Victorian & later eras (1837 – Present)

Manors & Estates

Olney manor had been in the ownership of the Legge family or the Earls of Dartmouth from 1755. The Dartmouth inheritance continued into the 20th century until the death of the 8th Earl of Dartmouth, William Viscount Lewisham.

The rights of fair and market had belonged to the Manor of Olney including receipt of rents from the market although in 1941 these rights were acquired by the then Parish Council.



Harry Armstrong’s Lace Factory

By the beginning of the 19th century lacemaking in Olney was already in decline. The development of cheaper manufactured lace in Nottingham had reduced the demand for handmade lace. Despite these industrial innovations lacemaking continued in the town and by outworkers in the surrounding villages albeit at reduced level. Attempts were made to revive the fortunes of lacemaking in the 20th century, Harry Armstrong, a local entrepreneur, had a lace making factory on the corner of Newton Street and Midland Road. In 1928 operations transferred to the Bucks Lace Industry warehouse on the High Street. The building was used to assemble the lace onto articles such as handkerchiefs and table linen, but its more important function was to market and pack the lace for shipment within the UK and abroad. The Lace Factory continued to operate until the death of Armstrong in 1943, thereafter the building was left empty and in the 1950’s it re-emerged as a lampshade factory before being converted to apartments in 1988.

Considerably more information on Olney’s Lace industry is available on this web site and also on the Cowper & Newton Museum website.


John Lord’s Brewery Business

John Lord is generally acknowledged to have developed the first extensive brewing business in Olney. John came to Bridge Street in 1787 from Weston Underwood and opened the Boot public house. He, his family and close relatives eventually owned some seven public houses in the town, namely: The Boot, The Bell, The Sun, The Duke William, The Cock, The Dolphin and The Red Lion. John Lord appears to have been an ambitious brewster. Unfortunately, following his death in 1812, his brewery operations appeared to become fragmented amongst his family. Had the business continued under John Lord, it is possible that it would have expanded further and as a consequence it probably would not have been viable for the Hipwells to develop their brewery interests in Olney. However, his apparent early death paved the way for them eventually to buy all seven public houses in the 1860s and 1870s. Judging by the grand dwellings that the Hipwell’s later built in Olney, there was still a fortune to be made in brewing. An extensive article on the ‘John Lord Family’ is included on this website.

J Lord Tankard

A pewter quart-sized measuring jug owned by John Lord

Tankard detail

The inscription under the spout reads ‘J Lord Boot Oulney Bucks 1805’


Hipwell & Co Brewery, sited behind the Bull Hotel

There had been records of a brewery or malting to the rear of the Bull Hotel since the 18th century but the site developed to become Olney’s main commercial brewery. The story begins in 1849 when William Hipwell, a grocer took over the business with his father, a brewer from Newport Pagnell. In 1854 Hipwell formed a partnership with Charles & John Coling to form the Coling, Hipwell and Coling, brewers, wholesale wine and spirit merchants. The brewery underwent a
number of name changes, but by 1868 the brewery was known as Hipwell & Co. William Hipwell built up something of a brewing empire, owning a number of pubs/maltings in Newport Pagnell as well as pubs in Bedfordshire and Northampton. This acquisition also extended to Olney when in 1867 the company bought up the malting to the rear of the Cock Inn on East Street, and in 1871 it opened up the Queen pub on Midland Road to cater for the rail traffic.

No 13 Market Place, formally Westlands and now the Cherry Tree Restaurant

One of the Hipwell families, probably William and Sarah Hipwell and their children, moved into Westlands in 1866, then No 13 Market Place, when they vacated the Bull Hotel.

The business was owned by a succession of Hipwells until it was bought by Phipps of Northampton in 1920. The brewery ceased production soon after in 1927.

In 1948 the brewery site was sold and the premises were temporarily used for the manufacture of reproduction furniture. This venture proved quite successful for the Woods family for a couple of decades during the 1950s, 60s and 70s when it attracted many people to its showrooms behind No 1 Market Place to the town at weekends. The  brewery site was later demolishedand is now a supermarket, restaurants and shops.




Olney Mills, later Olney Cowper Roller Mills

Olney mill was long established, the site is thought to have antecedents dating to medieval period and Domesday. By the 19th century the mill still operated as a corn mill and was in the ownership of Messrs Harrold & Gee in 1823 one of the oldest recorded businesses in Olney.

Olney Roller Mill c.1900

The Gudgin family owned and managed the mill and resided at the Mill House from around 1894 until the mill was gutted by fire in 1965. However, the successive owners (A Gudgin & Son) were the victims of another disastrous fire in 1878 which partially destroyed the mill building.

