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High Wycombe
Crest of High Wycombe, UK.svg
Crest of High Wycombe.
Motto: "Industria ditat" "Industry enriches"
High Wycombe Guildhall 2.JPG
High Wycombe Guildhall, located at the end of the High Street
High Wycombe shown within Buckinghamshire
Population 124,475 
OS grid reference SU867929
District
  • Wycombe
Shire county
Region
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town High Wycombe
Postcode district HP10-15
Dialling code 01494
Police Thames Valley
Fire Buckinghamshire
Ambulance South Central
EU Parliament South East England
UK Parliament
  • Wycombe
Website www.wycombe.gov.uk
List of places
UK
England
Buckinghamshire

High Wycombe (/ˌh ˈwɪkəm/), often referred to as Wycombe, is a large town in Buckinghamshire, England. It is 29 miles (47 km) west north west of Charing Cross in London; this information is also engraved on the Corn Market building in the centre of the town. It is also 17 miles (27 km) south of the county town of Aylesbury, 27 miles (43 km) southeast of Oxford, 23 miles (37 km) north east of Reading and 9 miles (14 km) north of Maidenhead. According to the ONS official estimates for 2015, High Wycombe has a population of 124,475 and it the second largest town in the county of Buckinghamshire after Milton Keynes. High Wycombe Urban Area, the conurbation of which the town is the largest component, has a population of 133,204.

High Wycombe is mostly an unparished area in the Wycombe district. Part of the urban area constitutes the civil parish of Chepping Wycombe, which had a population of 14,455 according to the 2001 census – this parish represents that part of the ancient parish of Chepping Wycombe which was outside the former municipal borough of Wycombe. Wycombe is a combination of industrial and market town, with a traditional emphasis on furniture production. There has been a market held in the High Street since at least the Middle Ages.

History

Early history

High Wycombe map1945
A map of High Wycombe from 1945

The name Wycombe appears to come from the river Wye and the old English word for a wooded valley, combe, but according to the Oxford English Dictionary of Place-Names the name, which was first recorded in 799-802 as 'Wichama', is more likely to be Old English 'wic' and the plural of Old English 'ham', and probably means 'dwellings'; the name of the river was a late back-formation. Wycombe appears in the Domesday Book and was noted for having six mills. The town once featured a Roman villa (built 150–170 AD) which was excavated three times, most recently in 1954. Mosaics and a bathhouse were unearthed at the site on what is now the Rye parkland. High Wycombe was the home of 19th century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

The existence of a settlement at High Wycombe was first documented as 'Wicumun' in 970. The parish church was consecrated by Wulfstan, the visiting Bishop of Worcester, in 1086. The town received market borough status in 1222, and built its first moot hall in 1226, with a market hall being built later in 1476.

Trade and industrial development

High Wycombe remained a mill town through Medieval and Tudor times, manufacturing lace and linen cloth. It was also a stopping point on the way from Oxford to London, with many travellers staying in the town's taverns and inns.

The paper industry was notable in 17th and 18th century High Wycombe. The Wye's waters were rich in chalk, and therefore ideal for bleaching pulp. The paper industry was soon overtaken by the cloth industry.

Wycombe's most famous industry, furniture (particularly Windsor chairs) took hold in the 19th century, with furniture factories setting up all over the town. Many terraced workers' houses were built to the east and west of town to accommodate those working in the furniture factories. In 1875, it was estimated that there were 4,700 chairs made per day in High Wycombe. When Queen Victoria visited the town in 1877, the council organised an arch of chairs to be erected over the High Street, with the words "Long live the Queen" printed boldly across the arch for the Queen to pass under. Wycombe Museum includes many examples of locally made chairs and information on the local furniture and lace industries.

The town's population grew from 13,000 residents in 1881 to 29,000 in 1928. Wycombe was completely dominated socially and economically by the furniture industry and, consequently, there was considerable unemployment and social problems when the industry declined in the 1960s.

