A History of Thame
story is the story of England. It would seem to begin in Saxon
times with a settlement down by the 'dark flowing' river from
which the town takes its name. 'Old Thame' was the area know
as Priestend where the road to Crendon crossed the river and
the Aylesbury to Oxford road used to pass between the Church
and Vicarage. Aerial photographs reveal a possible Saxon settlement
by the River Thame and there have been stray finds of jewellery
Stribble Hills,at Priest End, one of the oldest houses
in Thame, at the top of the High Street, going out of Thame
The Thame badge, based on the design of a ring found in' the
Thame Hoard' in 1940
(See: The Thame
before the Norman conquest, was in the diocese of Dorchester and
it would, therefore, seem possible Thame was converted to Christianity
by missionaries from Dorchester who could have rowed up the River
conquest of 1066 saw the transference of the See to Lincoln. Thame
remained in the above diocese until the early nineteenth century
as a 'peculiar' (a parish outside the area of the diocese proper).
The church was a prebend of Lincoln and the prebend was built to
house his reeve or representative. It resembled a secular manor
with its great hall and chapel.
church, (pictured right), dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, dates
in its present form from c1240 when it was rebuilt by Bishop Grossteste
of Lincoln. The church contains work from every century since.
The Tudor Chancel stalls and screen; the Jacobean alter table;
Lord Williams's central chancel tomb (uniquely positioned with
feet towards the west); and the collection of monumental brasses
(including a rare one to the first headmaster of the Grammar School)
are especially noteworthy. The wealth of the church can also be
gauged from the size of the neighbouring large tithe barn.
original town developed around the church, but in the early thirteenth
century the liberty of New Thame was 'planted' by the then Bishop
of Lincoln on land formerly under plough. This can be seen by the
passageways which follow the reverse 'S' curve. This is easily visible
by the Old Saracen's Head in the Buttermarket.
market place has the typical boat shaped appearance of a planted
town with narrow entrances at both ends. The market has been held
on Tuesdays since 1230, the original site being the Buttermarket
and Cornmarket areas. The Buttermarket is traditionally sited on
the cooler north side, the Cornmarket on the south. The area of
Middle Row, which separates the two, originally consisted of booths
which were taken down and put up each week.
were gradually replaced by permanent structures, one of these
being the Birdcage, (pictured left), which is first mentioned
in the early sixteenth century as belonging to the Guild of St
Christopher, although parts of the building may be older than
this. It also housed the Napoleonic Wars prisoners of other rank;
the officers being housed in the Spread Eagle.
Bishop of Lincoln did his utmost to ensure that all travellers patronised
his market by diverting the road from Aylesbury so that it passed
directly through it. Some of the oldest buildings extant in Thame
are, therefore, to be found in North Street and the High Street.
Walker's in North Street and Lancastrian Cottage in the lower part
of the High Street are early examples of prefabricated buildings
in that the frames were made on the Chilterns, then brought down
and assembled in situ to the individual owners' specifications.
town was troubled little by the Reformation. There is, though, the
unsubstantiated legend of a heretic being burned at Priest End.
The major effect of the Reformation was the suppression of the Cistercian
monastery at Thame Park, where it had been since the mid twelfth
century after its removal from Oddington-on-Otmoor. The last abbot
of Thame, Robert King, became the first Bishop of Oxford.
Grammar School in Church Road was founded in 1559 by Lord William's
of Thame who had received preferment from four of the five Tudor
Monarchs, including Elizabeth I whose gaoler had been at Rycote
for a time. He also refounded the jettied Almshouses on the corner
of Church Road which had originally been founded by Richard Quartermain
for six old men and one woman.
of the inns in the town date from the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. Some of these inns, such as the Swan, with its late
sixteenth century paintings, and Nags Head, still fulfil the same
function today while the Kings Head is now Rafferty Buckland,
Estate Agents. The Civil War of the 1640's saw Thame as a kind
of no-mans land, occupied in turn by parliamentary and royalist
a former pupil of the Grammar School, died of wounds received in
the battle of Chalgrove Field in June 1643 at the Grayhound Inn,
now Hampden House. Anthony Wood, the first historian of Oxford University,
boarded at the vicarage and recorded in his diary a skirmish between
the forces on the old Crendon Road.
