BRACKLEY, an incorporated market-town, a parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of King's-Sutton, S. division of the county of Northampton, 20 miles (S. W. by S.) from Northampton, and 64 (N. W. by W.) from London; containing 2121 inhabitants, of whom 887 are in the parish of St. James, and 1234 in that of St. Peter, which includes the hamlet of Halse. This place derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon Bracken, signifying fern, with which the neighbourhood formerly abounded: it was a Saxon burgh of considerable importance, but was greatly injured by the Danes. In the reign of John, Saher de Quincy, Earl of Winchester, joined the confederate barons at Stamford, and marched with them to Brackley, whence they sent a remonstrance setting forth their grievances to the king, who was then at Oxford. In the reign of Henry III. two splendid tournaments were held on a plain called Bayard's Green, near the town. Edward II., who conferred many privileges upon Brackley, made it a staple town for wool; and in the reign of Edward III., having become famous for its trade, it sent three representatives, as "Merchant Staplers," to a grand council held at Westminster. In the time of Henry VIII., the plague raging violently at Oxford, the fellows and scholars of Magdalen College removed to this town, and resided in an hospital founded by Robert le Bossu, Earl of Leicester, about the middle of the twelfth century, and of which there are considerable remains; the chapel, with a broad low tower on the north-west side, being still entire.
The town, which was formerly of much greater extent, is on the border of Buckinghamshire, and is situated on the declivity of a hill, near a branch of the river Ouse, whose source is in the immediate vicinity: it is divided into two portions, New and Old; the latter, which is the smaller, is without the limits of the borough. The principal street, nearly a mile in length, extends from the bridge up the acclivity of the hill, and contains many good houses, mostly built of stone; there is an abundant supply of water. The inhabitants are chiefly occupied in the making of bobbin-lace, and boots and shoes. The market is on Wednesday; the fairs are principally for horses, horned-cattle, and sheep, and are on the Wednesday after Feb. 25th, the second Wednesday in April, the Wednesday after June 22nd, the Wednesday after Oct. 11th (a statute-fair), and Dec. 11th, which is a great fair for cattle and wearing-apparel. The inhabitants are supposed to have received their first charter of incorporation in the reign of Edward II., and subsequent charters were granted in the 2nd and 4th of James II., by which the government is vested in a mayor, six aldermen, and twenty-six burgesses. The elective franchise was conferred in the 1st of Edward VI., the borough from that time returned two members to parliament, but was disfranchised by the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45. The powers of the county debt-court of Brackley, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Brackley. The town-hall, a handsome building in the centre of the town, supported on arches, under which the market is held, was erected in 1706, by Scroop, Duke of Bridgewater, at a cost of £2000.
Brackley comprises the parishes of St. Peter and St. James, which, though ecclesiastically united, are distinct as regards civil affairs; the former consists of 3716 acres, and the latter of 430a. 3r. 36p. The living is a consolidated vicarage, valued in the king's books at £19. 1. 6.; net income, £359; patron, the Earl of Ellesmere. Under an inclosure act, in 1829, land and a money payment were assigned in lieu of tithes; and under the recent act, impropriate tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £167. 10., and vicarial for one of £238. 6. 10. The church of St. Peter is an ancient building, with a low embattled tower, and contains a Norman font of curious design: St. James', formerly a parochial church, is now a chapel of ease. There is a place of worship for Wesleyans. The free grammar school was founded about the year 1447, by William of Wainfleet, who endowed it for ten boys, with £13. 6. 8. per annum, which sum is paid by the society of Magdalen College, Oxford, to whom the site of the ancient hospital was granted at the time of its dissolution. A national school is supported by subscription; and a school-house, of Bath stone, for an infants' school, has been built by the Earl of Ellesmere, at a cost of £400. Almshouses for six aged widows were founded by Sir Thomas Crewe, in 1633, and endowed with a rent-charge of £24, which was increased, in 1721, by his descendant, Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham, to £36. The poor law union of Brackley comprises 30 parishes or places, of which 25 are in the county of Northampton, 3 in that of Buckingham, and 2 in that of Oxford; and contains a population of 13,508. The site of a castle built by one of the Norman barons, is still called the Castle Hill. Samuel Clarke, an eminent orientalist, and one of the coadjutors of Walton in publishing the Polyglot Bible, was born here, in 1623; and Dr. Bathurst, Bishop of Norwich, who died in 1837, was also a native. Brackley gives the title of Viscount to the Earl of Ellesmere.