1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Buckinghamshire

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BUCKINGHAMSHIRE (abbreviated Bucks) a south midland county of England, bounded N. by Northamptonshire, E. by Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Middlesex, S. for a short distance by Surrey, and by Berkshire, and W. by Oxfordshire. Its area is 743.2 sq. m. The county is divided between the basins of the rivers Ouse and Thames. The first in its uppermost course forms part of the north-western boundary, passes the towns of Buckingham, Stony Stratford, Wolverton, Newport Pagnell and Olney, and before quitting the county forms a short stretch of the north-eastern boundary. The principal tributary it receives within the county is the Ouzel. The Thames forms the entire southern boundary; and of its tributaries Buckinghamshire includes the upper part of the Thames. To the north-west of Buckingham, and both east and west of the Ouzel, the land rises in gentle undulations to a height of nearly 500 ft., and north of the Thames valley a few nearly isolated hills stand boldly, such as Brill Hill and Muswell Hill, each over 600 ft., but the hilliest part of the county is the south, which is occupied by part of the Chiltern system, the general direction of which is from south-west to north-east. The crest-line of these hills crosses the county at its narrowest point, along a line, above the towns of Prince's Risborough and Wendover, not exceeding 11 m. in length. This line divides the county into two parts of quite different physical character; for to the south almost the whole land is hilly (the longer slope of the Chiltern system lying in this direction), well wooded, and pleasantly diversified with narrow vales. The chief of these are watered by the Wye, Misbourne and Chess streams. The beech tree is predominant in the woods, in so much that William Camden, writing c. 1585, supposed the county to take name from this feature (A.S. boc, beech). In the south a remnant of ancient forest is preserved as public ground under the name of Burnham Beeches. The Chilterns reach a height of nearly 900 ft. within the county.

Geology.—The northern half of the county is occupied by Jurassic strata, in the southern half Cretaceous rocks predominate except in the south-eastern corner, where they are covered by Tertiary beds. Thus the oldest rocks are in the north, succeeded continuously by younger strata to the south; the general dip of all the rocks is south-easterly. A few patches of Upper Lias Clay appear near the northern boundary near Grafton Regis and Castle Thorpe, and again in the valley of the Ouse near Stoke Goldington and Weston Underwood. The Oolitic series is represented by the Great Oolite, with limestones in the upper part, much quarried for building stones at Westbury, Thornborough, Brock, Whittlewood Forest, &c.; the lower portions are more argillaceous. The Forest Marble is seen about Thornton as a thin bed of clay with an oyster-bearing limestone at the base. Next above is the Cornbrash, a series of rubbly and occasionally hard limestones and thin clays. The outcrop runs by Tingwick, Buckingham, Berehampton and Newport Pagnell, it is quarried at Wolverton and elsewhere for road metal. Inliers of these rocks occur at Marsh Gibbon and Stan Hill. The Oxford Clay and Kimmeridge Clay, with the Gault, lie in the vale of Aylesbury. The clay is covered by numerous outliers of Portland, Purbeck and Lower Greensand beds. The Portland beds are sandy below, calcareous above; the outcrop follows the normal direction in the county, from south-west to north-east, from Thame through Aylesbury; they are quarried at several places for building stone and fossils are abundant. The Hartwell Clay is in the Lower Portland. Freshwater Purbeck beds lie below the Portland and Lower Greensand beds; they cap the ridge between Oving and Whitchurch. Glass-making sands have been worked from the Lower Greensand at Hartwell, and phosphatic nodules from the same beds at Brickhill as well as from the Gault at Towersey. A broad band of Gault, a bluish clay, extends from Towersey across the county in a north-easterly direction. Resting upon the Gault is the Upper Greensand; at the junction of the two formations numerous springs arise, a circumstance which has no doubt determined the site of several villages. The Chalk rises abruptly from the low lying argillaceous plain to form the Chiltern Hills. The form of the whole of the hilly district round Chesham, High Wycombe and the Chalfonts is determined by the Chalk. Reading beds, mottled clays and sands, repose upon the Chalk at Woburn, Barnham, Fulmer and Denham, and these are in turn covered by the London Clay, which is exposed on the slopes about Stoke Common and Iver. Between the Tertiary-capped Chalk plateau and the Thames, a gentler slope, covered with alluvial gravel and brick earth, reaches down to the river. Thick deposits of plateau gravel cover most of the high ground in the southern corner of the county, while much of the northern part is obscured by glacial clays and gravels.

