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Olney, Buckinghamshire

A prospect of Olney, across the Ouse flood plain
A view of Olney and the River Great Ouse
Olney is located in Buckinghamshire
 Olney shown within Buckinghamshire
Population 6,477 [1]
OS grid reference
   – London  60 miles (97 km) 
Unitary authority Borough of Milton Keynes
Ceremonial county Buckinghamshire
Region South East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town OLNEY
Postcode district MK46
Dialling code 01234
Police Thames Valley
Fire Buckinghamshire
Ambulance South Central
EU Parliament South East England
UK Parliament Milton Keynes North
List of places

Olney (, rarely )[2] is a market town and civil parish in the Borough of Milton Keynes, South East England, United Kingdom.[3] It is also part of the ceremonial county of Buckinghamshire, with a population of around 6,500 people.[4] It lies on the River Great Ouse, very close to the borders with Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire and equidistant from Northampton, Bedford and Milton Keynes. It has easy access to the M1 at Junction 14 (approximately seven miles) and fast train links to London from Milton Keynes Central or Bedford (each approximately twelve miles distant). It is a popular tourist destination, perhaps best known for the Olney Pancake Race and for the Olney Hymns by William Cowper and John Newton.


  • History 1
    • Olney Pancake Race 1.1
  • Description 2
  • Sport 3
    • Rugby football 3.1
    • Association football 3.2
    • Others 3.3
  • Notable residents 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


First mentioned as Ollanege in 932,[5] the town has a history as a lace-making centre. During the English Civil War, Olney was the site of the Battle of Olney Bridge.[6]

In the late 18th century, William Cowper and John Newton collaborated here on what became known as the Olney Hymns. John Newton, author of the hymn "Amazing Grace," was curate of Olney and is buried here. His guest was William Cowper (English poet and hymnodist (1731–1800)).

The town has the Cowper and Newton Museum dedicated to them. The museum was adapted from Cowper's former residence, which was given to the town in 1905 by the publisher William Hill Collingridge (who had been born in the house). Newton was succeeded as curate in Olney by the biblical commentator Thomas Scott (1747–1821).

The hamlet of Olney Park Farm to the north of the town of Olney derives its name from a park established in 1374 by Ralph, Third Baron Bassett of Sapcote in Leicester. In 1861 it attained civil parish status, but was subsequently incorporated into an enlarged Olney civil parish around 1931.[7][8]

Olney formerly had its own railway station on the line from Bedford to Northampton, but the line was closed in 1962.[9]

Olney Pancake Race

Signpost advertising 2009 Pancake Race

Since 1445, a pancake race has been run in the town on many Pancake Days, the day before the beginning of Lent.[10] Tradition records that in 1445 on Shrove Tuesday, the "Shriving Bell" rang out to signal the start of the Shriving church service. On hearing the bell a local housewife, who had been busy cooking pancakes in anticipation of the beginning of Lent, ran to the church, frying pan still in hand, tossing the pancake to prevent it from burning, and dressed in her kitchen apron and headscarf.[11][12]

The women of Olney recreate this race every Shrove Tuesday (known in some countries as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday) by running from the market place to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, a distance of over 400 yards. The traditional prize is a kiss from the verger. In modern times, Olney competes with the town of Liberal, Kansas in the United States for the fastest time in either town to win the "International Pancake Race". There is also a children's race, run by children from the local schools. The children have to run a distance of about 20 yards. This competition has been run every year since 1950.


A signpost in Olney

The A509 road runs into the wide High Street bordered by historic town houses. The Market Place is the site of a general market on Thursdays and a farmers' market on the first Sunday each month. The vast majority of Olney shops are independents, attracting shoppers from further afield to find the galleries, antique, rug and furniture sellers, as well as boutiques for interior design, fashionable clothes and perfumery. There are restaurants, pubs, cafes and takeaways that offer a wider variety of British and international food.

As Olney continues to expand, with new housing estates, a secondary-level satellite campus, Ousedale School has opened for pupils from year 7 to year 11. Olney Infants School is for reception to year 2 children and Olney Middle School takes the children up to year 6, at the age of 11.

The route for an A509 by-pass may continue to be an issue for the residents of the town, as are the various wind farm sites proposed in the locality.[13]


Rugby football

Olney has for many years been a rugby town, with its rugby team dating to 1877. Called Olney Rugby Football Club, it has four regular senior teams. They also cater for Colts rugby, women's rugby, girls' rugby and mini rugby. The club holds many social events for the town, one of these being a Rugby 7s tournament, with teams attending from all over the country. Olney's rugby is played to a high standard in the English rugby union Leagues, winning the Lewis Shield in 2007, the Southern Counties North League in 2008, and the Bucks Cup in 2010.[14]

Association football

The town's football club, Olney Town, plays in the United Counties League.

The town also has a junior football club, Olney Town Colts. The club has 19 teams ranging from U6s to U17s (all run by FA qualified coaches), offering both girls and boys the opportunity to learn the game and develop their skills to the highest possible standards. There is also a ladies' team.


Other sports activities are supported by clubs for cricket, tennis and bowls.

Notable residents


  1. ^ Neighbourhood Statistics 2011 Census, Accessed 4 February 2013
  2. ^ Olney and its associations, or, Reminiscences of the poet Cowper.  
  3. ^ Parishes in Milton Keynes – Milton Keynes Council.
  4. ^ 2011 census
  5. ^ Oxford Dictionary of Placenames (ed. A.D. Mills and Adrian Room, 2002, Oxford University Press)
  6. ^ Town re-enacts battle of 1643 – Milton Keynes Citizen, 8 May 2008
  7. ^ British History online - Olney Park Farm, Accessed 1 August 2014
  8. ^ A Vision of History Through Time Olney Park Farm, Accessed 1 August 2014
  9. ^ THE NORTHAMPTON – OLNEY- BEDFORD (LMS) RAILWAY: A View from Olney – Milton Keynes Heritage Association
  10. ^ [4], Olney Parish
  11. ^ "The origin of pancake racing". Retrieved 2014-02-28. 
  12. ^ Pancake races in Olney
  13. ^ Bucks Lacks Enough Wind
  14. ^ Olney Rugby Football Club home page

External links

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