henleyCorporationSealHenley-Upon-Thames (St Mary), an Incorporated Market-Town having separate Jurisdiction, a Parish, and the Head of a Union, locally in the Hundred of Binfield, County of Oxford, on the High Road from London to Oxford and Cheltenham, 23-miles (South East from Oxford & 25 (West) from London; containing 3622 Inhabitants.  This is supposed by some Antiquaries to have been a Town of the Ancient Britons; according to others, it was the Roman Station Calleva, which has with greater probability been fixed at Silchester, in Hampshire.  Leland mentions the discovery of Gold, Silver, & Brass Coins of the Romans; but no notice of the Town occurs in History till after the Norman Conquest.

Binfield, a Hundred in Oxford, in the extreme South East, extending from the Chilterns to the Thames. It contains 7 Parishes and part of another. Population 9,598. Houses 1,962.  Binfield is now part of South Oxfordshire District.  One of the 15 Hundreds or subdivisions of the County of Oxford, situated in the South-Eastern part of the County, and Bounded on the North by the Hundreds of Ewelme & Pyrton; on the East by the Counties of Bucks & Berks; on the South by the County of Berks; and on the West by the, Hundred of Langtree. It contains the Parishes of Bix, Caversham, Harpsden, Henley-upon-Thames, Grays Rotherfield, Peppard Rotherfield, & Shiplake, with part of the Parish of Sonning. The area of the Hundred is about 23,000 acres.



A Bridge across the Thames was erected here at an early period, and it is not improbable that Henley owed its origin to that circumstance.  In the Reign of Henry III. the Manor belonged to Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, the King’s nephew, on whose death it reverted to the Crown; and in the Reign of Elizabeth-l, a Charter of Incorporation was Granted to the Town, in which it is denominated Hanleygang or Hanneburg.  In 1643, the Republican Forces were Quartered in the vicinity, when they were attacked by the Royalists, who entered the Town, but were dispersed by the Firing of a Cannon down Duke Street, which did much Execution: in the following year the Inhabitants sustained considerable damage from the wanton conduct of the Parliamentary Soldiers, who plundered most of the houses.


The Town, which is remarkably dry and healthy, is situated on an ascent from the Western Bank of the Thames, which here takes one of its most agreeable curves. It is surrounded by Hills clothed with lofty Beech-woods and extensive Plantations, interspersed with elegant Villas; and as approached from London, the general appearance is striking, and the scenery remarkably picturesque.  At the entrance is a handsome Stone Bridge over the Thames, erected in 1786, at an expense of £10,000, and consisting of 5 elliptical arches, surmounted by a Balustrade.  The Key-stone on each face of the Central Arch is adorned with a Sculptured Mask, from the Chisel of the Hon Mrs Damer: that towards the North represents the Genius, or presiding Deity, of the Thames; the Mask on the other Key-stone exhibits the Goddess Isis. The Henley Fishing Society was established in 1834, for preserving the water, this portion of the River abounding with pike, perch & eels, the last famed for their excellence.  The Hills that give name to the Chiltern Hundreds form a Ridge extending from Henley, along the Southern part of the County of Buckingham, to Tring in Herts: the appellation is derived from the Saxon words cealt, cylt, or chilt, signifying Chalk, of which substance they are principally composed.  Henley has 4 Principal Streets, paved, & lighted and at the intersection are a plain Stone Cross and a Conduit; the houses, though irregular, are spacious & well built, and some of them handsome. Every facility of Carriage to London is afforded by the Thames; and it is stated that, so far back as the Reign of Anne, there had been sold as much as 300 Cart-loads of Malt, and various kinds of Grain, at the Weekly Markets: at this Period the Town enjoyed also the Manufacture of Glass, to the composition of which, a black flint, and a kind of sand that formed part of the soil, essentially contributed.  There was a Silk-Mill on a small scale, a Paper-Mill, and an extensive Brakspear Brewery established for more than a Century; and the manufacture of Sacking was carried on to a limited extent. A few miles South of the Town is the Twyford Station of the Great Western Railway.  The Market was on Thursday, for Corn (which is pitched), Seeds, etc; and Fairs were held on 7th March, for Horses & Cattle; Holy Thursday, for Sheep; the Thursday in Trinity-week; and the Thursday after 21st September.


