Created By: ODHS
Past local historians have suggested that in the northerly direction well beyond the Knoll a castle, or a monastery of sorts, stood on the Whirly Pits side of Yardley Road. However, with a little more certainty, before the parish church was re-built in its current position in the 14th Century, a church once stood not too far behind the Knoll. Evidence in the form of human remains found when digging out the footings the Feoffee Cottages in Dartmouth Road, together with the existence until the 1950s of an elm tree known as the Churchyard Elm opposite the Queen Hotel, suggests that this northern end was once the most important part of the town. There are no records to indicate why the church moved to its current site although, of course, theories abound!
Moving along the time-line a good bit, a couple of centuries ago, the northern end of Olney, with the exception of a handful of properties, ended at the Knoll. Beyond the Knoll today is predominantly the development that came with the coming of the railway. The building of the new streets was intended to accommodate the number of workers that would use the railway to work outside the town, probably in Northampton or Bedford. In reality most, particularly office workers, used buses as the frequency of the trains was in sufficient for their needs. As it happened most properties were let, initially at least, to shoe industry workers as the majority had workshops, even mini factories, built at their rear which could be used by the tenants, as outworkers, to service the larger factories in the town.
In the 20th Century at the north end of the Knoll stood two buildings (see image below). The building on the left was the Castle Inn, a very popular inn after WWII when managed by 'Auntie' and 'Uncle' Fred Lyon. It was the only pub in the town that was not owned by brewers Hipwells (and later Phipps, a Wellingborough brewery). It was not a 'free house' but owned by NBC, the Northampton Brewery Company. (No such thing as 'guest beers' in those days.)
The building on the right was a blacksmith's workshop which continued shoeing horses well into the 1950s. The last blacksmith was Alistair Bull who lived 'over the shop'. The Castle Inn was substantially extended into its current form after the demise and demolition of the smithy. The premises have since been fitted out as an Indian restaurant called 'The Maya'.
The Knoll c.1900 (Repeat)
In the coloured image above, note the lighter coloured track just in front of the cyclist and lamp post. There were two such tracks across the High Street, one at each end, which were 'apparently' kept clean so that the ladies did not soil the hems of their clothing with mud, or even worse!
The photograph above was taken by George Lett in 1899 of Olney Silver Band preparing to play on the Knoll, obviously on a Sunday as everyone was turned out in their 'Sunday best' clothes. George Lett probably took the picture from an upstairs window in Number 12 Beauchamp Terrace - then the home of Harry Lett.
The Knoll was not surfaced at that time (incidentally neither was the Market Place) and it is common knowledge that the surface was far from flat owing to children scraping holes in it on a regular basis to play marbles!
In past decades the Knoll could have been described as a mini Market Place at the North end of the town. Today it is essentially a traffic island but is occasionally pressed into service, e.g, as a Sunday market on ’Dickens of a Christmas' day.
An image of the Knoll circa 1948 above shows no structural or environmental changes over the 50 years since 1899, except for converting the Knoll itself into a garden. But who would have thought that after another 50 years or so the A509 road, now a 'trunk route' with numerous very heavy vehicles and commuters speeding past this junction to Milton Keynes and the M1, would completely shatter the peaceful nature of this part of town.
Now on the return to the Market Place, walk some 150 metres up street to The Olney Centre.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Olney High Street - Heritage Trail (Version 1)