Industries.—The agricultural capacities of the soil vary greatly in different localities. On the lower lands, especially in the Vale of Aylesbury, about the headwaters of the Thame, it is extremely fertile; while on the hills it is usually poor and thin. The proportion of cultivated land is high, being about 83% of the whole. Of this a large and growing portion is in permanent pasture; cattle and sheep being reared in great numbers for the London markets, to which also are sent quantities of ducks, for which the district round Aylesbury is famous. Wheat and oats are the principal grain crops, though both decrease in importance. Turnips and swedes for the cattle are the chief green crops; and dairy-farming is largely practised. There is no general manufacturing industry, but a considerable amount of lace-making and straw-plaiting is carried on locally; and at High Wycombe and in its neighbourhood there is a thriving trade in various articles of turnery, such as chairs and bowls, from beech and other hard woods. The introduction of lace-making in this and neighbouring counties is attributed to Flemish, and later to French immigrants, but also to Catharine of Aragon during her residence (c. 1532) at Ampthill. Down to the later part of the 19th century a general holiday celebrated by lace-makers on the 25th of November was known as "Cattarn's Day."

Communications.—The main line of the London & North-Western railway crosses the north-east part of the county. Bletchley is an important junction on this system, branches diverging east to Fenny Stratford, Bedford and Cambridge, and west to Oxford and Banbury, Buckingham being served by the western branch. There is also a branch from Cheddington to Aylesbury. The Metropolitan-Great Central joint line serves Amersham, Chesham (by a branch), and Aylesbury, joining the North-Western Oxford branch at Verney Junction; this line is used by the Great Central railway, the main line of which continues north-westward from Quainton Road. A light railway connects this station with the large village of Brill to the south-west. The Great Central and the Great Western companies jointly own a line passing through Beaconsfield, High Wycombe, and Prince's Risborough, which is connected northward with the Great Central system. Before the opening of this line in 1906 the Great Western branch from Maidenhead to Oxford was the only line serving High Wycombe and Prince's Risborough, from which there are branches to Watlington and Aylesbury. The main line of this company crosses the extreme south of the county by Slough and Taplow. The Grand Junction Canal, reaching the valley of the Ouse by way of the Ouzel valley from the south, has branches to Aylesbury and to Buckingham. Except the Thames none of the rivers in the county is continuously navigable.

Bletchley is an important junction on this system, branches diverging east to Fenny Stratford, Bedford and Cambridge, and west to Oxford and Banbury, Buckingham being served by the western branch. There is also a branch from Cheddington to Aylesbury. The Metropolitan-Great Central joint line serves Amersham, Chesham (by a branch), and Aylesbury, joining the North-Western Oxford branch at Verney Junction; this line is used by the Great Central railway, the main line of which continues north-westward from Quainton Road. A light railway connects this station with the large village of Brill to the south-west. The Great Central and the Great Western companies jointly own a line passing through Beaconsfield, High Wycombe. and Prince's Risborough, which is connected northward with the Great Central system. Before the opening of this line in 1906 the Great Western branch from Maidenhead to Oxford was the only line serving High Wycombe and Prince's Risborough, from which there are branches to Watlington and Aylesbury. The main line of this company crosses the extreme south of the county by Slough and Taplow. The Grand Junction Canal, reaching the valley of the Ouse by way of the Ouzel valley from the south, has branches to Aylesbury and to Buckingham. Except the Thames none of the rivers in the county is continuously navigable.

Population and Administration.—The area of the ancient county is 475,682 acres, with a population in 1891 of 185,284, and in 1901 of 195,764. The area of the administrative county is 479,358 acres. The county contains eight hundreds, of which three, namely Stoke, Burnham and Desborough, form the "Chiltern Hundreds" (q.v.). The hundred of Aylesbury retains its ancient designation of the "three hundreds of Aylesbury." The municipal boroughs are Buckingham, the county town (pop. 3152), and Wycombe, officially Chepping Wycombe, also Chipping or High Wycombe (15,542). The other urban districts are Aylesbury (9243), Beaconsfield (1570), Chesham (7245), Eton (3301), Fenny Stratford (4799), Linslade, on the Ouzel opposite to Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire (2157), Marlow (4526), Newport Pagnell (4028), Slough (11,453). Among the lesser market towns may be mentioned Amersham (2674), Ivinghoe (808), Olney (2684), Prince's Risborough (2189), Stony Stratford (2353), Wendover (2009) and Winslow (1703). At Wolverton (5323) are the carriage works of the London & North-Western railway. Several of the villages on and near the banks of the Thames have become centres of residence, such as Taplow, Cookham and Bourne End, Burnham and Wooburn. Buckinghamshire is in the midland circuit, and assizes are held at Aylesbury. It has one court of quarter sessions, and is divided into thirteen petty sessional divisions. The boroughs of Buckingham and Wycombe have separate commissions of the peace. The administrative county contains 230 civil parishes. Buckinghamshire is almost entirely within the diocese of Oxford, and 215 ecclesiastical parishes are situated wholly or in part within it. There are three parliamentary divisions, Northern or Buckingham, Mid or Aylesbury, and Southern or Wycombe, each returning one member; and the county contains a small part of the parliamentary borough of Windsor (chiefly in Berkshire). The most notable institution within the county is Eton College, the famous public school founded by Henry VI.

