Walk 52: Olney Town Walk: Keep running & tossing as fast as you can

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: Probably only about 1 mile

Time to walk: Well this should only take us about 20 minutes, but the church has lots of history & there’s some very nice coffee shops. Plus there’s a nice walk by the river

Difficulty: All on flat easy walking hard paths

Parking: We parked up one of the side roads

Public toilets: Lots of cafes / pubs etc

Map of the route: Tricky to copy so why not let’s just walk!

So what could we tell you about Olney…

Olney’s a market town with a population of around 6,500 laying on the River Great Ouse, very close to the borders with Bedfordshire & Northamptonshire. It’s is a popular tourist destination, perhaps best known for the Olney Pancake Race. First mentioned as Ollanege in 932, the town has a history as a lace-making centre. During the English Civil War, Olney was the site of the Battle of Olney Bridge

In the late 18th century, William Cowper & John Newton collaborated here on what became known as the Olney Hymns. John Newton, author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” was curate of Olney & is buried here

We’ll talk to you about the Pancake Race later, but one of Olney’s best features is the number of small independent shops it offers the visitor…

Shall we have a look?

Let’s Walk

1. You can park in Market Place if you can find a space, or like us park up in a side street & walk down to where we start…


Market Place is impressive…



2. We’ll have a closer look when we pass through again later but, in the meantime head towards the church down High Street South


Olney’s full of eclectic shops & cafes so there’s plenty to browse. Teapots Traditional Tearooms looks inviting



The Toy Shop across the street has an ‘interesting’ doorman…


3. As the road bends left we get our first glimpse of the impressive church spire…


But continue past it down Bridge Street for the time being to have a look at the river


This is the Great Ouse &, from the internet, it appears it’s an excellent place for river swimming. There’s also the river meadows which have several excellent walks. The view across to the church is pretty spectacular too


4. Walk back across the bridge & turn down the narrow path into the churchyard…



Welcome to the Church of St Peter & St Paul. The greater part of the present church was built in the 14th century. There’s a local legend that the church was due to built on land to the west of where it is. The foundation stones were laid, but mysteriously moved to the current site. They were moved, but made their way back again. It was therefore taken as a sign of where the church should be built!

Let’s have a look inside…

5. The church is pretty unique as it has two fonts. The one as you enter is the oldest, possibly from the 16th century, but is now no longer in use…



The other one close by & in use today was presented to the church by Reverend John P Langley to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897

The view up the aisle’s nice…


…& on the wall on the left’s an unusual monument which dates from 1657 with a skull on top


As you walk into the upper part of the church look for an interesting character on the left wall. This is a ‘Lincoln Imp’ which is a reminder of the days when the parish of Olney was originally under the Diocese of Lincoln until 1870


The windows of the church are spectacular…

This one depicts the former vicarage

This one depicts the former vicarage


This modern window depicts John Newton's conversion at sea. He was curate here 1764 - 1780 & became a renowned & influential preacher

This modern window depicts John Newton’s conversion at sea. He was curate here 1764 – 1780 & became a renowned & influential preacher

John Newton & his friend, the poet William Cowper were responsible for one of the world’s most famous hymns…’Amazing Grace’ which was written to accompany a New Year’s Day sermon to the young people of Olney in 1773

6. Time to move on, so turn right out of the church & exit onto Church Street…



Look for a plaque on the wall which is the finishing line for Olney’s famous Pancake Race


Dating back more than five hundred years, the Pancake Race has been held in Oundle on Shrove Tuesday since 1445. The story goes that a woman in the village was cooking her pancake before church. On hearing the bells she ran down the hill still cooking her pancakes


The course is 415 yards long & is run from the Market Place to the Church at 11.55 a.m. Only women who have lived in Olney for at least 3 months are allowed to take part. Competitors wear the traditional costume of a housewife, including a skirt, apron & head covering & must, of course, carry a frying pan containing a pancake. The winner, on crossing the line, must toss her pancake & she is then greeted by the verger with the traditional kiss of peace. The race is immediately followed by a Shriving service in the Parish Church when the official Olney and Liberal prizes are presented


7. Turn right into the cemetery…



There’s mistletoe on the trees along here &, although it’s early January the blossom’s already coming out…



8. Look for a gate across the grass to exit the cemetery, then turn right & left along the alley passing the allotments on the right




