successful grocery/wine business on this site (1891 census)  Retired provision merchant 1911 census. at 35 Yardley Road (Springfield currently Broomfield)

search for photo of TTC and Springfield

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I have quite a bit of straight factual information about T T Coles (picture attached). His father was Benjamin Coles (1795 – 1855), Grocer and Tallow Chandler of Olney High Street. Richard Tandy (1776 – 1854) Grocer and Lace Dealer of Sherington was his father-in-law. Benjamin’s father was Daniel Coles (1762 – 1827) Grocer of Olney, but born some ten miles away in Whiston, Northamptonshire.

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So What Next?

We are back to the junction with Spring Lane where we started.

On behalf of the Cowper and Newton Museum and Olney Historical Society we trust that you have enjoyed your stroll around the High Street. If you did not have an opportunity to visit the C&N Museum before starting this walk then please consider a visit to this nnnnnnnnnnnnnn now or in the very near future.

You will have noticed that this walk has conveniently ended within a few steps of a dozen or so coffee shops, cafes and restaurants. Why not make your selection and enjoy!

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