eighteenth century was a quiet time for Thame. Many of the houses
in the High Street and Upper High Street were built in the Georgian
manner or at least refaced with the attractive local saltglazed
brick. The century saw the growth of coach travel and four important
inns were functioning by the end of it - the Greyhound, the Red
Lion (now Lightfoot's Solicitors), the Swan, and the Spread Eagle
Hotel, then just the Eagle. (The latter two still function in the
same capacity today).
was also in the latter part of the century that John Wesley preached
in Thame, in an upper room of a cottage on the site of Coral's bookmakers,
to such a crowd that the floor gave way and the congregation enjoyed
a sudden descent to the lower regions.
town in the nineteenth century was very poor because of extremely
low agricultural wages, agriculture being the main industry and
there were hardly any large landowners to defray the expense of
the poor law. This aspect of the history of Thame is reflected visibly
in the large Victorian Workhouse on the Oxford Road, now the home
of Rycotewood College.
early part of the century saw the building of the Countess of Huntingdon
Chapel in the middle of Upper High Street. This sect is best described
as Yuppy Methodists. The building is now the only one of its kind
in existence and is now occupied by the Tourist Information Centre
and Citizens Advice Bureau. The area that is Park Street, then Brickiln
Lane, also developed in the first four decades of the century when
the John Hampden School, then the British School, was opened in
town expanded in the latter part of the nineteenth century. An area
which saw building was Chinnor Road where cottages and the Tin Church
of All Saints were built for the navvies who worked on the railway
line which connected Thame with Oxford and London via High Wycombe.
Croft and Queens road and Nelson Street were also built and Wellington
Street, previously known as Pound Lane, was made into a through
road which connected North Street with the Risborough Road.
Grammar School was re-housed in 1879 in buildings on the Oxford
road. The present Town Hall, (pictured right), was built in 1887/88
to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. The William and
Mary Market Hall was taken down to make way for it.
Diamond Jubilee of 1887 was marked by the building of the Victoria
Cottage Hospital and a day centre was opened next to it in 1987
by Princess Margaret after a large local fund-raising appeal.
The magistrates' court - a one storeyed building surmounted by
the Royal coat of arms - was built in the lower High Street. The
Police Station was built at the junction of Chinnor and Thame
Parks roads in the 1860's and was the oldest in the country in
use until 1992 when it moved to new premises in Greyhound Lane.
last century has seen Thame grow from a population of 3,000 in 1901
to 11,000+ today. This has meant that Thame has, over the last 40
years, ceased to become a predominantly agricultural town, although
Pearces, a woolstaplers since at least the fifteenth century, remains.
There is a large industrial estate on the outskirts with factories
and offices. The weekly Tuesday market is still held in the Upper
High Street car park. The cattle market though, was moved to North
Street in 1951 and is now held on Wednesdays and Fridays. The War
Memorial in the Upper High Street is a reminder of the two world
wars. Next to the war memorial are the Pearce (local woolstaplers)
Memorial Gardens with a fountain and a statue of a boy. The original
statue was erected in 1926 by Ernest Pearce of Australia as a monument
to the memory of his parents Philip Henry Pearce and his wife Elizabeth.
The bronze fountain statue was stolen in September 1985 and was
never recovered. In the summer of 1992, a replica of the original
statue was commissioned by the Town Council. The blue plaque on
the front of the Spread Eagle remembers the time when John Fothergill,
the renowned and innovative hotelier, was then its owner.
lost its railway station in 1964, but the Haddenham and Thame Parkway
was re-established in 1987 just over the Buckinghamshire border,
as a passenger only station. This suggests that Thame is no longer
agricultural but is a centre needing rail as well as road links.
Autumn, the town still stages the largest one day agricultural show
in the country on the third Thursday of September and a three day
fair is held in the High Street and Upper High Street. A smaller
two-day charter fair is held in mid-October and these, together
with the weekly Tuesday market, maintain continuity with the town's
history and together form a link between the past and present.
pages in this section: | Places to Visit
| About Thame | Old
Pictures Of Thame
Links with the Past
The John Hampden
Hampden was descended from an ancient Buckinghamshire
family of great wealth with a long tradition of service to
the Crown. Born in 1594, probably in London, he was educated
at Lord Williams's Grammar School, Thame, and Magdalen
College, Oxford. By the time of his death in Thame John Hampden
had received the title by which he has ever since been known
- 'The Patriot'.
on the title bar to discover more about John Hampden and his
fascinating links with Thame.