2016 was an incredible year for our travels around England, as we finally visited all 48 counties in England. Our penultimate county was Buckinghamshire, as we arrived in the small, historic town of Buckingham…
Status: Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire, Town, England
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Buckingham Old Gaol, Great Ouse River, St Peter & St Pauls Church, Old Town Hall, Old Market House, White Hart Hotel etc
We managed to find a small car park near the town centre, on the banks of the River Great Ouse, which slowly winds its way through the countryside to Buckingham from it’s source in Northamptonshire, through to it’s final destination off the Norfolk Coast.
Buckingham is only small, but it packs in a lot of history within its narrow streets, especially here on the “High Street”. In the centre of the picture stands the famous Buckingham Old Gaol, a large Museum open to visitors, where you can tour the old cells etc, but more on that in a moment.
To the left of the Old Gaol lies the 19th century King’s Head Inn, once a Coaching Inn on the main route from what would eventually become Milton Keynes towards Oxford and Banbury.
Just opposite the Old Gaol, and next to the Hotel, is the “Old Market House”, a large tudor-esque building. Originally completed in the 15th Century as a large house, probably part of a row, it has since been converted into a shop, overlooking the Market Square in front of the Old Gaol. It is a rare survivor here, as in 1715 a large fire consumed much of the town centre, resulting in a large variety of Georgian Buildings replacing the older medieval ones.
Moving round to the Old Gaol, it is a thing of beauty. Completed in 1748, and paid for by Richard Temple (1675 – 1749, British Soldier and MP for Buckingham for 16 years starting in 1697), it was home to a number of prisoners for many years. The building originally only consisted of the central stone Keep section, however in 1839 Sir George Gilbert Scott added the rounded entrance at the front. It soon transitioned from Jail to Police Station, and the cells can still be seen on a tour of the building.
From 1891 it was home to the Buckingham Fire Department after the Police moved to new premises near by, as well as being a store for the Armoury of the local 1st Buckinghamshire Rifles unit. After many years of various roles, it reopened permanently as a museum in 1993, and we were keen for a look inside…
As I said earlier, you can still see the cells inside, some of which were open for you to explore. They were extremely cramped, and I don’t envy anyone who had to spend any extended period of time here.
Each room contains a wealth of information about not just the history of the building, but the town as a whole, and it really is a fascinating experience. The main yard for the prisoners is walled off, yet was once open to the elements to allow the prisoners the illusion of being outside. A glass roof now covers it so a number of exhibitions can be put on display there. I would certainly recommend any visitors to Buckingham to check it out!
At the end of the High Street, where it joins “Market Square” and “Market Hill”, lies the Old Town Hall, a stunning Georgian Building built in 1783.
The previous Town Hall on the site was completed in 1685, and the staircase from the old structure was incorporated into the new. Atop the roof sits a squat clock tower, with a golden Swan gazing out across the town. The Swan is the symbol of Buckinghamshire, usually depicted in chains as on the County Flag. As a symbol, its origins date back to Saxon times, as Swans were bred on the estate which became Buckinghamshire. The chain was also to represent that they were owned by the King, and bound to him, and all subsequent Monarchs.
Directly to the left of the Old Town Hall, sat on the corner is the “White Hart Hotel”, another 19th Century build, and a well known Pub/Hotel in the area.
As I said earlier, Buckingham has a lot of stunning Georgian architecture, thanks to the fire that laid waste to much of the earlier structures.
Buckingham’s Georgian streets are fascinating to explore, there is such a variety in the buildings, and many of them appear to follow the original medieval street layout of the town, as they are twisted, and narrow in many places.
Many of the buildings date back to just after the great fire which levelled much of the town, which very few modern additions to be found in the town centre.
Up a slight incline, above much of the rest of the town, sits the local Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul. It is the successor to the original St Peter’s Church, located elsewhere in the town. It was plagued by problems for centuries, as the spire had collapsed a number of times, and when this occurred once more in 1776, the fate of the Church was sealed for good.
The present building was instead constructed here at Castle Hill, and took four years to build, officially being consecrated in 1780 by the then Bishop of Lincoln, Thomas Thurlow (1737 – 1791, later Bishop of Durham).
This charming little Church is the embodiment of the Georgian architecture which is prevalent throughout Buckingham, although the Victorians had their hand in to. Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878, English Architect responsible for St Pancras Station in London, and St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow) made a number of additions to the main fabric of the Church, starting with general repairs in 1860. These included the new Chancel of 1865, and a small Porch leading to the main entrance, in 1867.
We found Buckingham to be a welcome addition to our travel map, it is a beautiful little town in an idyllic setting, and the Museum which takes up the Old Gaol is a fascinating place to visit, full of history, artefacts and it fully immerses you in the experience. Buckingham of course lent it’s name to the surrounding county, and stood as the County Town until the 18th century when Aylesbury took over.
Buckingham is well placed on the A421 main road, which runs from the A1 in Cambridgeshire, through Milton Keynes, to Buckingham and from there on to the M40 Motorway. Milton Keynes is the largest town in the area, and a big source of employment, and is also sat on the West Coast Main Line from London – Glasgow/Edinburgh via the North West and Birmingham.
Buckingham itself has no railway station, after it was closed in 1964, originally being part of the Banbury to Verney Junction line. There are plans for a rail revival in the area however, as by 2024, the village of Winslow, a few miles South of Buckingham will be part of the new East West Rail Link from Oxford to Norwich.
Alas it was time to move on, and we made the 11 mile journey North to Towcester, in Northamptonshire…