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Buckinghamshire

BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, an inland county, bounded on the south and south-west by Berkshire, on the west by the county of Oxford, on the north-west and north by that of Northampton, on the north-east by that of Bedford, on the east by those of Bedford and Hertford, and on the south-east by Middlesex. It extends from 51° 26' to 52° 12' (N. Lat.), and. from 28' to 1° 8' (W. Lon.); and comprises an area of about 740 square miles, or 473,600 statute acres. The county contains 31,087 inhabited houses, 1159 uninhabited, and 206 in course of erection; and the population amounts to 155,983, of whom 76,482 are males, and 79,501 females.

The territory composing the present county of Buckingham is thought by Camden to have been anciently inhabited by the Cassii or Cattieuchlani. Mr. Whitaker, the learned historian of Manchester, was of opinion, that only that part of the county bordering on Bedfordshire was originally occupied by the Cassii, and that they afterwards seized upon the territories of the Dobuni, who had previously obtained possession of the rest by conquest from the Ancalites. Under the Roman dominion it was included in the great division called Flavia Cæsariensis; and on the complete establishment of the heptarchy, it became part of the powerful kingdom of Mercia. Buckinghamshire is in the diocese of Oxford and province of Canterbury, and, with the exception of a few parishes, constitutes an archdeaconry, in which are the deaneries of Buckingham, Burnham, Mursley, Newport, Wadsden, Wendover, and Wycombe; the number of parishes is 202. For civil purposes it is divided into the hundreds of Ashendon, Aylesbury, Buckingham, Burnham, Cottesloe, Desborough, Newport, and Stoke. It contains the borough and market-towns of Aylesbury, Buckingham, Great Marlow, and High Wycombe; and the market-towns of Amersham, Beaconsfield, Chesham, Ivinghoe, Newport-Pagnell, Olney, Prince's-Risborough, Fenny-Stratford, Stony-Stratford, Wendover, and Winslow. Three knights are returned to parliament for the shire, two burgesses for each of the boroughs of Aylesbury, Buckingham, and High Wycombe, and one for that of Great Marlow. The county members are elected at Aylesbury; and Aylesbury, Beaconsfield, Buckingham, and Newport-Pagnell are polling-places. It is included in the Norfolk circuit; the summer assizes are held at Buckingham, and the Lent assizes and general quarter-sessions at Aylesbury, where is situated the common gaol and house of correction for the county.

The most striking natural feature in the surface is the range of heights called the Chiltern Hills, which stretches across it from the southern extremity of Bedfordshire to the southern part of Oxfordshire, being part of the great chain of chalk hills extending from Norfolk south-westward into Dorsetshire. On the western side of the county is a range of hills of calcareous stone, parallel with the Chiltern Hills, at the distance only of a few miles; and between these two lies the rich vale of Aylesbury, the natural fertility of which is almost unrivalled. The predominant soils are rich loam, strong clay, chalky mould, and loam upon gravel, all of which, however, admit of considerable variety, and are much intermingled. The county has long been famous for its produce of corn and cattle, "Buckinghamshire bread and beef" having been formerly a common expression. One-half of it consists of arable farms, containing not more than one-fifth of grass land, which occupy the whole of the Chiltern Hills and the county southward of them to the Thames, together with the sandy lands in the neighbourhood of the Brickhills, Soulbury, and Lindslade, and some parts of the Vale of Aylesbury. The greater part of the vale is devoted to grazing and the dairy; most of this central part of the county, from the Chiltern Hills to the Watling-street, consisting of dairy and grazing farms, the former preponderating. The number of cows kept on these extensive pastures is computed at about 27,000, of which upwards of 21,000 are always productive to the dairy; and between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 lb. of butter are annually made in the county, of which by far the greater part is sent by contract to London: no cheese is made, except a few cream cheeses in summer for the markets of Buckingham, Aylesbury, and Wycombe. Hogs form an important part of the stock of the dairy-farms. At Aylesbury and in its vicinity, great numbers of ducks are bred and fattened, and many thousands are sent annually to London by the carriers, some of them very early in the spring.