The Mill House survived and is now a private residence; the granaries have been converted to living accommodation. In 1907 it was described as having two undershot wheels, capable of driving twelve and forty to fifty horse power respectively.

Sustantial more information on Olney Cowper Roller Mill  and the Gudgin family is available on this web site.



The Tannery

Olney possessed a successful tanning industry which was active for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. Located next to the river Ouse, the tannery was probably established in the 18th century and provided leather to the local cordwainers and to the growing shoe industry in Northampton. The tanning works passed to Joseph Palmer in 1840 although after his death in 1870 the site closed and had become derelict.

The works was eventually purchased by Messrs WE & J Pebody Ltd of Northampton in 1898; under their ownership the business became one of the first to adopt a new tanning process – using salts of chromium rather than the traditional bark and leaves in the conversion from raw skin to leather. This proved to be a popular with the military in the First World War as the process withstood the conditions in the trenches better than leather produced by other methods. As a consequence the output of the tannery increased and in 1915 the tannery buildings were extended.

Early sketch of Olney tannery 

The tannery managed to endure the economic slump of the 1920s and 1930s, output was cut but leather was still in demand. The Olney tannery continued to adapt its practices and in 1938 a system of wells was installed on an island in the Ouse to supply water which would be a more consistent quality than the river water.

During the Second World War production at the tannery was under state control; although tanning was disrupted in 1944 when a fire destroyed the main building but much of the infrastructure survived. Given the wartime demand for leather, a new single storey building soon replaced the lost one.

After the war the tannery continued to innovate, specialising in Aniline leather – high quality Italian skins without blemishes. Olney’s leather was much in demand; by 1990 75% of sales were for export. Despite its long and productive history the tannery closed in 1999 and the business was relocated to Billing in Northamptonshire.

The tannery site has now been redeveloped for housing.


Hinde and Mann Shoe Factory

Hinde & Mann Shoe Factory c.1900
Wellingborough Road, Olney.

J W Mann entered the boot and shoe trade as a ‘clicker’; in short, a skilled tradesman who cuts shoe leather from patterns. In the 1880s he came to Olney to work for William Hinde who had a small factory in Back Street (now East Street). Business flourished and very soon J W Mann persuaded William Hinde that they should build and move into a much larger factory. They acquired a site on the corner of Wellingborough Road and Midland Road and built a two storey factory which was officially opened on 12 May 1894 and was known as ‘The Cowper Works’.  Such was the success of the of this venture that the factory was extended upwards or outwards a further three times. In its early days as ‘The Cowper Works’ the factory produced 900 pairs of footwear per month and output continued to rise over the years.

When William Hinde retired in 1899 J W Mann took over sole ownership but continued to trade as Hinde and Mann. At this time the workforce had risen to 330 making J W Mann the largest employer in Olney. Moreover, within fifteen years of the factory opening the Company had developed a large export trade and eventually production peaked to 13,000 pairs of footwear per week. The Company continued to prosper for many years, concentrating on high quality footwear, but also producing army boots during the First World War. Like many companies, business became difficult during the recessions of the 1920s and 30s against a background of low incomes and cheaper, lower quality, competition. Shoe production became no longer viable and the factory closed in 1932. However shoe production continued at several smaller factories in the town well into the 1970s.

Lodge Plugs aph

Hinde & Mann Factory c 1950
At that time was producing Lodge Plugs
Click for enlarged view

The Cowper Shoe Works was requisitioned for essential war materiel production in August 1940, when Lodge Plugs commenced the manufacture of spark plugs for aircraft. Lodge Plugs eventually purchased the factory and continued production for some years up to the 1950s.

The building was later used for some years around 1970 by Pergamon Press, part of the Robert Maxwell group of companies, for the storage and distribution of a large range of educational books and periodicals. Incidentally Robert Maxwell was at that time the member of parliament for North Bucks! The factory was eventually sold in the late 1990s to private developers for conversion into luxury flats.

More information on J W Mann and his rather splendid house at Nos 67 & 69 High Street is available on this web site.



The Railway at Olney 

Olney became integrated into the railway network through the building of the Bedford to Northampton line built by the Midland Railway Company in 1872. The line was located to the north of the town where a station and spacious goods yards were built. The coming of the railways to Olney had a direct impact upon the town benefiting in particular the shoe and boot industry which reached its zenith in the early 20th century.