Henley was Incorporated by Elizabeth, but the Charter by which it is now Governed was Granted by George I, in 1722, to the “Mayor, Aldermen, Bridgemen, & Burgesses,” with power to elect a High Steward, “who shall be a Baron of this Kingdom, or at least a Knight,” and a Recorder. The Corporation consists of a Mayor, High Steward, 10 Aldermen, 2 Bridgemen, & 16 Burgesses, with a Recorder, Town-Clerk, & Inferior Officers; and the Mayor, Recorder, & 2 Senior Aldermen, are Justices of the Peace, and have the Power of holding a weekly Court of Record for the Recovery of Debts to the amount of £10, the Mayor Presiding. Quarter-sessions, also, are held regularly. One Bridgeman is appointed by the Corporation at Michaelmas, and the Junior Bridgeman for the preceding year then becomes the Senior for the year ensuing; these Officers, according to Ancient Custom, being also the Churchwardens of the Parish.  The Townhall, erected in 1796, stands on an elevation in the High Street and is supported by 16-Doric Columns.

New Town Hall c.1796
Henley from the SW c.1880

The Parish comprises by measurement 1550-acres, of which 984 are Arable, 317 Meadow & Pasture, 200 Woodland, and 20 Common or Waste.  The Living is a Rectory, valued in the King’s Books at £21 1s 3d and in the Patronage of the Bishop of Rochester: the Tithes have been commuted for £481 10s, and there are ¾ of an acre of Glebe.
Henley-on-Thames Tithe Map 1842

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The Church is a spacious structure, chiefly in the decorated and later English Styles; in the walls are some portions of Chequered work in Flint and Chalk.  It has a fine Tower, erected by Cardinal Wolsey, and some good Tracery in the window of the Chancel. The present North Aisle appears to have constituted the Body of the Church; and in the North part of the Chancel are indications of the original Altar, with 2 canopied Niches, in one of which is a recess formerly used for the Eucharist.  A large Sepulchral Chapel, or Chantry, founded by the Family of Elmes, was in 1820 converted into a Vestry-room & Library, and contains many valuable works, the liberal Bequest of Dean Aldrich, Rector of Henley, who died in 1737. In the Chancel is a handsome Monument with a recumbent effigy of Lady Elizabeth Periam, the Benefactress to Balliol College, Oxford: there are also Monuments to Dr Crawley, father of Lady Kneller, who died in 1709, and to Mr William Hayward, of Shrewsbury, the Architect of Henley Bridge; and in a Vault on the South side are deposited the remains of Gen Dumourier, celebrated in the Revolutionary History of FranceRichard Jennings, the “Master Builder of St. Paul’s Cathedral,” who died at Badgemore, near the Town, lies interred in the Churchyard.  There are places of Worship for the Society of Friends & Independents.


A Grammar School was founded in 1604, by James I, and endowed with the proceeds of certain Church Lands and other Property, partly Bequeathed by Augustine Knapp; its Funds were augmented by William Gravett, in 1664.  A Blue-coat School for Boys was established in 1609, by Lady Elizabeth Periam; and in 1774 these 2 Schools were United by Act of Parliament, and their incomes consolidated, amounting at present to about £360 pa.  A Green School was founded in 1717, in consequence of a bequest by Mr John Stephens, and subsequently endowed with Property producing £54 pa.  An Almshouse for 5 men, and an adjoining House for 3 women, were Founded & Endowed by John Longland, Bishop of Lincoln, in 1547; and there are 10 Almshouses Endowed with a Bequest by Humphrey Newbury, in 1664; 4 Houses for Widows, founded in 1743, by Mrs Ann Messenger; and numerous other Charities.  The Poor-law Union of Henley comprises 24 Parishes or Places, 19 of which are in the County of Oxford; and contains 15,639 Inhabitants.

Reproduced from VCH Oxfordshire XVIII (2016), available online at www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol18

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