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Princes Risborough
Risborough Markethouse.jpg
Princes Risborough Market House
Princes Risborough shown within Buckinghamshire
Population 7,978 
8,101 (2011 Census)
OS grid reference SP798030
District
  • Wycombe
Shire county
Region
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town Princes Risborough
Postcode district HP27
Dialling code 01844
Police Thames Valley
Fire Buckinghamshire
Ambulance South Central
EU Parliament South East England
UK Parliament
  • Buckingham
List of places
UK
England
BuckinghamshireCoordinates: 51°43′26″N 0°50′04″W / 51.723978°N 0.834418°W / 51.723978; -0.834418

Princes Risborough is a small town in Buckinghamshire, England, about 9 miles south of Aylesbury and 8 miles north west of High Wycombe. Bledlow lies to the west and Monks Risborough to the east. It lies at the foot of the Chiltern Hills, at the north end of a gap or pass through the Chilterns, the south end of which is at West Wycombe. The A4010 road follows this route from West Wycombe through the town and then on to Aylesbury.

Historically it was both a manor and an ecclesiastical parish, of the same extent as the manor, which comprised the present ecclesiastical parish of Princes Risborough (excluding Ilmer) and also the present ecclesiastical parish of Lacey Green, which became a separate parish in the 19th century. It was long and narrow (a "strip parish"), taking in land below the Chiltern scarp, the slope of the scarp itself and also land above the scarp extending into the Chiltern hills. The manor and the parish extended from Longwick in the north through Alscot, the town of Princes Risborough, Loosley Row and Lacey Green to Speen and Walters Ash in the south.

Since 1934 the civil parish of Princes Risborough (formerly the same as the ecclesiastical parish) has included the town of Princes Risborough, the village of Monks Risborough (but not the outlying parts) and part of Horsenden but has excluded Longwick. It is within the Wycombe district of Buckinghamshire and operates as a town council within Wycombe district.

The town is overlooked by the Whiteleaf Cross, carved in the chalk of the hillside, though the cross itself is in Monks Risborough.

Name

The name 'Risborough' meant 'brushwood-covered hills' and comes from two Old English words: hrisen, which was an adjective meaning brushwood-covered derived from hris meaning brushwood or scrub, and beorg which meant hill. The plural forms are hrisenan beorgas. The spelling in the various documents where the name is found is, as usual, very variable.

In the 13th century it is found as Magna Risberge (Great Risborough), distinguished from Parva (Little) Risberge which was Monks Risborough, and later as Earls Risborough and, finally, when the manor came to be held by Edward Prince of Wales (son of Edward III and later to be known as the Black Prince), as Princes Risborough.

Risborough in 1086

At the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, Risborough (later known as Princes Risborough) was a royal manor held by the King, having been a village of King Harold before the conquest. It was part of the Hundred of Risborough, which also comprised Bledlow, Horsenden and (Monks) Risborough.

It was assessed at 30 hides both before and after the conquest, of which 20 hides related to the demesne. The manor had land for 24 ploughs, four of them in the lord's demesne. There were 30 villagers and they together with 12 bordars (cottagers or small holders) had 20 ploughs. There were 3 slaves. There were 2 mills, worth 14s 8d a year, meadow for 7 ploughteams (generally taken as needing 8 oxen each) and woodland sufficient for 1,000 pigs. In total it paid £47 a year in white silver, less 16d. Before 1066 it only paid £10 at face value (i.e. without weighing the coins). Furthermore, a burgess of Oxford paid 2s and a saltboiler of Droitwich an amount left blank. A freeman held 3 virgates and had the right to sell his land, though it was said that he served the sheriff.

The persons mentioned would have been only the heads of families, and so the total population of the manor (on the usual reckoning of 4.5 persons per family) would have been in the region of 200 people.

Risborough as a royal manor

Before the Norman Conquest Risborough had been held by King Harold and afterwards it formed part of the lands of the new king, William the Conqueror. As a royal manor it could be used by the king to make financial provision for members of the royal family or others whom he might wish to reward.

