The History of Olney

The first records of Olney date back to 932 A.D., with the town showing up as a hub for lace-making industries and crafting in the area. However, some argue an earlier reference was made in the 876 A.D. Treaty of Wedmore which is attributed to a Danes’ presence. The area was also famous for early-shoemaking production as well. The town was also famous early on for production of Olney Hymns. The town in modern day is home to the Cowper and Newton Museum, archiving and displaying the works of John Newton, author of the famous song, Amazing Grace, as well as his regular guest and English poet, William Cowper.

Olney saw some military action during the Battle of Olney Bridge in the English Civil War, but for the most part the location was predominantly industry-focused. The town was also decimated by repeat disease outbreaks involving smallpox and cholera from time to time.

On the lighter side of history, Olney claims its fame from the Great Olney Pancake Race first stared in 1445. The tradition started with the bell-ringing for the Shriving church service ceremony, and a housewife running with a hot pan and fresh pancakes to the church to provide for the Lent ceremony. Since that time, Olney women run the race on Shrove Tuesday every year, from the Olney marketplace to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. The total track length is 380 metres. Children are now allowed to get in on the act as well with a shorter race length of 20 metres begun in 1950.