Henley-Upon-Thames (St. Mary)

HENLEY-UPON-THAMES (St. Mary), an incorporated market-town having separate jurisdiction, a parish, and the head of a union, locally in the hundred of Binfield, county of Oxford, on the high road from London to Oxford and Cheltenham, 23 miles (S. E.) from Oxford, and 25 (W.) from London; containing 3622 inhabitants. This is supposed by some antiquaries to have been a town of the ancient Britons; according to others it was the Roman station Calleva, which has with greater probability been fixed at Silchester, in Hampshire. Leland mentions the discovery of gold, silver, and brass coins of the Romans; but no notice of the town occurs in history till after the Norman Conquest. A bridge across the Thames was erected here at an early period, and it is not improbable that Henley owed its origin to that circumstance. In the reign of Henry III. the manor belonged to Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, the king's nephew, on whose death it reverted to the crown; and in the 10th of Elizabeth, a charter of incorporation was granted to the town, in which it is denominated Hanleygang or Hanneburg. In 1643, the republican forces were quartered in the vicinity, when they were attacked by the royalists, who entered the town, but were dispersed by the firing of a cannon down Duke-street, which did much execution: in the following year the inhabitants sustained considerable damage from the wanton conduct of the parliamentary soldiers, who plundered most of the houses.

The town, which is remarkably dry and healthy, is situated on an ascent from the western bank of the Thames, which here takes one of its most agreeable curves. It is surrounded by hills clothed with lofty beech-woods and extensive plantations, interspersed with elegant villas; and as approached from London, the general appearance is striking, and the scenery remarkably picturesque. At the entrance is a handsome stone bridge over the Thames, erected in 1786, at an expense of £10,000, and consisting of five elliptical arches, surmounted by a balustrade. The key-stone on each face of the central arch is adorned with a sculptured mask, from the chisel of the Hon. Mrs. Damer: that towards the north represents the Genius, or presiding Deity, of the Thames; the mask on the other key-stone exhibits the goddess Isis. The Henley Fishing Society was established in 1834, for preserving the water, this portion of the river abounding with pike, perch, and eels, the last famed for their excellence. The hills that give name to the Chiltern Hundreds form a ridge extending from Henley, along the southern part of the county of Buckingham, to Tring in Hertfordshire: the appellation is derived from the Saxon words cealt, cylt, or chilt, signifying chalk, of which substance they are principally composed. Henley has four principal streets, paved, and lighted with gas, and at the intersection are a plain stone cross and a conduit; the houses, though irregular, are spacious and well built, and some of them handsome. Every facility of carriage to London is afforded by the Thames; and it is stated that, so far back as the reign of Anne, there had been sold as much as 300 cart-loads of malt, and various kinds of grain, at the weekly markets: at this period the town enjoyed also the manufacture of glass, to the composition of which, a black flint, and a kind of sand that formed part of the soil, essentially contributed. There are a silk-mill on a small scale, a paper-mill, and an extensive brewery established for more than a century; and the manufacture of sacking is carried on to a limited extent. A few miles south of the town is the Twyford station of the Great Western railway. The market is on Thursday, for corn (which is pitched), seeds, &c.; and fairs are held on March 7th, for horses and cattle; HolyThursday, for sheep; the Thursday in Trinity-week; and the Thursday after September 21st.

Henley was incorporated by Elizabeth, but the charter by which it is now governed was granted by George I., in 1722, to the "mayor, aldermen, bridgemen, and burgesses," with power to elect a high steward, "who shall be a baron of this kingdom, or at least a knight," and a recorder. The corporation consists of a mayor, high steward, ten aldermen, two bridgemen, and sixteen burgesses, with a recorder, town-clerk, and inferior officers; and the mayor, recorder, and two senior aldermen, are justices of the peace, and have the power of holding a weekly court of record for the recovery of debts to the amount of £10, the mayor presiding. Quarter-sessions, also, are held regularly. One bridgeman is appointed by the corporation at Michaelmas, and the junior bridgeman for the preceding year then becomes the senior for the year ensuing; these officers, according to ancient custom, being also the churchwardens of the parish. The townhall, erected in 1796, stands on an elevation in the Highstreet, and is supported by sixteen Doric columns.

The parish comprises by measurement 1550 acres, of which 984 are arable, 317 meadow and pasture, 200 woodland, and 20 common or waste. The living is a rectory, valued in the king's books at £21. 1. 3., and in the patronage of the Bishop of Rochester: the tithes have been commuted for £481. 10., and there are ¾ of an acre of glebe. The church is a spacious structure, chiefly in the decorated and later English styles; in the walls are some portions of chequered work in flint and chalk. It has a fine tower, erected by Cardinal Wolsey, and some good tracery in the window of the chancel. The present north aisle appears to have constituted the body of the church; and in the north part of the chancel are indications of the original altar, with two canopied niches, in one of which is a recess formerly used for the eucharist. A large sepulchral chapel, or chantry, founded by the family of Elmes, was in 1820 converted into a vestry-room and library, and contains many valuable works, the liberal bequest of Dean Aldrich, rector of Henley, who died in 1737. In the chancel is a handsome monument with a recumbent effigy of Lady Elizabeth Periam, the benefactress to Balliol College, Oxford: there are also monuments to Dr. Crawley, father of Lady Kneller, who died in 1709, and to Mr. William Hayward, of Shrewsbury, the architect of Henley bridge; and in a vault on the south side are deposited the remains of Gen. Dumourier, celebrated in the revolutionary history of France. Richard Jennings, the "Master Builder of St. Paul's Cathedral," who died at Badgemore, near the town, lies interred in the churchyard. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends and Independents.

A grammar school was founded in 1604, by James I., and endowed with the proceeds of certain church lands and other property, partly bequeathed by Augustine Knapp; its funds were augmented by William Gravett, in 1664. A Blue-coat school for boys was established in 1609, by Lady Elizabeth Periam; and in 1774 these two schools were united by act of parliament, and their incomes consolidated, amounting at present to about £360 per annum. A Green school was founded in 1717, in consequence of a bequest by Mr. John Stephens, and subsequently endowed with property producing £54 per annum. An almshouse for five men, and an adjoining house for three women, were founded and endowed by John Longland, Bishop of Lincoln, in 1547; and there are ten almshouses endowed with a bequest by Humphrey Newbury, in 1664; four houses for widows, founded in 1743, by Mrs. Ann Messenger; and numerous other charities. The poor-law union of Henley comprises 24 parishes or places, 19 of which are in the county of Oxford; and contains 15,639 inhabitants.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.