History.—The district which was to become Buckinghamshire was reached by the West Saxons in 571, as by a series of victories they pushed their way north along the Thames valley. With the grouping of the settlements into kingdoms and the consolidation of Mercia under Offa, Buckinghamshire was included in Mercia until, with the submission of that kingdom to the Northmen, it became part of the Danelaw. In the 10th century Buckinghamshire suffered frequently from the ravages of the Danes, and numerous barrows and earthworks mark the scenes of struggles against the invaders. These relics are especially abundant in the vale of Aylesbury, probably at this time one of the richest and best protected of the Saxon settlements. The Chiltern district, on the other hand, is said to have been an impassable forest infested by hordes of robbers and wild beasts. In the reign of Edward the Confessor, Leofstan, 12th abbot of St Albans, cut down large tracts of wood in this district and granted the manor of Hamstead (Herts) to a valiant knight and two fellow-soldiers on condition that they should check the depredations of the robbers. The same reason led at an early period to the appointment of a steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, and this office being continued long after the necessity for it had ceased to exist, gradually became the sinecure it is to-day. The district was not finally disforested until the reign of James I.

At the time of the Norman invasion Buckinghamshire was probably included in the earldom of Leofwine, son of Godwin, and the support which it lent him at the battle of Hastings was punished by sweeping confiscations after the Conquest. The proximity of Buckinghamshire to London caused it to be involved in most of the great national events of the ensuing centuries. During the war between King John and his barons William Mauduit held Hanslape Castle against the king, until in 1216 it was captured and demolished by Falkes de Bréauté. The county was visited severely by the Black Death, and Winslow was one of many districts which were almost entirely depopulated. In the civil war Buckinghamshire was one of the first counties to join in an association for mutual defence on the side of the parliament, which had important garrisons at Aylesbury, Brill and elsewhere. Newport Pagnell was for a short time garrisoned by the royalist troops, and in 1644 the king fixed his headquarters at Buckingham.

The shire of Buckingham originated with the division of Mercia in the reign of Edward the Elder, and was probably formed by the aggregation of pre-existing hundreds round the county town, a fact which explains the curious irregularities of the boundary line. The eighteen hundreds of the Domesday survey have now been reduced to eight, of which the three Chiltern hundreds, Desborough, Burnham and Stoke, are unaltered in extent as well as in name. The remainder have been formed each by the union of three of the ancient hundreds, and Aylesbury is still designated "the three hundreds of Aylesbury." All, except Newport and Buckingham, retain the names of Domesday hundreds, and the shire has altered little on its outer lines since the survey. Until the time of Queen Elizabeth Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire had a common sheriff. The shire court of the former county was held at Aylesbury.

The ecclesiastical history of Buckinghamshire is not easy to trace, as there is no local chronicler, but the earliest churches were probably subject to the West Saxon see of Dorchester, and when after the Conquest the bishop's stool was transferred to Lincoln no change of jurisdiction ensued. After the dissolution of the monasteries it was proposed to form a new diocese to include Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, but the project was abandoned, and both remained in the Lincoln diocese until 1837, when the latter was transferred to Oxford. The arch-deaconry was probably founded towards the close of the 11th century by Bishop Rémy, and the subdivision into rural deaneries followed shortly after. A dean of Thornborough is mentioned in the 12th century, and in the taxation of Nicholas IV. eight deaneries are given, comprising 186 parishes. In 1855 the deaneries were reconstructed and made eighteen in number.

On the redistribution of estates after the Conquest only two Englishmen continued to retain estates of any importance, and the chief landowners at this date were Walter Giffard, first earl of Buckingham, and Odo, bishop of Bayeux. Few of the great Buckinghamshire estates, however, remained with the same proprietors for any length of time. Many became annexed by religious establishments, while others reverted to the crown and were disposed of by various grants. The family of Hampden alone claim to have held the estate from which the name is derived in an unbroken line from Saxon times.

