Buckingham became the County Town of Buckinghamshire during the 10th century. According to the Saxon Chronicle, Edward the Elder was with his army at Buckingham in 918 AD when he fortified the town during his advance on Danish invaders. Edward’s stronghold probably stood on Castle Hill, later the site of a Norman castle and now occupied by the parish church of St Peter and St Paul.
The Manor of Buckingham is recorded in the Doomsday survey of 1086 as being held by Walter Gifford, who was created Duke of Buckinghamshire by William the Conqueror. This same family continued to hold it until the reign of Henry VIII.
Buckingham prospered as a medieval market town. Charters from Mary Tudor in 1554, and Charles II in 1684, established market days and two annual fairs, which still take place today. Catherine of Aragon, first queen of Henry VIII, stayed at Castle House in 1514. Edward VI founded the Latin School in the Town, and Elizabeth I dined at the Manor House while on a journey to Bicester.
During the Civil War, Buckingham’s local gentry took opposing sides. Both Oliver Cromwell and Charles I spent time in the Town, the latter holding a Council of War at Castle House.
In the early 18th century Buckingham was in decline and, after a disastrous fire, much of its centre had to be rebuilt. In spite of the canal and the coming of the railway, Buckingham was little altered until well into the 20th century. Today, it retains much of its traditional market town charm.
Buckingham has many interesting buildings which make it worth spending time wandering around parts of the town just looking at their exteriors. Only two of the main buildings are open to visitors to look at internally – the Old Gaol and the Chantry Chapel.
The Old Gaol is a must see if you have some time to spare. The building is rather like Doctor Who’s “Tardis” it doesn’t look very large from the outside, but is surprisingly large when you pass through into the main part of the building housing the museum, beyond the area occupied by the Tourist Information Centre.
Old Gaol Museum – restored extensively by the Buckingham Heritage Trust, this is the landmark building in Buckingham town centre. Though the building looks medieval, it was built in the 18th Century to house prisoners until the Assizes were held. It houses a fascinating museum reflecting the building’s history, aspects of Buckingham’s past, and Buckinghamshire’s military history. The museum also features an exhibition about local author Flora Thompson which has attracted visitors from all over the world. There is an annual Craft Fair, occasional talks, and children’s activity days are held throughout the year. The Museum Shop offers souvenirs and mementoes. The building also incorporates the Tourist Information Centre: (Tel (01280) 823020). Click here to go to The Old Gaol website.
The Chantry Chapel (owned by the National Trust) – a former school, the Chantry Chapel is Buckingham’s oldest building and dates back in parts to the 12th century. Admission details are available from the Tourist Information Centre: (Tel (01280) 823020).
The Old Town Hall – topped with an impressive gilded swan, was rebuilt in the 18th century following the disastrous fire of Buckingham in 1724.
Parish Church – The present church of St Peter & St Paul – occupying the site of a former Saxon Castle – the parish church was completed in 1781 following the destruction of the previous building in Hunter Street, caused by the collapse of its steeple. It was partly rebuilt by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 19th century. Inside are a number of carved Tudor bench ends and a Latin manuscript bible from 1471 retrieved from the earlier building. Click here to go to the parish church website.
The Old Town – with narrow streets, old buildings, the famous twisted chimney, and wide variety of architectural styles. The Town also features a number of Georgian facades.
Flora Thompson, the writer of the semi-autobiographical trilogy, ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’, the book for which she is best remembered, describes life as a child growing up in the Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire countryside in the late nineteenth century.
In her book, Flora chronicles the daily lives of farm workers and craftsmen, friends and relations alike; and it is therefore a precise and enduring portrayal of country life long since vanished. Flora Thompson used real life villages and communities as her inspiration and freely admitted that ‘Candleford’ was based on Buckingham, Brackley and Banbury and, of course, ‘Lark Rise’ and ‘Fordlow’ are Juniper Hill and Cottisford. Flora Thompson clearly enjoyed her numerous trips to Buckingham visiting her father’s relatives, the Timms family, who have been continuously associated with the town for hundreds of years.
Flora’s younger sister, Ethel Elizabeth (Betty) Timms, shared her love of writing and Betty’s success with a children’s book, ‘The Little Grey Men of the Moor’, which was published in 1926, encouraged Flora to write her books.
Buckingham Old Gaol Museum has a permanent exhibition of Flora Thompson’s life and works, themed as ‘The Home of Flora Thompson’. This exhibition, which the Museum Development Service called ‘of national importance’ was formally opened on May 25th 2007 to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of Flora Thompson’s death and is the only permanent, viewable exhibition of Flora Thompson memorabilia in the world. It comprises photographs, pamphlets, early and first edition books, letters written by Flora, together with a number of personal items. The typewriter on which Flora and Betty composed much of their work is a major attraction.This is another reason for making a visit to the Old Gaol a must do activity. Click here for more information about Flora Thompson.
©2019 Buckingham. Website by Impact!. Picture of the River Rinse courtesy Brian Simmonds.