Weston Underwood

'We dwell in a neat and comfortable abode, in one of the prettiest villages in the kingdom', wrote William Cowper, the poet, in 1786 having moved to the Lodge at Weston Underwood from Olney.
In the Domesday Book it is recorded as Westone and was then in the hands of the Bishop of Constance, the Earl of Morton and the Countess Judith, niece of the Conqueror, passing on to the Biduns, Peyvres and Bosuns and thence to the Olney family. Weston House belonged to the Throckmortons, a Roman Catholic family who acquired the estate through the marriage of Sir Thomas Throckmorton to Margaret, daughter and heir of Sir Robert Olney of Weston Underwood in 1446. The estate remained in the possession of the Throckmorton family until 1898 when it was bought by Lieut. Col. W. G. Bowyer. Sir Charles Throckmorton had previously acceded to the principal seat of the family at Coughton in Warwickshire and Weston House, dilapidated and decayed was pulled down in 1827. The old stables crowned with clock tower and cupola still remain and have long since been converted into living accommodation.

The wilderness through which Cowper and Mrs Unwin were able to walk, by permission of the Throckmortons is now owned and used by Mr Christopher Marler for breeding and rearing exotic birds and animals threatened in the wild. The grounds still contain the small temple, statues and pedestals with urns inscribed with lines by Cowper.

The large barn opposite the Elm Grove through which Cowper saw 'the thresher at his task' is now converted into two houses. At the entrance to the park and grounds from the village side is a large stone 17th century gateway, with piers surmounted by vases with pines, known locally as the 'Knobs', through which the road now runs to Olney.

Weston Lodge, the 17th century house where William Cowper lived from 1786-1795 looks as elegant as it did in his day. It is stone-built with 13 sash windows and three dormers in the tiled roof. It was on one of the bedroom shutters at the back of the house that he wrote the following words before leaving for East Dereham in 1795:
'Farewell, dear scenes, for ever closed to me,
Oh, for what sorrows must I now exchange ye!

In Cowper's time and all through the 19th century lacemaking was a cottage industry as in all Buckinghamshire villages. The women and children worked very long hours for little money. As the children worked at their pillows in the lace schools they chanted in sing-song voices the lace tells which helped them count the number of pins placed in an hour. Their proficiency was measured in this way. One tell sung at Weston Underwood was:
'A lad down at Weston looked over a wall,
And saw nineteen little golden girls playing at ball.
Golden girls, golden girls, will you be mine,
You shall neither wash dishes nor wait on the swine,
But sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam,
Eat white bread and butter and strawberries and cream.'


The 'golden girls' were the gold-headed pins that marked the footside of the lace. The word nineteen runs in many of the tells being the number at which counting often commenced. Bobbins too were often inscribed with names and sayings.
When the wives and children were lacemaking most of the men would be working in the fields or at the large houses in the village. Others would be working at their trades as a butcher, baker, shoemaker, carpenter, blacksmith, tailor or shopkeeper. Most villages were self-sufficient at this time.

In 1864 the population of Weston Underwood was 398, to-day it is around 190. Families are much smaller and very few people work on the land compared with a hundred years ago. Many of the smaller cottages have been enlarged by knocking two or even three into one. Twenty years ago the village consisted of many elderly people and very few children. To-day a generation later very few of the old village families remain but younger families are now moving in bringing new life to the village.

Article written by members of the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women's Institutes for the publication "The Buckinghamshire Village Book" (1987) and reproduced here with their permission