20th century

River Wye Wooburn
River Wye near Wooburn Industrial Estate

By the 1920s, many of the housing areas of Wycombe had decayed into slums. A slum clearance scheme was initiated by the council in 1932, whereby many areas were completely demolished and the residents rehoused in new estates that sprawled above the town on the valley slopes. Some of the districts demolished were truly decrepit, such as Newland, where most of the houses were condemned as unfit for human habitation, with sewage pouring down the street and people sharing one room in cramped quarters of subdivided flats. However, some areas such as St. Mary's Street contained beautiful old buildings with fine examples of 18th and 19th century architecture.

From 1940 to 1968 High Wycombe was the seat of the RAF Bomber Command. Moreover, during the Second World War, from May 1942 to July 1945, the U.S. Army Air Force's 8th Air Force Bomber Command, codenamed "Pinetree", was based at a former girls' school at High Wycombe. This formally became Headquarters, 8th Air Force, on 22 February 1944.

In the 1960s the town centre was redeveloped. This involved culverting the River Wye under concrete and demolishing most of the old buildings in Wycombe's town centre. Two shopping centres were built along with many new multi-storey car parks, office blocks, flyovers and roundabouts. On the open area known as Frogmoor (or Frogmore) the original cast-iron fountain and some Georgian buildings have been torn down.

Modern-day High Wycombe

High Wycombe comprises a number of suburbs including Booker, Bowerdean, Castlefield, Cressex, Daws Hill, Green Street, Holmers Farm, Micklefield, Sands, Terriers, Totteridge and Wycombe Marsh, as well as some nearby villages: Downley, Hazlemere and Tylers Green. Particular areas in the suburbs of Castlefield, Micklefield, Terriers and Totteridge have high levels of deprivation compared to the rest of the urban area.

Although situated in the county of Buckinghamshire, which is one of the most affluent parts of the country, Wycombe contains some considerably deprived areas. In 2007, a GMB Union survey ranked the Wycombe district as the 4th dirtiest in the South East and the 26th dirtiest in the whole UK. The survey found litter on 28.5% of streets and highways. Data for the survey were taken from the Government's 2005/06 Audit Commission.

The town has recently undergone major redevelopment, including development of the town's existing shopping centre, completion of the new Eden Shopping centre, and redevelopment of the Buckinghamshire New University with a large student village and new building on Queen Alexandra Road.

These developments prompted the building of larger blocks of flats, a new multimillion-pound hotel in the centre, and a new Sainsbury's store on the Oxford road next to the Eden shopping centre and bus station.

Demography

High Wycombe's population figure differs with the varying definitions of the town's area. For the town proper (that is, without the suburbs) it is often given as 77,178. However, Hazlemere is now regarded as part of Wycombe, which makes the population of High Wycombe town 92,300. The High Wycombe urban area (with some surrounding settlements) has a population of 133,204. Which is approximately a 13% increase on the 2001 population of 118,229.

High Wycombe Urban Area
Place Population (2001 census) Population (2011 census)
Bourne End/Flackwell Heath 12,795
Cookham 5,304 5,108
Great Kingshill 2,452 1,761
Hazlemere/Tylers Green 20,500
High Wycombe 77,178 120,256
Walters Ash 3,853
Hughenden Valley 1,915
TOTAL 118,229 133,204

Notes:

  • Hazlemere/Tylers Green and Bourne End/Flackwell Heath were included as part of the High Wycombe subdivision in the 2011 census.
  • Hughenden Valley and Walters Ash were separate urban areas in the 2001 census.
  • The Walters Ash subdivision includes the village of Naphill.

Based on the 2001 census and the 2007 Indices of Multiple Deprivation data, High Wycombe has the lowest proportion of people from the white ethnic group in Buckinghamshire, representing 76% of the population. The next biggest ethnic group in High Wycombe is the Asian and Asian British group, representing 16% of the population. The Black/Black British ethnic group was represented by 5% and the Mixed ethnic group by 2% of the population. English is the first language spoken by 66% of school pupils living in High Wycombe. Of the 34% of pupils living in the town whose first language is not English, 19% speak Punjabi and just over 6% Urdu as a first language.

Transport

Road

The town's nearest motorway is the M40, which has two junctions serving Wycombe: junction 3 for Loudwater and High Wycombe (east) and junction 4 at Handy Cross roundabout for central Wycombe, Marlow and Maidenhead. Junction 4 is a major interchange between the M40 and A404 trunk road which provides a link to the M4. It had suffered from heavy congestion but was improved by the Highways Agency in 2006. Junction 3 is restricted; only traffic going towards and coming from London can join and exit respectively. The M25 and M4 are also fairly close.