In the 12th century it was held by Walter Giffard, the 2nd Earl of Buckingham, but reverted to the Crown on his death in 1164. It was then granted to the Constable of Normandy, Robert de Humeto, who obtained a charter from King Henry II, and remained in his family until about 1242. King Henry III then granted the manor to Richard, Earl of Cornwall (2nd son of King John), succeeded by his son, Edward, who died in 1300, when it escheated to the Crown.

King Edward I in 1302/05 granted it to Queen Margaret for her life, subject to the rights of Margaret, Countess of Cornwall, in one third part for life as part of her dower. King Edward II gave the reversion (subject to these life interests) to his unpopular favourite, Piers Gaveston, and his wife, but this grant was surrendered in the same year. Queen Margaret died in 1316. In 1327, when Edward III succeeded to the throne at the age of fifteen, he granted the manor for life to his mother, Queen Isabella for her services during his father’s reign. The King’s brother, John, Earl of Cornwall, also had an interest for a time. After the death of the Queen-mother it was held by Henry de Ferrers until his death in 1344.

The King then granted the manor to his eldest son, Edward Prince of Wales, known later (though not during his lifetime) as the Black Prince. He was 14 years of age in 1344 and he held the manor for 32 years until his death in 1376. Edward III did not die until 1377 and the Prince never became king. It was during this period that the manor became known as Princes Risborough.

On the death of the Black Prince the manor passed to his son, Richard of Bordeaux, who became King Richard II in the following year. He granted it to Lewis de Clifford who held it for his life, when it reverted to King Henry IV, who then in turn granted it to his son Henry, Prince of Wales, who became King Henry V in 1413. It then passed to Henry VI and was part of the dower of his Queen, Margaret of Anjou. Later it was held by his son, Edward, and then appears to have remained vested in the Crown until Edward VI granted it to his half-sister, the Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth for her life.

Subsequently James I held it and it formed part of the dower of his Queen, Anne of Denmark. Later again it was held by Prince Charles, later King Charles I, who in 1628 sold it to the City of London in part satisfaction of the large debts of the Crown. Thus, after more than 600 years, the manor’s long connection with the Crown of England finally came to an end.

Subsequently the manor was bought and sold in the market and changed hands from time to time but its later manorial history is only a record of commercial transactions.

Risborough under the Black Prince

At the time when the Prince became lord of the manor of Risborough there was a manor house and hall on the west side of the church (where there is now a car park), which old books describe as his "palace". This is misleading. It was the manor house (see below) and he as lord of the manor would have stayed there when he came to Risborough, but it was hardly palatial and might be better described as a hunting lodge. The Prince seems never to have spent an extended period of time there. The nearest place where he lived for any length of time was Berkhamsted Castle, where he stayed after his marriage to Joan Countess of Kent from November 1361 to January 1362 and occasionally at other times.

At Risborough there was already a stud for breeding horses and a park which was used for the horses and probably also for hunting. The main purpose of his visits to Risborough is likely to have been to visit the stud and inspect and/or select horses.

Much of his adult life was spent on campaign in France, where he won the great victory of Poitiers in 1356. In July 1362 his father (Edward III) made him Prince of Aquitaine and he remained in that province until he returned to England in 1371, probably already a sick man.

In 1346, when the Prince (aged 16) was about to leave with his father for his first campaign in France, which culminated in the battle of Crecy, a Council was set up to manage on his behalf his various manors and lordships throughout the country. The transactions of this Council were recorded and have been printed and published by the Public Record Office. Many decisions affecting Risborough were made by this Council rather than by the Prince himself. They give us some insight into life at Risborough in the 14th century.

The manor was in the charge of a steward (not always resident there), but its day-to-day management was in the hands of the reeve, and there was a parker, responsible for the management of the park, and a keeper of the stud.

In November 1346 John de Alveton was appointed to be steward of the Prince's manors of Watlington and Risborough. In 1347 the keeper of the stud was Richard de Bekenesfield and he was ordered to render tithes due to the Abbot of Notley if there were sufficient foals of the year for the purpose. In the same year the Reeve had been ordered to pay money out of the profits of Risborough to make a new kitchen at the Prince's manor of Byfleet.

