Princes Risborough Town
The Norman Conquest is the historical landmark that starts to define the town and its associated villages. The Domesday Book contains several references to ‘Riseburg’. The manor had belonged to Earl Harold and been passed to William the Conqueror. What a spectacle it must have been as the latter marched his army from Wallingford to Berkhamsted past his new estate, though at the time the population density here has been estimated at less than ten per square mile. There would have been little need for crowd control!
In 1343 the manor passed to Edward, the Black Prince, and the site formerly known as Court Close, later The Mount, and now the Stratton Road car park, was traditionally known as his Palace. Records show, that even before his day, there was a Royal Stud here, and the Prince was known to visit his manor, to view stallions, with such resounding names as Grisel, Tankarvill, and Morel de Salesbirs. Excavations in 1955 at The Mount revealed both evidence of a substantial manor and a penny of Edward 1, minted in 1280 and representing a day’s wages for the stud-keeper’s page. The site continued to be occupied until the 17th or 18th century. The Mount bears traces of banks, and entrenchments, enclosed by a moat, and is originally believed to have been a Saxon Encampment. The high bank that separates the churchyard from Stratton Road can still be seen and the name Court Close has been retained for a nearby cul-de-sac. An information board sited on the grass bank between the car park and churchyard by the Risborough Area Heritage Society provides an introduction to this historic area of the town.
Henry VI succeeded to the manor in the 15th century, when his army was confronting Joan of Arc. The cottages in Church Street, now converted into a restaurant, are of the same era and narrowly escaped demolition in 1934.
A living link with the Middle Ages stems from the Charter granted in 1523 by Henry VIII for a weekly market and two annual fairs, ‘for the improvement of the status….. of the inhabitants….. by the making common of saleable things’. The fairs are still held, in May and October, though in our impatient age some do not share King Henry’s views. Like the pudding stone, if the fairs were regarded as a part of our heritage, they might be seen as a focus for other activities rather than an intrusion, and we might all still be improved by the ‘grand, galloping horses’.
Tradition says that Queen Elizabeth 1 stayed at a manor called Brooke House which has long since disappeared. The present Manor House, dating from early to mid-17th century, situated next to the church, probably stands on the same site. It is a handsome house of mellowed brickwork built around a magnificent Jacobean staircase and balustrade. In 1766 the Manor House was sold to John Grubb, of Horsenden, and was eventually bought by the Rothschild family and presented by them to the National Trust in 1925 by the widow and family of the Hon. Charles Rothschild. It is open to the public for viewing on specific dates. Contact The National Trust for more details.
Opposite The Manor House, in Church Lane is a very pretty 17th century half-timbered house, which was once the Vicarage and is now known as Monks Staithe. This was once occupied by the famous Aviatrix of the 1930’s, Amy Johnson.
The 17th C. Market House, a Grade II listed building, was originally timber-framed, but in 1824 was altered and its upper storey rebuilt by the then Lord of the Manor, John Grubb. An inscription on the bell that surmounts it states ‘Princess (sic) Risborough Market Bell, 1661 recast 1824’.
The Market House is the focal point of the town and of particular significance since, in 1920, the community raised some £2,300 to restore it as the town’s War Memorial. Thereafter the upper floor, originally a grain store, was used as the Council Chamber until 2001, when a recognition of the need for better public access led to a move to alternative premises. Prior to that, in 1994 and to celebrate the centenary of the amalgamation of Princes and Monks Risborough as one Civic Parish, a major refurbishment was undertaken by the Town Council with assistance from English Heritage, Buckinghamshire County Council and Wycombe District Council.
The l9th Century opened with a disaster, when the church tower collapsed, destroying the roof and peal of bells which had been hung in 1552. The century did, however, give birth to modern Princes Risborough. The fields were enclosed in 1823, at which time there were 1,958 inhabitants in the Parish of whom about 1,200 actually lived in the town. With the enclosures came road improvements, which in turn led to the development of the area known as Parkfield, and later, in 1862, came the railway and the gasworks. Two schools were established, the British School in Parkfield in 1836, and the National School on the site of the old workhouse by St Mary’s Church in 1841. They catered between them for about 260 pupils.
The Literary Institute, in the High Street, was leased at a peppercorn rent to the town in 1891 by the first Baron Rothschild for use as a public reading room. Today, the upstairs room can be hired for meetings etc. and the downstairs room, housing a billiards table, is used as a snooker club.
The Lion or Welch Ale Brewery was an important employer until it closed in 1927. The lion surmounting its gateway surveyed the Market Square until 1960 and the last vestige of the brewery, the malthouse, was demolished in 1987.
A new spire, built in 1908 for the Parish Church of St Mary, pointed the way to the 20th century and the town has continued to flourish with it.
Other properties, old cottages or houses built at various times during the last four centuries, mix happily together to create a blend of interesting and pleasant architecture.