Olney Railway Station in 1911

The railways meant that travel times to Bedford and Northampton were only 20 minutes away and a journey to London took only 1 ¾ hours. Another development of the railway coming to Olney was the increase in housing around the station that resulted in the building of Midland Road, Newton Street and Cowper Street. Although built to accommodate shoe factory workers, the houses were mainly adopted by people choosing to work in the surrounding towns such as Northampton, Bedford, Wellingborough and Wolverton where wages were significantly higher. Unfortunately the railway started to wane in mid 20th century and the Beeching review spelt the end for the Bedford Northampton line; the passenger services were closed in 1962.

More information on the railway at Olney is available on this web site.

Newport Pagnell to Olney branch line

In addition to the Midland Railway Company line, originally there were plans for an extension for a line to go from Newport Pagnell to Olney through to Wellingborough where it would have joined the Northampton to Peterborough railway. The plans were approved in 1866 but these plans were finally abandoned in 1875 due to Company’s continuing financial problems, which resulted in it being taken over by the LNWR.

Newport Pagnell to Olney Tramway

In the 1870s there were plans to introduce a tram service from Newport Pagnell to Olney; tramlines were laid along the length of Newport Pagnell High Street in preparation. However the project failed as land required to bypass Emberton, which was fundamental for completing the route, could not be purchased.

Olney Gas Works

The Olney Gas Light and Coal Company Ltd was established in 1854, and set up a gas works and gasometer at Silver End. The company was eventually amalgamated into the Northampton Gaslight company in 1937. The gasworks ceased to operate in 1964 and the gasometers were dismantled in 1990; part of the area is now a public car park.


Olney War Memorial, Market Place

Olney’s War Memorial on the Market Place 1921

Olney’s war memorial commemorates the loss of 61 men in the First World War and 19 from the Second World War. The memorial, unveiled in 1921 by General Lord Horne of Stirkoke, is a cenotaph style memorial surrounded by a lawned garden.

Detailed information for all those lost in both World Wars and recorded on Olney’s War Memorial  is available on this web site.









Cowper Memorial chapel

The original Independent Chapel built in 1762

In 1762 the Independent Chapel was built on the east side of the High Street (next to the present Carlton Club) and set back a little from the High Street. Just above the door  was an oval tablet 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 High Street by purchasing the cottage that blocked the earlier chapel (see the rear yard on the image of the original chapel). The remains of the cottage are clearly visible on the house wall next door (No. 44), above Millward’s Entry .  The new chapel was renamed as the Cowper Memorial Congregational Church. It is now known as the Cowper Memorial United Reformed Church.

The splendor of the 1879 church
before the 1960s fire

A relatively recent author has since commented commented that:  ‘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 when this Church was gutted by fire in the 1960s, it was restored and in use again in a very short time’ (see recent image). The size of the places of worship in this town is surprising – for hundreds of years the population was well under three thousand, so you can’t imagine that anyone had any difficulty finding a seat!’

More information on the history of the United Reformed Church is available on this website.

A recent image of  the United Reformed Church












Wesleyan Chapel, built 1902

The building appeared to be a rather temporary unit being constructed of wood and covered with corrugated sheeting. It was colloquially known at the time as the ‘tin tabernacle’. It later became known as (and still is) the St John’s Ambulance Hall and was also hired  for many functions and activities.  The building has since been progressively extensively renovated and continues to be used for its traditional activities.

Society of Friends, Silver End

A small building located at Silver End was used by the Quakers as a chapel for those who lived in the neighbourhood. It is believed that a small cemetery was located nearby in which is buried Ann Hopkins Smith who founded the almshouse and school on Weston Road .

Church of our Lady and St Lawrence, West Street

A recent photograph of the Church of our Lady and St Lawrence, West Street.

A Roman Catholic Church together with a residence for the priest was built in 1903 from local limestone with Wheldon stone dressing (Kelly 1935). The church was extended in 1990 to accommodate the growing Catholic community in Olney and the surrounding villages.



St Joseph Convent School, West Street

Olney Convent School c.1905

St Joseph’s was established in 1901 by the Sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost French Carmelite nuns, it is a plain classical five bay house of the mid 19th century.

The primary function of the building was as a school for girls, aged 4 to 16 years. In 1907 St Joseph’s was advertised as a High School for young ladies – A Day school and Boarding School – the course of studies comprises all the branches of a complete a solid and complete education.