Other roads include the A404 towards Marlow and Amersham; the A4010 towards Aylesbury; and the A40 towards Beaconsfield and Oxford.

Bus

The town has a central bus station attached to the Eden Shopping Centre with most services operated by Carousel Buses and Arriva. Major destinations include Reading, Slough, Aylesbury, Heathrow Airport, Maidenhead, Watford, Chesham, Uxbridge and Berkhamsted. Most recently, First Berkshire added a new express service to Maidenhead to their existing hourly express to Slough. Other operators serving the town include Z&S Buses, Red Rose and Redline.

High Wycombe is served by one of Buckinghamshire's Rainbow Routes network of services. Originally piloted in Aylesbury, its success led to a network being set up in the town. Rainbow Routes is a partnership between the County Council and local operators Arriva and Carousel Buses. They provide regular services within the town and its suburbs, and this network includes:

  • Pink Route 30 – Arriva, every 15 minutes to Downley;
  • Green Route 31 – Arriva, every 15 minutes to Penn and Hazlemere;
  • Blue Route 32 – Arriva, every 15 minutes to Micklefield and Booker;
  • Red Route 33 – Arriva, every 12 minutes to Totteridge and Castlefield;
  • Purple Route 35/36 – Carousel Buses, every 30 minutes to Flackwell Heath;
  • Orange Route 39 – Carousel Buses, every 20 minutes to Hicks Farm.

The town also has a Park and Ride facility located in Cressex, near junction 4 of the M40. Services run to the town centre, passing the railway station.

Coach

The town centre is currently poorly served by coach services, with only the 737 service from Oxford to Stansted passing through the town. High Wycombe Coachway close to junction 4 of the M40 and linked to the town by local buses and by park and ride buses opened in February 2016.

Rail

High Wycombe railway station, the only railway station in the town, is on the Chiltern Main Line with services between London Marylebone and Birmingham Snow Hill including Stratford-upon-Avon as well as to Aylesbury via Princes Risborough. The station is the busiest in South Buckinghamshire. It is possible to reach London in 23 minutes on fast trains following recent line upgrades, slower trains take up to 45 minutes. A new link to Oxford via Bicester opened in 2015. The Wycombe Railway ran from High Wycombe to Maidenhead, through Loudwater and Bourne End. However, it was a victim of the Beeching Axe with the Wycombe-to-Bourne End section closed in the 1970s. The southern section remains open as part of the Marlow Branch Line.

Air

Heathrow Airport is the nearest international airport, located just outside Buckinghamshire in Hillingdon. Wycombe Air Park on the southern edge of the town is popular with learning pilots and gliders. RAF High Wycombe (site of RAF Air Command), a station without a runway, is located near the village of Walters Ash near High Wycombe. Close by, RAF Daws Hill (now closed) is between Flackwell Heath and High Wycombe centre.

Facilities and places of interest

Wycombesnowday
High Wycombe town centre covered by snow in February 2007
Holywell Mead swimming pool
High Wycombe, Holywell Mead swimming pool, closed 2009 and reopened 2011
Highwycombefromriver
The Dyke, with the Rye beyond
Eden Centre, High Wycombe
High Wycombe Eden Centre in 2007

There are two shopping centres: the Eden Centre which spreads from the High Street under the Abbey Way flyover to the south of the A40, and the Chilterns Centre, which is located between Queen's Square and Frogmoor to the north. The High Street (pedestrianised in the early 1990s) has a number of 18th and 19th century buildings, and ends at the colonnaded Guildhall that was built in 1757 by Henry Keene and renovated in 1859. The small octagonal-shaped Cornmarket opposite, known locally as the Pepper Pot, was rebuilt to designs by Robert Adam in 1761. The large parish church of All Saints was founded in 1086, enlarged in the 18th century and extensively restored in 1889. There is a large, well equipped theatre, the Wycombe Swan, which hosts many acts and shows before or after their appearance in the West End.

