Pre 2017 restoratation
The Market House
Copyright Dr Sandy Mcfarlane
Princes Risborough Market House has just undergone major restoration and re-furbishment that should give it a new lease of life as a community facility. It is a Grade II* listed building, a category accorded to about 4% of all nationally listed buildings, and shares this distinction with St. Mary’s church and the Manor House.
The Market House date back to the early 17th century, supporting evidence coming from the present Market Bell, which carries the inscription “Market Bell Princess (sic) Risborough 1661 recast 1824”. Both it and the contemporaneous Manor House may have been built for Joan CHIBNALL, who acquired first the Abbot’s Manor in 1624 and later, in 1631, the King’s Manor.
Possibly the earliest clear written reference to the building is found in the records of the Manor Courts, when, in 1772, the jurors were summoned to meet at ‘The Market House’. On many subsequent occasions the summons continued ‘and from there disperse’ to inspect other properties.
Little was known of the original structure and appearance, until the serendipitous discovery of a view of the Market Place, painted in 1802 by the Rev. John Mountfield, Curate of St. Mary’s. This shows a tantalisingly small portion of the Market House, but sufficient to give an idea of the whole. The arches of the lower storey were of English bond brickwork, with alternate rows of headers and stretchers that still survives, while the upper storey had a herring-bone infill of tile and plaster. The roof appears to have been a single ridge with a belfry at the end facing the High Street.
Painted 1802 by Rev. John Mountfield
In 1824 John GRUBB, then Lord of the Manor, altered the Market House, retaining the lower brickwork, but replacing the infill of the upper level with brickwork in the later Flemish bond, with headers and stretchers alternating in each row. The sheltered area of the ground floor was extended by a sloping roof or pentice, supported on thin posts, and the roof became four-sided, sloping in to a central cupola with a one-faced clock and the afore-said bell paid for by public subscription.
Sheahan, in his History & Topography of Buckinghamshire 1864, says the lower floor was used as a corn market and the upper as a grain store, and even after the recent restoration one can still discern the outline of the former doors facing the TSB building that gave access to that loft. Sheahan went on to comment that the Market House ‘rather disfigures than ornaments the town’. That was a view shared by several prominent citizens, as the 19th century progressed and the building fell into disrepair.
The Bucks Advertiser of 11th Sept 1875 carried the following ominous letter:
“In the centre of the town is an antique model of a Market-house, surrounded by a covered area. The former, in its walls and staircase, bears marks of age, but to the latter we more particularly allude. No vandals, calling themselves restorers, have laid sacrilegious hands on this venerable structure, and the ruins are now to be seen in the full glory of dog-eared roof and broken pillars, which latter only remain at irregular intervals [and] our townsmen speak of it very irreverently. Perhaps they may be excused when it is remembered that its collapse – not far distant – will probably prove fatal to some of their children who make the ancient pile a playhouse.”
Dilapidated Market House
The paper carried better news on 29th Jan 1876:
“Not long ago we took occasion to animadvert on the dilapidated condition of the Market-house. Surmounting it is a clock that has refused to tell the time for several months. […] Mr. G. Stratton … has undertaken the whole work of having the clock put into going order, and the Market-house restored.”
Matters dragged on; Thomas Wright, plumber and glazier, whose premises were immediately behind the Market House, strongly supported demolition and complained that carts obstructed the narrow roadway. At very least he resisted re-opening of the old loft doors.] and the Bucks Herald April 6, 1895, reported that:
At a Parish Meeting “a proposition that [the Market House] should be pulled down was immediately followed by an amendment that it should be put in repair. Mr. Adcock asked if it were possible to abolish the annual fairs, and his question is to be considered at the next meeting of the Council.”
Maintaining the building was a constant drain on Vestry resources and arguments over its future continued for the next thirty years. Its future was secured in 1920 by the happy decision to restore and dedicate it as the town’s Memorial to those who fell in the Great War. A new clock with four dials was installed, but when Thomas Wright and other inhabitants of the square vetoed a striking mechanism the bell was removed, to be recovered a few years ago, and replaced in the cupola.
Dedication of Memorial 1921
In the mid-1920s the Parish Council began meeting in the upstairs chamber and after the 1920 restoration the former ladder access was replaced by a staircase within a wood and brick stairwell. This partially blocked the rear two arches, a defect soon to be remedied by removing the stairwell and installing an open metal stairway created by the local craftsmen at Gomme’s Forge in Loosley Row.
In its time the Market House has been many things. In 1938 it became an off-shoot of the County Library, known as the Risborough Centre, staffed by volunteers, with 950 books from the Education Committee, and during the Second World War it was the Control Centre for Air Raid Precautions (ARP). The function of Market House is now maintained by both the Women’s Institute and a Greengrocery and it is hoped that, having been provided with modern facilities, it will again become a useful meeting place at the heart of the Conservation Area.
Copyright Dr Sandy Mcfarlane
The Market House is home to The Countryside Market on Thursdays, who produce homemade cakes, chutneys, Jams, crafts and local grown flowers and produce. Saturdays see fresh fruit and veg being sold.
Monks Staithe, Princes Risborough
Amy Johnson CBE was a pioneering British female pilot who set numerous long distance flying records in the 1930’s. She lived in Monks Staithe , Church Lane, Princes Risborough between 1937 & 1938. The house is not open to the public but a commerative slate plaque can be seen on the outside wall.
A 16th century chalk dovecote with a richly carved door can be found in St. Dunstan’s Recreation Ground in Monks Risborough. It is thought that it once contained 200 nest boxes, full details of the history of the building are contained on a nearby information sign.
Monks Risborough is the oldest recorded parish on record and the dovecote is one of its listed buildings.
St. Dunstan’s Church dating from the 13th century can be found just behind St. Dunstan’s Recreation Ground, Monks Risborough. The ground just outside of the existing churchyard has recently been the site of an archaeology dig. For details of this interesting church please click here
Behind the church you will find Burton Lane and its lovely thatched cottages. St. Dunstan’s Recreation Park will entertain the children whilst you look around, it has a wealth of play equipment including a new 40ft zip line.
Visit England’s oldest working smock mill situated at Pink Road Lacey Green. This 17th century windmill was loving restored by The Chiltern Society in 1971.
Hughenden Manor is owned by the National Trust and was once the country home of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. The house and grounds are open to the public and there are hands on activities for children along with the opportunity to see personal memorabilia and the Second World War room. Please click here for more information.
Whiteleaf village is extremely picturesque, with many flint and thatch cottages. It is situated just under the Whiteleaf Cross and woods and the 17th century Red Lion public house garden facing the cottages, is just the place for refreshments after a walk.
The ladies at The Information Centre, Horns Lane Princes Risborough Tel. 01844 274795 will be happy to help with any more information regarding things to see and do in our area.