In 1354 (in which year the Prince was at Berkhamsted) a piece of land in the Park was enclosed by the Prince and the Reeve (William Onyot) paid 18 shillings for it. The Prince may well have been there in person that year for the Treasurer of his household was ordered "by command of the Prince himself" to make payment for various things taken for the Prince's use and expended in the Prince's household at Risborough "after verifying that the same are really due". These included a total of 186 gallons of ale and "to John Dayly of Risborough 17 pence for underwood and fuel for the fire".

In 1359 Sir Peter de Lacey the Prince's clerk and receiver-general was ordered to provide hay, oats, shoes and litter until further order for two destriers (warhorses) which Sir Baldwin Bottecourt had lent to the Prince to be stallions at Risborough and Cippenham and to pay 3d a day to a groom that keeps them.

There seems to have been a great storm in 1362, when the Reeve was to allow the Parker to sell all the wood which had fallen in the Park except the great ash, if its value did not exceed £4.

In April 1364 the Reeve had to make provision for a grey courser which was sent to cover the mares at Risborough and in July to pay £10.10s for a black stallion for the same purpose. Also in 1364 the Reeve was to cause the garret over the gate of the Prince's Park to be demolished and pulled down, as it was reported very weak and ruinous, and to use the timber and other materials to build a lodge near the gate. He was also to flush out the ditches round the manor and to sell as dearly as possible all the large fish caught there, keeping the small fish as stock.

The Prince died at Westminster on 8 June 1376 aged 46.

Manor House

Medieval

In medieval times, from the 13th to the 15th centuries, Manor House was a building on the south western side of the church surrounded by an earthen rampart and a moat, most of the site being now occupied by the Mount car park (the area was formerly known as the Mount). Only the base of some of the walls remained from the old building and these were partially excavated in 1955 before the car park was constructed. The remains of the building lie under the far side of the car park (farthest from the church) extending from north west to south east, parallel with the fence at the end. The whole building was about 150 feet long with a minimum width of 15 feet. Most of the remains had been pillaged for building material over the centuries and there was only time for a partial excavation in 1955, with the result that the excavator could only reach provisional conclusions about the nature of the building and the uses of the rooms.

Most of the remaining walls were 1 foot high or less and of dry-set flint and chalk. They were only 1 foot to 1 foot 6 inches in width (with offsets) in shallow foundation trenches. The excavator thought that the upper part of the walls were probably made of wychert, a local building material still existing in some buildings particularly at Haddenham and consisting of chalk mud mixed with straw which would set very solid. The roofs may have been partly thatched but part must have been tiled, because a fair number of roofing tiles were found spread over the site. Looking at the building from the church side, the excavator thought that on the left was probably a two-storey building which would have been the accommodation reserved for the lord of the manor. The room on the first floor would have been the "great chamber" serving as bedroom and sitting room. The great hall probably extended in front of this part of the building towards the church, but this was not found or excavated. On the right of this room was probably the kitchen and beyond that more living accommodation, perhaps for the steward, with a smaller hall extending in front of it. This was roughly in the centre of the building. The excavator considered whether this might be the great hall but thought it probably too small. Beyond it to the right was a range of single storey rooms.

The remainder of the area could not be excavated, but trial holes indicated that most of it may have been paved with cobbles.

The only positive evidence of date was a somewhat worn penny of Edward I, struck at the Bristol mint in 1280/1, which might have been lost at any time up to about 1300. The majority of the pottery found was datable to the 14th century.

The indications were that the buildings were first erected in the 13th century, perhaps in the reign of Henry III (1207–72), that they were in use throughout the 14th century (Edward II, the Prince of Wales during the reign of Edward III and Richard II) but went out of use at the end of that century or in the early 15th century.

Another building may have been erected on some part of the site at a later date, because there are documentary references to such a building in the reign of Elizabeth I and its remains are said to have been demolished around 1800, but there is no certain information about this.

