Princes Risborough


Princes Risborough lies at the foot of the westward escarpment of the Chiltern Hills, in the Vale of Aylesbury. In 1086 it was called Ris(e)Berg, by 1130 altered to Risenberg, then Risebergh or Rysenberg, before the present day spelling. It is recorded that the manor of Princes Risborough was held by Earl Harold, who became the last Saxon King, killed at the Battle of Hastings. Edward III granted the manor to his son the Black Prince, rumoured as having a palace near St Mary's church, thus adding the 'Princes' to its name. Behind the church there still remains a small water-filled section of a moat. On the hillside beyond is the figure of the Whiteleaf Cross, cut into the turf and showing the chalk beneath.

The present 17th century Manor House is a tenanted National Trust property, with a Jacobean staircase. The earliest record of a dwelling on the site is of a Hall, in 1200. The house, first mentioned in 1589 and at that time called Brooke House, was given by Elizabeth I to Thomas Crompton, together with the whole manor of Risborough. Later it reverted to the Crown. In 1628 Charles I gave the manor and house to the City of London to pay his debts. The house was owned by Sir Peter Lely, the artist, in 1671, and eventually it came into the possession of the Rothschild family who gave it to the National Trust in 1925. The Literary Institute in the High Street, was also owned by the Rothschilds and given to the village in 1891.

Close by the Manor is the former old vicarage, a 16th century cottage with a massive chimney, called Monks Staithe, once the home of Amy Johnson, the aviator, and also of the authoress, Denise Robins..

The Market House, built on brick arches and wooden pillars, topped by a turret, clock and weather-vane, was built in 1824 — a little War Memorial is situated beneath the overhanging ground floor roof. On Saturdays a market stall displays fruit and vegetables and on Thursday mornings from Easter to Christmas the W.I. Market have craft and produce stalls. The Royal charter of Henry VIII entitled a weekly market and two annual fairs, in May and October to be held, which are still held in the Market Square and Church Street. A roundabout, big wheel and stalls crowd the area on fair days.

The picturesque old library in Church Street is a 16th century Wealden house, listed as one of the county's buildings of historic and architectural interest, with black and white timbering to the jettied upper storey, and brick ground floor. Protected by a glass panel inside, a section of the wattle and daub construction is on view. A new brick library is built at the opposite end of the High Street.
The original Norman church founded in the 11th century on the site of St Mary's parish church was completely rebuilt in the 13th, and much altered in Tudor times. During Victorian restoration the new font was installed, and sadly the old font was used as a horse trough and eventually lost.

St Teresa's Roman Catholic church was built in 1937 in modern Byzantine style, in a trefoil shape, with a central dome surmounted by a cross. Attached to the church is the Ker-Maria Convent and home for the aged. The Baptists formed into a church in Risborough in 1701, the present building dates from 1814, modern rooms being added later. The Methodist church was built in 1869 and modernised in recent years.

Until recently there was one main road through the village, but a new layout with roundabouts by-passes the High Street, and takes through traffic from High Wycombe to Aylesbury and Thame.

In recent years there have been many private houses built, the population exceeds 9,000, but many old thatched, timbered and brick and flint houses remain, and whilst cows are no longer driven down the main street, a farm still exists in the village centre behind the Market Square.

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


Princes Risborough was a small market town of four or five streets when I first came to visit my great aunt in the year 1895. My aunt's farmhouse was in the High Street, with the barns and fields behind, and is now a jeweller's shop and coal office downstairs with a dentist in the rooms above. The old barns are now used by an engineering firm. There was another farmhouse up on the opposite side of the street with their fields and buildings beyond, and still another farm called Town Farm round the corner off the Market Place.