In March 2008, a new development of the town centre was completed. This included the demolition and movement of the bus station and the brand new Eden Shopping Centre, with 107 shops, new restaurants, a large bowling alley and cinema and new housing. The old Octagon shopping centre was connected to the new development. The complex, one of the largest in the country, is seen as a major milestone in the regeneration of the town.

There are out-of-town retail outlets in the suburbs of Cressex (including John Lewis, Asda and TGI Fridays), and Wycombe Marsh, where there is small retail park of shops and restaurants including Hobbycraft, PC World, Pets at Home, Homebase and M&S Simply Food. Desborough Road provides a secondary shopping area with more independent traders and a number of takeaways.

To the east of the town centre is the extensive Rye park (and river) and dyke. The park had an outdoor swimming pool, which closed in 2009. The pool has now reopened together with a new gym and has been renamed as the Rye Lido. The River Wye winds through the green space, which is particularly attractive during the summer. Wycombe's yearly "Asian Mela" takes place on the Rye. There is a museum on Priory Avenue in the town centre situated on its own grounds and including a Norman castle mound. The theme of the museum is the history of Wycombe, with the main focus being the chair industry.

Wycombe town centre is home to many public houses and bars, especially in the Frogmoor area. The White Horse pub appeared on 'Britain's toughest pubs'.

The town features the old Wycombe Summit, formerly the largest dry ski slope in England, before it was destroyed in a fire. Construction work was due to start in September 2008, on what would have become England's third and largest indoor real snow ski centre. In May 2009, it was announced that construction would be delayed due to 'difficulties getting a planning consent amendment.' As of 31 January 2012 it was announced that the site was up for sale.

Hughenden Manor borders the northern urban fringe of High Wycombe, approximately 2 miles (3 km) from the centre of town. Built in the Regency period, the architecturally appealing house was also home to Benjamin Disraeli for three decades in the mid-19th century. The three-floor mansion is situated in its own extensive grounds with beautifully landscaped gardens which back into the attractive Chiltern countryside. It is open to the public all year round as an historical attraction.

The local council maintains a landmark statue of a red lion above the former Woolworth's store on the High Street. Its significance dates back to when the building was the Red Lion Hotel. Since its installation, the lion has been replaced several times and has had to undergo extensive repair due to damage from both the elements and human interference. Another notable landmark is the ruins of the Hospital of St John the Baptist, which is located on Easton Street, just east of the town centre opposite the Rye parkland, and dates to the 12th century. The stone structure is one of the very oldest in Wycombe, and is said to contain stone used from the Roman villa on the Rye.

The site of the ancient Desborough Castle is situated between the Desborough and Castlefield suburbs of the town, and provides their names.

Local attractions

  • NTE icon.svg Bradenham Manor House
  • UKAL icon.svg Chiltern Hills
  • HH icon.svg Hughenden Manor
  • Museum icon (red).svg Hellfire Caves
  • HH icon.svg West Wycombe Park
  • Museum icon.svg Wycombe Museum

Recreation

Booker Gliding Club and two flying schools at Wycombe Air Park, the modern name for Booker Airfield, to the south of the M40 motorway on the western edge of the town. Many of the replica aircraft used in the film industry, for example in films such as Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, Aces High and The Blue Max were built and flown there. There is a restaurant (The Pad) with outdoor picnic tables that is open to visitors beneath the control tower. Wycombe Air Park is one of the busiest general aviation airfields in the UK. The Air Park is also home to Buckinghamshire Squash and Racketball Club.

There is also a large leisure centre to the south of town at the top of Marlow Hill. Many sporting activities take place here and there is an Olympic-size swimming pool, which can be split into two 25-metre pools by raising and lowering a wall. The leisure centre was designed by renowned architect John Attenborough. It will be demolished to make way for other developments once a new sports centre is completed on the site in 2015/16.

After a £2 million investment into the former Holywell Mead open swimming pool site in the town's Rye Park, a new sports & leisure facility was reopened in the summer of 2012.

Closest cities, towns and villages

Amersham 7 miles, Aylesbury 17 miles, Beaconsfield 5 miles, Marlow 4 miles, Maidenhead 9 miles, Oxford 26 miles, Reading 23 miles

Twin towns

High Wycombe is twinned with:

  • Germany Kelkheim, Germany

Images for kids


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