Modern

Manor House Princes Risborough Bucks from churchyard
The Manor House (formerly Brook House) in 2010

The house now known as the Manor House stands opposite the east end of the church. It was formerly known as Brook or Brooke House and the name was only changed in the late 19th century

The house is first mentioned (as Broke House) in the reign of Elizabeth I in a grant dated 1589, but this was an earlier building, though some parts of it are incorporated in the present house. Arthur Oswald thought that the interior wall parallel to the front outside wall and fireplaces in two of the bedrooms may come from the Elizabethan house. The house was substantially enlarged and rebuilt in the mid-17th century.

Inigo Jones had brought the classical renaissance style to England in the early 17th century. His followers took the new classical style into the country, characterised by its symmetry and proportion and such classical elements as pilasters, while wide eaves took the place of a cornice. Often a bricklayer would also be the principal contractor, controlling the other trades, and he could avoid the necessity to employ a mason for stonework if he could produce the classical elements in brick. So in this house we have brick pilasters, one above the other, with capitals and bases shaped in brickwork. The rebuilding seems to have been carried out in two stages, though without a long gap between them. There is a straight joint in the brickwork to the left of the second pilaster on the north side. In front of this the bricks are laid in English bond, but Flemish bond is used towards the back, indicating that this part was built a little later.

Brook House, Princes Risborough 1847
The Manor House (then Brook House) in the 1840s from Lipscomb's History of the County of Buckingham (1847)

The house is built of red brick with two storeys and an attic. The frontage has five windows, widely spaced and separated by brick pilasters in two orders corresponding to the ground and first floors. Originally there was a large central attic window of 'Dutch' type (as can be seen in the woodcut from Lipscomb's History of the County of Buckingham (1847)). This was replaced by three dormer windows in the late 19th century.

Inside the house the staircase and some of the panelling and fireplaces in the hall and drawing room date from the 17th-century re-building. The oak staircase opens at the back of the hall through a 17th-century arch and ascends two storeys round a square well. Arthur Oswald describes it as of Jacobean type but likely to have been made by a country joiner at the time of the Commonwealth or Charles II. Pevsner & Williamson, who call it "spectacular", describe it as made in the mid-17th century but in the strapwork tradition.

Manor House Princes Risborough Bucks Door & pilasters
Detail showing the 17th-century brick pilasters and the (later) front door
Manor House capital of pilaster
Detail of the capital of the pilaster (17th century brickwork)

Arthur Oswald thought that the entrance doorway and sash windows were probably 18th-century alterations made in Georgian times, but Pevsner and Williamson think they might be part of Lord Rothschild's alterations in 1886.

By the mid-19th century the house was very dilapidated and part was being used for storing grain. Lord Rothschild bought it in the 1880s and arranged for it to be renovated and put into repair. This work started in 1886, but there is no record of exactly what was done. It was probably after the completion of this work that the name was changed to the Manor House. In 1926 later members of the Rothschild family gave the house to the National Trust and it was then further modernised under the direction of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings. It is usually let to a tenant and some rooms can be seen by prior appointment.

Sir Peter Lely at Brook House

Several books say that Sir Peter Lely lived in Princes Risborough at Brook House and that he bought the house in 1671. This is not likely to be true. Lely was a wealthy and fashionable London painter (court painter from 1661), very busy, with a house at Covent Garden, where he had an impressive collection of pictures. Samuel Pepys, after visiting him in 1667, wrote that he was a "mighty proud man.....and full of state." It is highly improbable that such a man would have chosen or indeed would have been able to live in a small village in the Chilterns, 40 miles from London. He had more work in London than he could easily manage. His wife died in childbirth in 1674 and was buried at St Pauls, Covent Garden, where Lely himself was buried after his death in 1680. His estate comprised his house in Covent Garden and investment properties in Surrey and Lincolnshire. No biography of the painter mentions a house at Princes Risborough.

This story came from a misunderstanding of a transaction in 1671, when he was recorded as purchasing a "fee farm rent" issuing out of the Manor of Princes Risborough. This was a perpetual rentcharge or ground rent secured on the rents and profits of the manor (not the Manor House, which was then Brook House). In other words, it was like a financial instrument securing an annual income. He would have bought it as an investment and would have received the income at stated intervals. It is very unlikely that he ever went near Princes Risborough himself.