…& through the barriers at the end turning left into Palmers Road



9. As Palmers Road bends right, turn left up Silver End…


…to arrive back in Market Place…




10. On the left as we enter Market Place is an imposing building which houses The Cowper & Newton Museum – on the day we visited it was closed


The Museum celebrates the work & lives of two famous local residents: William Cowper (1731–1800), a celebrated 18th-century poet & John Newton, a prominent slave trade abolitionist, who was curate in the local church


The Museum building is original to the Georgian era & is presented as it would have been when William Cowper was its resident in 1768 to 1786. Within the Museum’s collections are the literary works & personal effects of William Cowper showing a detailed insight into Georgian life & a fine collection of lace & local history artefacts. The history of Olney is also presented in the Olney Rooms within the museum


It has two unique gardens of outstanding horticultural interest planted with specimens introduced to England before 1800. The museum first opened in 1900 & is a charitable trust run almost entirely by volunteers

11. Continue along the Silver End side of Market Place stopping for a bite at Olney Pancake Parlour if you fancy…


Beans Coffee Stop Limited was the brainchild of Phil & Karen Gilbert during late 2003 & the first Beans opened in Oundle in early 2004


The first market here took place in 1206. The War Memorial was erected in 1921…


12. At the end turn right into High Street once more…


We’re going to head up the right side & back down the left. The businesses here reflect the staging route that this town once was…



We liked the style of the Two Brewers


13. Olney’s still retains its air of gracefulness & some of that’s reflected in The Carlton House Club



Almost next door is The Cowper Memorial United Reform Church


14. A few yards further on is a memory of an industry that once played an important part in the history of Olney. This is The Lace Factory…


Continental lacemakers came to this area of North Buckinghamshire as a result of religious persecution in their own countries from the late 1500s through to the late 1600s. The lacemakers, particularly those from Lille & Mechlin, settled here & taught the local women to make bobbin lace, thus began a cottage industry which lasted for over 300 years. The equipment for lacemaking could be made locally – the straw stuffed pillow, the wooden ‘horse’ or ‘maid’ to support the pillow, the parchment patterns & the wooden & bone bobbins, examples of which can be seen in the Cowper & Newton Museum

The lacemakers lived in small cottages in the many ‘courts’, off the High Street, Market Place & in Silver End where we’ve just walked. The one lacemaking commodity which could not be produced locally was the thread, linen originally &  later cotton. This was supplied by the shopkeepers of the town, often the grocers & bakers, many of whom were in premises around this Market Place. Those tradesmen then bought the finished lace from the lacemakers & sold it on at greatly increased prices, usually at special Lace Markets in London


Lace was never made in the Lace Factory. It was used as offices and as a warehouse, where lace was sewn onto garments or any article that Harry thought could be adorned with lace! It was then packed up into parcels which were sent out worldwide. The lace was still made by women in their homes and brought into the Lace Factory for sale or collected by agents in local villages. Out of their earnings the lacemakers had to buy the thread for the next week’s work!

15. We always love a town where the local shops spill out onto the pavement – we saw this in Uppingham recently & some of Olney’s are no different…


On reaching the zebra cross over & the Olney Centre is ahead…



 The Olney Centre was a school from 1847 – 1927 & the old school bell remains in the tower

16. Head back down the other side of the High Street – there’s more cafes & interesting buildings on this side too


That's a bold claim!

That’s a bold claim!

17. Orchard House is a very interesting looking property…



This house was the first one in the town to be lit by electricity


18. We’re approaching the Market Place again & the end of the walk…


First though there’s a couple more buildings of note – firstly Sutcliff Baptist Church


Then probably the town’s most famous coaching inn, The Bull Inn


The Bull Hotel started around 1600 & was once an important coaching inn & stopping place for the ‘Beehive Coach’ which ran between Wellingborough & London. It took a day to travel between London & Olney & the horses would need to be changed – the entrance to the stables was through the arch & today is a beer garden


Before Olney’s Railway Station was built in 1872, an omnibus ran daily between Bedford & Wolverton Station. When the rail passenger service was opened, a service ran from the Bull Hotel to the Station to meet every train. The Bull was also used as a meeting place for Dinners & Auctions. The Inland Revenue even had an office here in 1883

So that’s Olney, a lovely little market town just over our border & great for a Sunday stroll at all times of the year. It’s even a walk that can be done, like today when the fields are too wet to walk so…

Go Walk!