Buckinghamshire has always ranked as an agricultural rather than a manufacturing county, and has long been famed for its corn and cattle. Fuller mentions the vale of Aylesbury as producing the biggest bodied sheep in England, and "Buckinghamshire bread and beef" is an old proverb. Lace-making, first introduced into this county by the Fleming refugees from the Alva persecution, became a very profitable industry. The monopolies of James I. considerably injured this trade, and in 1623 a petition was addressed to the high sheriff of Buckinghamshire representing the distress of the people owing to the decay of bone lace-making. Newport Pagnell and Olney were especially famous for their lace, and the parish of Hanslape is said to have made an annual profit of £8000 to £9000 from lace manufacture. The straw-plait industry was introduced in the reign of George I., and formerly gave employment to a large number of the population.

The county was first represented in parliament by two members in 1290. The representation increased as the towns acquired representative rights, until in 1603 the county with its boroughs made a total return of fourteen members. By the Reform Act of 1832 this was reduced to eleven, and by the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885 the boroughs were deprived of representation and the county returned three members for three divisions.

Antiquities.—Buckinghamshire contains no ecclesiastical buildings of the first rank. Monastic remains are scanty, but two former abbeys may be noted. At Medmenham, on the Thames above Marlow, there are fragments, incorporated into a residence, of a Cistercian abbey founded in 1201; which became notorious in the middle of the 18th century as the meeting-place of a convivial club called the "Franciscans" after its founder, Sir Francis Dashwood, afterwards Lord le Despencer (1708-1781), and also known as the "Hell-Fire Club," of which John Wilkes, Bubb Dodington and other political notorieties were members. The motto of the club, fay ce que voudras (do what you will), inscribed on a doorway at the abbey, was borrowed from Rabelais' description of the abbey of Thelema in Gargantua. The remains of the Augustinian Notley Abbey (1162), incorporated with a farm-house, deserve mention rather for their picturesque situation by the river Thame than for their architectural value. Turning to churches, there is workmanship considered to be of pre-Norman date in Wing church, in the neighbourhood of Leighton Buzzard, including a polygonal apse and crypt. Stewkley church, in the same locality, shows the finest Norman work in the county; the building is almost wholly of the later part of this period, and the ornamentation is very rich. The Early English work of Chetwode and Haddenham churches, both in the west of the county, is noteworthy; especially in the first, which, as it stands, is the eastern part of a priory church of Augustinians (1244). Good specimens of the Decorated style are not wanting, though none is of special note; but the county contains three fine examples of Perpendicular architecture in Eton College chapel and the churches of Maids Moreton to the north, and Hillesden to the south, of Buckingham. Ancient domestic architecture is chiefly confined to a few country houses, of which Chequers Court, dating from the close of the 16th century, is of interest not only from the architectural standpoint but from its beautiful situation high among the Chiltern Hills between Prince's Risborough and Wendover, and from a remarkable collection of relics of Oliver Cromwell, preserved here as a consequence of the marriage, in 1664, of John Russell, a grandson of the Protector, into the family to which the house then belonged. The manor-house of Hampden, among the hills east of Prince's Risborough, was for many generations the abode of the family of that name, and is still in the possession of descendants of John Hampden, who fell at the battle of Chalgrove in 1643, and is buried in Hampden church. Fine county seats are numerous—there may be mentioned Stowe (Buckingham), formerly the seat of the dukes of Buckingham; Cliveden and Hedsor, two among the many beautifully situated mansions by the bank of the Thames; and Claydon House in the west of the county. Among the Chiltern Hills, also, there are several splendid domains. Associations with eminent men have given a high fame to several towns or villages of Buckinghamshire. Such are the connexion of Beaconsfield with Edmund Waller and Edmund Burke, that of Hughenden near Wycombe with Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield, whose father's residence was at Bradenham; of Olney and Stoke Pogis with the poets Cowper and Gray respectively. At Chalfont St Giles a cottage still stands in which Milton completed Paradise Lost and began Paradise Regained. In earlier life he had lived and worked at Horton, near the Thames below Windsor.

Authorities[edit]

  • The original standard history is the laborious work of G. Lipscomb, History and Antiquities of the County of Buckingham (London, 1831-1847).

Other works are:

  • Browne Willis, History and Antiquities of the Town, Hundred, and Deanery of Buckingham (London, 1755).
  • D. and S. Lysons, Magna Britannia, vol. i.
  • R. Gibbs, Buckingham (Aylesbury, 1878-1882); Worthies of Buckingham (Aylesbury, 1886); and Buckingham Miscellany (Aylesbury, 1891).
  • G.S. Roscoe, Buckingham Sketches (London, 1891).
  • P.H. Ditchfield, Memorials of Old Buckinghamshire (London, 1901).
  • Victoria County History, "Buckinghamshire."