Market and fairs

The right to hold a weekly market and two yearly fairs was granted by King Henry VIII in 1523. The market was to be held on Wednesdays and the fairs on the eve, day and morrow of the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin (8 September) and on the eve, day and morrow of St George's Day (23 April). The days were changed from time to time, the market to Saturday before 1792 and to Thursday in 1888. In 1792 there was only one fair (6 May) but the second was revived and by 1908 was held on 21 October.

Modern times

The ecclesiastical parish of Princes Risborough today has approximately the same extent as the former manor and includes various hamlets scattered over the nearby Chiltern Hills. These include Alscot, Askett, Cadsden, Flowers Bottom, Loosley Row Lower North Dean, North Dean, Redland End, Speen, and Upper North Dean.

Princes Risborough has been featured several times in films and television series (e.g. Jonathan Creek, Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders and Double First).

It is popular with commuters as it has excellent rail links to London and Birmingham. Notable residents include Jay Kay from Jamiroquai, Sarah Harding of Girls Aloud fame and Lee McQueen, winner of The Apprentice series 4.

Since the reintroduction of the red kite to the Chiltern Hills, Princes Risborough has become an ideal place to view this bird of prey. They are often sighted above the town and surrounding areas.

The town is home to Princes Risborough School, which is a co-educational secondary school.

Sports and recreation

Kop Hill climb - Sept 2013
Risborough has a range of lifestyles
Kop Hill Climb 22 September 2013

Motorsport: The Kop Hill Climb is one of the oldest hill climb venues in England having been established in 1910. It attracts over 11,500 spectators and drivers have included Chris Evans, Rod Stewart and Jay Kay.

Cricket: Princes Risborough Cricket Club meets at the Windsor Playing Fields, Horsenden, Nearby the Monks Risborough Cricket Club has a pitch at Whiteleaf, next to the Golf Club.

Football: Risborough Rangers F.C. has its headquarters at Windsor Playing Fields. Currently the side play in the Spartan South Midlands League (Div 2). They are managed by local man Bob Rayner. They also have a number of teams playing at various venues within the town

Golf: There is a beautiful golf course at Saunderton Lee (Princes Risborough Golf Club). Nearby is Whiteleaf Golf Club at Monks Risborough (9 holes) and the 18 hole course at Ellesborough on land formerly part of the Chequers estate (Ellesborough Golf Club) is not far away.

Gym: There is a fully equipped, air conditioned, Health and Fitness Studio at Risborough Springs, off Stratton Road.

Lawn tennis and bowls: Princes Risborough Bowls Club and Princes Risborough Lawn Tennis Club have their own grounds off New Road, and Horsenden Tennis Club has courts at the Windsor Playing Fields, Horsenden.

Rugby: In 2008 Risborough Rugby Football Club was founded by local residents. The Whiteleaf Pub in the market square is used as a clubhouse for meetings and after training. They currently play in Berks/Bucks & Oxon Premiership Division.

Swimming: There is a covered pool at Risborough Springs off Stratton Road.

Princes Risborough has a recreation ground on the left of the Aylesbury Road, known as King George's Field as a memorial to King George V.

Transport

Railways

The history of the railways at Princes Risborough is both complicated and interesting.

At the start of the Railway Age the nearest station was Maidenhead on the main Great Western line. The service from Paddington to Maidenhead started in 1838 and reached Bristol in 1841. In 1846 the Wycombe Railway Company was incorporated and built a single track broad gauge line to connect Maidenhead to High Wycombe via Cookham and Bourne End. This opened on 1 August 1854 and the line was then continued north to Princes Risborough and Thame en route for Oxford.

From 1862 it became possible to travel from Princes Risborough to London in a train which started at Thame (later Oxford, when the line was completed) and went on to London Paddington through Princes Risborough, High Wycombe, Bourne End and Maidenhead. Although the line was built by the Wycombe Railway Company, the service was operated by the Great Western Railway. At that date the journey to London from Risborough took about 2 hours 40 minutes.