The number of pupils steadily increased over the years to 235 in 1951. During the later years the school offered a comprehensive education up to the General Certificate of Education (GCE) ‘O’ Level for girls up to the age of 16. Those girls wishing to attain the GCE at ‘A’ Level would continue their studies at Wolverton Grammar School or at the Bedford Convent School, or at one of the two Bedford Harper Trust Schools for girls. The closure of the Convent School at Olney was primarily the result of the 1944 Education Act. The criteria set by the Ministry of Education for recognition as ‘efficient’ could not easily be met by medium sized schools such as St. Joseph’s and it finally closed its doors as a school on 20th July 1956. An article on St Joseph’s Convent School is included on this website.



Sutcliffe Baptist Chapel, Market Place

Recent photograph of Olney Baptist Church

The original Independent Baptist chapel in Olney dated from 1694 when it was adapted from use as a barn and was enlarged in 1763 after becoming very dilapidated. It was eventually rebuilt in 1893 and chapel named after the Reverend John Sutcliffe who was a former pastor in the 18th century.

Additional information on the history of Olney Baptist Church can be found on their website.

British School & Almshouses, Weston Road

The row of almshouses on Weston Road were established in 1819 by a Quaker, Miss Ann Hopkins Smith, to accommodate elderly widows of the town. Not content to provide poor relief for some of Olney’s residents, Miss Hopkins Smith built a British school (next to the Alms Houses) in 1835.


British and Foreign Society School, 23-27 Church Street (approx. dates?)

From local accounts Church Street is believed to be the location of a British and Foreign Society School, where a monitor system of elder children taught the younger pupils. The building is a terrace of three small houses to the east of the church originally a single brick built building with the centre section projecting slightly. This section is dominated by a large arch which is filled-in and incorporates a door and window. (No further information is currently available to ODHS on this school).


Board School, High Street

Former Olney County Primary School
now converted to The Olney Centre

The Board School on the west side of the High Street was built in 1872 with Gothic style windows and a bell-turret. The Board School later became the Olney County Primary School whose staff provided Olney with an excellent educational service  for many years during and post WW2. When the school moved to new premises within the town the building was transformed into a community centre in 1991. It is now known as The Olney Centre.


Schools – post 1945

There are currently three main schools in Olney, namely Olney Infant Academy in Spinney Hill Road opened in the 1960s, Olney Middle School (academy based) in Yardley Road developed from the ‘secondary modern’ school built around 1930s, and Ousedale  School Olney Campus (academy based) in Aspreys built in 2007. See school websites for for information.

Olney Fires

In addition to the 18th century fires, Olney was unfortunate to endure a series of destructive fires in the 19th century, the first occurring on the 9th August 1851, a second and third in January and April 1853. The fire of 1854 was one of the most damaging when a blaze broke out at the northeast end of the town, around 50 houses were destroyed with  more than 30 damaged.  Link to the report on this website to the 1854 calamatous fire in Olney.


Secular Buildings – the impact of modern infill

Settlement growth in Olney began in earnest in the 1890s; the development of the Northampton to Bedford Railway provided the stimulus for trade and in particular  for Hinde and Mann’s shoe factory on Wellingborough Road. Redbrick terraced houses built in Wellingborough Road, Midland Road, Cowper Street and Newton Street date to the late 19th/early 20th century were intended as housing for workers engaged in the shoe and leather working industry. The uniform housing is laid out along the straight surveyed roads and gives this area of Olney a distinctive character and homogeneity.

Midland Road Olney c.1900

Another area of interest is the inter-war semi-detached red brick council housing in ‘Moores Hill’. The buildings, secluded in a hedge lined close and are constructed in a neo-vernacular style: brick diapering on the front walls with quoins and hipped roofs.

Olney developed dramatically after the Second World War. Some of the first housing to be built in this period was the Council housing off Weston Road in Dagnall Road (in the 1950s). However, the majority of Olney’s housing built after the 1950s, is constructed in the familiar modern style found in the suburbs of nearly every English town. But there have been some recent attempts by developers to design new housing to fit in with Olney’s vernacular style.


Recent History

During the second half of the twentieth century, Olney has developed substantially as a dormitory development for Milton Keynes. Extensive residential developments to the west of the town all but swamped the existing town which up until then comprised a long, wide, north-south high street, with two back streets (East Street and West Street) and a handful of side streets at its north and south ends. To the credit of local councillors, Olney has largely refused to surrender its identity and today still retains the character and active local life of a small English country town. The High Street and Market Place have remained a focus for the town’s residents, for example: ‘The Olney Pancake Race’ held on Shrove Tuesday and ‘Dickens of a Christmas’ held in December.

Recent image of Olney High Street

Now, in the twenty-first century, the development of Olney is planned to continue as part of government policy for the South East of England. It is to be hoped that its friendly local feel will not be further eroded by disproportionate expansion and excessive heavy traffic.

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