There were many public houses in the High Street, most of them licensed for market day only. At the top of this street was the blacksmith's forge, and where Lloyds Bank is now was a very nice inn. There were more inns and taverns in Duke Street, Church Street and Bell Street as this seemed to be the only means of recreation and sociability enjoyed by the men.
There were two schools in the town, one was the National and the other was run by the Church, and in those early days parents had to pay for books. If they could not afford to pay, children did not go. The man who worked on my great aunt's farm could neither read nor write but was skilled in farm work. His wife was a beautiful lace maker. Mothers taught their daughters this craft.
The first of May brought a special gaiety to the town. Children would rise early and dance round the streets carrying poles festooned with garlands they had made the evening before. Lots of cowslips were gathered for this. Two children would carry a pole and they would all sing 'Here we come a-Maying'.
They would gather up the coppers, thrown to them from doors and windows, with great glee, and would no doubt spend them later at the Spring Fair.
There' was at that time a Charity which gave a black dress to several deserving poor and bereaved women once a year. They were fitted, the dresses were made at the dressmakers, and then at a special church service the dresses were presented to them.
I remember going to the woods to watch the bodgers at work. They were self-employed men who bought the rights of certain areas, then set up their benches and tools next to the trees. Their skilled eye would select the right branch and bend and turn it into chair parts on the spot. These were sent to the chair factory at High Wycombe.

Mabel Gertrude Rodgers (aged 92 – in 1975), Princes Risborough

Extracted from 'A Pattern of Hundreds'(1975) with the kind permission of the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women's Institutes



Description of Princes Risborough from J.J. Sheahan, 1861.

The parishes of Monks Risborough and Great Hampden bound the parish to the east. Princes Risborough parish is large, and includes several hamlets. Its area is 4,710 acres; population, 2,390. The rateable value of the town is £1,989; of the first division of the Upper Hamlet, including Culverton and Loosley Row, £1,306; of the second division of the same hamlet, including Lacy Green & Speen, £1,355; and the rateable value of the Lower Hamlet, including Allscott, Longwick and Summerleys, is £1,649. Total, £6,299. In 1820, the open and common fields, containing 2,900 acres were enclosed.

Princes Risborough is a small neat town on the road from Marlow to Aylesbury, 8 miles S. of Aylesbury, 12½ miles S.W. Of the Tring Railway Station, 6 miles W. by N. from Great Missenden, and 37 miles W.N.W. from London. It stands in a hollow at the foot of the Chiltern Hills and White Leaf Cross, and consists of one principle street, and other smaller ones diverging therefrom. In the leading thoroughfare are several genteel private houses and good shops, with three excellent inns. This street is broad, with raised pathways on each side. The street lamps are lighted at present with camphine; and the place is well supplied with good water from springs close to the surface. The town contains two large breweries, three malt-houses, and extensive wool-staplers, fellmongers, and parchment-makers' yards. A small weekly Market on Thursday is held for the sale of corn and cattle, under an ancient charter; and Fairs are held annually on the 6th of May, and 21st of October; the former for cattle, the latter is merely a pleasure fair. Petty Sessions are held at the Cross Keys Inn, on the last Thursday in every month.

The Market Hall was rebuilt in 1824, be John Grubb, Esq., the inhabitants supplying by subscription, a clock, placed in a cupola on the roof. There is a bell likewise in the cupola. The building, which is of red brick, and stands in what is called the Market Square, rather disfigures than ornaments the town. The lower story is of open arches, and is used as a corn market; the upper story is now a store room for corn.

In 1825, an Act of Parliament was passed under which many improvements in the road through Risborough were undertaken, to facilitate the communication between Thame and Risborough, by avoiding the hills at Stoken Church.

On the 29th of November, 1860, “The Princes Risborough Agricultural Association” was founded at a meeting of a Ploughing Society recently established – the first president of the new body being the Rev. W.E. Partridge, of Horsenden House. Among the vice-presidents is the Vicar of the parish, the Rev. C.E. Gray.

The Wycombe Railway Company are now (1861) applying to Parliament for a bill to extend their line to Aylesbury and Oxford – to commence in the parish of Princes Risborough, by a junction with the Extension of the Wycombe Railway to Thame (now in course of construction), and to pass through the county to Aylesbury, and thence to Thame and Oxford.


Princes Risborough Parish (Pop. 2,122)

Three Daily Schools, one contains 10 males and 20 females; one kept by a Baptist minister, 6 males; the other (commenced 1833), 24 males; all under instruction at the expense of their parents.

Three Sunday Schools (commenced since 1818), maintained by Baptists, consisting of 165 males and 206 females;

There are several small Schools wherein lace-making is taught to females; it is observed that several hundred children in this and the adjoining parish of Monks Risborough are only receiving instruction on Sundays; and many from extreme poverty cannot even partake of that benefit.