The Wide High Street

Olney High Street - Heritage Trail (Version 1)

The Wide High Street

Olney, England MK46, United Kingdom

Created By: ODHS

Point of Interest Details

The Start Point is the Market Place and in particular on the pavement outside 'Westlands' /'The Cherry Tree Restaurant'. This position provides a good general view of the wide High Street.

Start Point: 'Westlands' / The Cherry Tree Restaurant'

In centuries past, the High Street comprised three elements, the most significant being the stream which flowed down the west side of the High Street with dilapidated banks propped up with wicker work with overhanging willow trees. The stream emerged from Spout Lane (now Spring Lane) and ran in a northerly direction along the High Street until it met another flowing in the opposite direction from Yardley Road at the northern end of the town. They met at a point called the High Arch (believed to be sited somewhere between Millward's Entry and the Two Brewers Inn), broadly half way down the street, where they joined and flowed eastwards down across the meadow to the river.

(During the great fire of Olney in 1786 many dwellings escaped being completely burnt out because of the proximity of the stream in the High Street.)

High Street (Southern End) c.1900

The second element was the raised wide pitched causeway that ran down the centre of the High Street, where pedestrians could walk dry-shod when the stream was in flood. The causeway extended from where No. 6 High Street (on the other side of the street) now stands to approximately where the Queen Hotel now stands (one kilometre down the street). It was kept in repair by the Causeway Charity. The causeway was removed in 1790.

High Street (Upper Central) c.1900

The third element was the track for wheeled traffic sited on the east side of the High Street. Together these three elements demanded the wide high street as seen today.

The High Street was lined with stone-built and thatched cottages, with here and there a well built house. It was not until the 16th Century that houses were built in Olney facing the street. Previously the front doors were in Courts or Alleys, as in the 20th Century we recall Aspreys, Berrills, Fields, Floods, Swains, Cobbs, Morgans and Yorks Courts.

High Street (Lower Central) c.1900

The street must have looked very picturesque with the stream running down it, but one wonders just how salubrious it was as there was no waste collection in those days and the temptation must have been quite strong to use the stream as a dumping ground or perhaps as the repository, for example, for the bodies of a dead cat or two. Incidentally, Mr Garrard, a solicitor, was the last person to hold the duck shooting rights down the High Street.

Now fast forward to the present; and let your eyes run along the roofline all the way down the High Street (on either side). The fact that no two houses are at precisely the same level is most noticeable and this certainly adds to the considerable charm of the town. Also, no major houses are exactly alike, and what could be described as almost a mansion can stand ‘cheek by jowl’ with a small cottage!

Please walk a few metres towards the pedestrian traffic lights on the Market Place and cross the main road. Then head north towards the eastern side of the High Street and take a gentle stroll down the street to the Two Brewers Inn, taking your time to take in the variety of building styles during the stroll.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Olney High Street - Heritage Trail (Version 1)


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