The principal Rivers are the Thames, the Ouse, the Ouzel, the Thame, and the Colne: the first is the boundary and chief ornament of the southern part of the county, which it separates from Berkshire during a navigable course of about 28 miles; and, by affording a direct communication with the metropolis, is of great importance. The Grand Junction canal, on entering from Northamptonshire, is carried by means of an aqueduct, about three-quarters of a mile long, across the stream and valley of the Ouse. In 1794, an act was obtained for making navigable cuts to communicate with this canal from Aylesbury, Buckingham, and Wendover: the Aylesbury branch joins the main canal near Marsworth; the Buckingham branch proceeds down the north side of the valley of the Ouse to the main line at Cosgrove, on the Northamptonshire border; and the Wendover navigation joins it at Bulborne, on the confines of Hertfordshire. The Great Western railway enters the county at Iver, in its progress from Middlesex, and quits it at Taplow, where it enters the county of Berks. The London and Birmingham railway enters the county at Ivinghoe, and, after a course of 25 miles, quits it at Hanslope, for Northamptonshire. The Aylesbury railway proceeds from that town through a portion of the county of Herts, near Tring, and joins the London and Birmingham line, of which it is a branch; the line is seven miles in length. A small part of the Bedford branch of the London and Birmingham railway, is also within the county.

Buckinghamshire contained the Roman station Magiovintum, the remains of which are visible on a small elevation in the "Auld Fields," about a quarter of a mile from Fenny-Stratford, where an abundance of coins and foundations of buildings have been dug up. It was crossed by the Ikeneld-street, Watling-street, and Akeman-street, and by several vicinal ways, of which there are traces in different parts. Camden is of opinion that there was a Roman town at Burg-hill, now contracted into Brill, in the western part of the county: numerous relics of Roman occupation, such as coins, pavements, &c., have been found at Wycombe and in its vicinity; and coins have also been found near Prince's-Risborough and Ellesborough. Above the village of Medmenham are the remains of a large camp, nearly square, formed by a single ditch and vallum, and inclosing an area of about seven acres; and in a wood near Burnham is an oblong intrenchment of the same kind, vulgarly called "Harlequin's Moat." Near Ellesborough are some strong earthworks on the side of the Chiltern Hills, at one corner of which is a high mount styled the Castle Hill, or Kimble Castle, and commonly supposed to have been the site of the residence of the British king Cunobeline. On the top of the hill at West Wycombe are the remains of a circular encampment; and those of another are discernible near High Wycombe, at a place named Old, or All, Hollands. At Danesfield, on the banks of the Thames, is a nearly circular intrenchment, designated Danes' Ditch; at Cholsbury is a nearly circular camp, formed by a double ditch; and the manorhouse of the adjacent village of Hawridge is built within an ancient circular intrenchment. There are also some large intrenchments at Hedgerby-Dean, and a remarkable ditch runs thence to East Burnham. Near the lower Ikeneld way, in the parish of Ellesborough, is a moated area of an irregular form, in most places about fifty paces in breadth. A considerable rampart of earth, under the common name of Grimesdike, runs nearly east and west through a part of the county, upon the Chiltern Hills, where it may be traced for some miles; and on the side of the chalk hills near Risborough is cut a great cross called White Leaf Cross, of unknown antiquity, which has been considered the memorial of some victory gained by the Anglo-Saxons over the Danes.

Prior to the Reformation there were twenty-one Religious Houses; including four alien priories, one commandery of the Knights Hospitallers, and a college of the society of Bonhommes at Ashridge, near the confines of Hertfordshire, the only house of that order in England, excepting that at Edingdon in Wiltshire. The county contained, besides, ten hospitals, one of which, at Newport-Pagnell, refounded by Queen Anne, consort of James I., still exists; also the well-known royal college of Eton, founded by Henry VI. There are very considerable remains of Nutley Abbey, converted into a farmhouse and offices; and some vestiges of those of Burnham, Medmenham, and Great Missenden, and of the college of Bonhommes: part of St. Margaret's nunnery, in the parish of Ivinghoe, is yet standing, and is occupied as a dwelling-house. No mural remains exist of any fortress, but some earthworks point out the sites of those which stood at Castlethorpe, Lavendon, and Whitchurch, the first was called Hanslope Castle. The most remarkable ancient mansions are, Gayhurst, built in the reign of Elizabeth, and Liscombe House; and among the seats of the landed proprietors, those most distinguished for their architectural beauties are, the magnificent mansion of Stowe, Wycombe Abbey, Ashridge Park (partly in Herts), and the modern mansion at Tyrringham. Buckinghamshire gives the title of Earl to the family of Hobart-Hampden.


Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.