Another branch line from Princes Risborough to Aylesbury, which the Wycombe Railway Company had started to build in 1861, opened for traffic on 1 October 1863. Thereafter passengers from either Oxford or Aylesbury could reach Paddington via Princes Risborough, Wycombe and Maidenhead, but the majority of the through trains ran between Paddington and Oxford.

In 1867 the Great Western Railway took over the Wycombe Railway Company. All lines were converted to standard gauge between 1868 and 1870.

In 1872 a new line, built by the Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway Company, opened between Princes Risborough and Watlington. There were three trains in each direction daily. This line was taken over by the Great Western in 1883.

The Metropolitan Railway opened a main line from Baker Street to Aylesbury in 1892, providing an alternative route between London and Princes Risborough via Aylesbury.

In 1899 the Great Central Railway arranged to join with the Great Western to construct a new route to London and built Marylebone station as its terminus. A new line, built by the Great Western Railway, ran from Paddington via Gerrards Cross and Beaconsfield to High Wycombe and thence to Princes Risborough. The single track line between High Wycombe and Princes Risborough was upgraded to a double track. Because of the gradient the new Up line followed a different route (with a short tunnel at Saunderton) from the existing single track, which became the Down line (with a few changes because of the gradient or for other reasons). The Great Central built a new line from Marylebone to join this railway at South Ruislip (then called Northolt Junction).

These direct routes between Princes Risborough and London were working from 2 April 1906, though at first the trains still ran on to Oxford beyond Risborough. The line to Bicester followed later in 1910. The journey time to London was reduced to between an hour and an hour and a half.

For the next 40 years and more Princes Risborough was a busy junction with two large signal boxes and trains coming in from London Marylebone, London Paddington via Beaconsfield, London Paddington via Maidenhead (a few trains still used this route until 1970), Bicester and the North, Aylesbury, Oxford and Watlington. 29 men were employed at the station in the 1930s.

The railways were nationalised in 1948 and in the 1950s these lines started to close. The Watlington line closed to passengers in June 1957, but remained partially open to freight traffic until 1989 and is now run by a preservation society between Chinnor and the outskirts of Princes Risborough; the line to Thame and Oxford ran its last passenger train in 1963; the line through Bourne End to Maidenhead closed in 1970.

Diesel trains replaced steam locomotives on the main line in 1961. The Down platform at Princes Risborough and the passenger bridge were demolished and there was only a single track through the station from 1968 until 1998. At the same time Marylebone Station was being threatened with closure and for several years almost all trains ran to and from Paddington.

On de-nationalisation in 1996 the line through Risborough was taken over by Chiltern Railways, who have much improved the service. In 1998 they re-built the Down platform and constructed a new footbridge at their own expense, restoring full working with a much more frequent service. On 5 September 2011 the Chiltern Mainline project went live. This was a £250 million investment and the largest privately led investment in passenger railway infrastructure since before the second world war. This has reduced the time taken by trains between London and Risborough; in the December 2011 timetable trains can take as little as 31 minutes (the majority taking 35 to 40 minutes).

Bus

Princes Risborough is served primarily by the 300 Arriva Shires and Essex service which alternates between High Wycombe and Aylesbury on a quarter-hourly basis (Mondays to Saturdays) and hourly on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Other services include Redline Buses' 321 service between High Wycombe and Aylesbury (with some services terminating in Risborough) which operates weekdays every two hours; Redline's 320 service which serves as a rail link between Princes Risborough railway station and Chinnor during peak hours; Arriva's 120 and 121 which serve twice a day between Thame and Risborough and Z&S's 113 which serves between Risborough and Oakley on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Princes Risborough is also served by the Risborough Area Community Bus (RACB) which serves the villages surrounding Risborough including Longwick, Monks Risborough, Speen, Bledlow, Bledlow Ridge and Little Kimble.

Community

The Risborough Area Partnership (RAP) is the umbrella organisation for business local government and community groups in Princes Risborough. There are several community events organised across the year .

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