Olney, Buckinghamshire, England

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olney vista
St. Peter and St. Paul Church A view of Olney and the River Great Ouse

Olna\ey interior    olney plaque 
Interior of church  Plaque inside church listing vicars and rectors of the church  Close up of plaque 

picarage in Olney
Old Vicarage

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           Visit  olney logo  on the web: http://www.olney.org.uk


The town is one of the most attractive towns in the county. It is renowned for its exceptional Conservation Area which contains buildings primarily constructed from the local limestone. The river Great Ouse, to the south and east of the town, has water meadows bounded by the Clifton Hills. This has created a large area of outstanding natural beauty.

The Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul dominates the southern entrance to the town. The spire is nearly 200 feet high. It was constructed in the 14th century in the Decorated style. Despite numerous alterations over the centuries the church is still a delightful building to visit. It was in this church that the Olney Hymns were first sung, and it was here that one of the fathers of church music - Henry John Gauntlett- was organist.

The town itself has a wealth of attractions for tourists, including antique shops, places of historical interest, accommodation, 4 public houses, restaurants and cafes and ample free car parking. Many places of interest are open on Sundays. The town centres around the Market Place and a busy general market is held here every Thursday. Half day closing (for some shops) is on Wednesday.

Since the early '70s the population of Olney has increased significantly from around 2,400 in 1971 to 6,000 in 1995. Despite this rapid increase, Olney's centre still retains it's old eighteenth century market town character and the people are still very friendly. The town has an excellent community spirit!

There are historical associations with the poet William Cowper who lived in Olney between 1767 and 1786 and the ex-slave trader John Newton who became Olney's curate in 1764. Together they wrote the "Olney Hymns" ("Amazing Grace") and they are commemorated in the Cowper Museum in the Market Place.

For 300 years Olney was at the heart of bobbin lace making industry in the area and the Museum contains a fine collection of Buckinghamshire lace among other details of local historical interests. Lace making was at one time the main occupation of the townsfolk.

The cultural heritage of the Olney area is reflected in its worthy legacy of historic buildings, ancient monuments, archaeological sitesand historic landscapes. Close by, Weston Underwood, Emberton and Clifton Reynes all have been designated as Conservation areas in recognition of their special architectural or historic interest. The majority of the listed buildings within the locality lie within these Conservation areas. Olney Bridge dates from the 19th century. Visit also a Roman site north of Olney, a medieval moat and fishponds near Weston Underwood, and a number of archaeological sites in the area.

Recreation and leisure facilities in the area are Emberton Country Park, with 70 hectares for sailing, windsurfing, fishing and picnics and a permanent caravan park. Flamingo Gardens and Zoological Park are situated to the west of Olney, in Weston Underwood. Extensive sport recreational facilities are located between the eastern side of the town and the river Ouse. The Three Shires Bridleway passes south of Emberton and to the east of Olney.

Olney is well known in the media for its traditional Pancake Race which has been run on Shrove Tuesday since 1445. The course is 415 yards long and is run from the Market Place to the Church at 11.55 am. Participants, housewives or young ladies of the town, must have lived in Olney for at least 3 months and be at least 18 years old. Competitors must wear for the Race the traditional costume of a housewife, including a skirt, apron and headcovering. They must of course carry a frying pan containing a pancake. The winner, on crossing the line, must toss her pancake and she is then greeted by the verger with the traditional Kiss of Peace. The race is immediately followed by a Shriving Service in the Parish Church. Since 1950 this race has also been run against a race in Liberal, Kansas (USA).

See Map of Buckinghamshire.


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   Last modified: May 20, 2021