The early History of Thame is obscure, but there can be little doubt that it was a place of importance in the early Anglo-Saxon Period. Its well-protected position on the bend of a navigable River Thame and its good Communications favoured its rise. Ancient Roads such as the Icknield Way & London Way passed within a few miles, while others from Tetsworth on the London Road, Aylesbury, & Chinnor converged on it. The traditional belief that it was Fortified by the Danes and retaken by Edward the Elder in 941 has arisen from a confusion with Tempsford (Beds), but that Thame was once a Royal Vill is not improbable. The slight indications in the surviving Charters that Old Thame enjoyed a special kind of Free Tenure allied to the later Burgage Tenure lends some support to the belief. That the Town became the centre of a group of Episcopal Estates belonging to the Bishops of Dorchester is generally accepted. It may be that the Mercian king Wulfhere, who was certainly in the Town in 675, Endowed the Mercian Bishopric of Dorchester, established between 675 & 685, with Thame and its dependent Villages. If so, this was perhaps no more than a Restitution of Property 1st Granted by the West Saxon Kings when the Bishopric of Dorchester was Founded in 635. The importance of the place may be further seen in its relations with the surrounding District: it was the Mother Church of 3 others and gave its name to the Hundred. It is likely that it already had an Episcopal Residence, as it did in later days, for Oscytel, Bishop of Dorchester and later Archbishop of York, died there in 971. In short, the status of Anglo-Saxon Thame was very different from that of the ordinary Rural Village.
The Town’s importance was increased in the time of Bishop Alexander when the Church was made a Prebend of Lincoln and a Cistercian Monastery was established just outside Thame. Perhaps at this time, too, the new Town, Novus Burgus de Thame, was laid out to the East of Old Thame.
Precisely when New Thame and its Market were founded is uncertain, but all the evidence points to its being a post-Conquest creation and a ‘planned’ Seignorial Borough cut out of the Bishop’s Demesne and paying all dues to him. Such ventures by Lay & Ecclesiastical Lords were common in the 12thC & later, the object being to increase profits from Market Dues & Courts and raise the value of Rents by attracting new Tenants. The earliest evidence for the New Town dates from the end of the 12thC, but the 1140’s would have been a likely time for its Foundation, for Bishop Alexander was then in the course of decreasing the extent of his Demesne Farm at Thame. Moreover, the Establishment of the Prebendal Household at Priestend and of the Abbey would both have encouraged the growth of the Market, though as the Cistercians were exempt from the Payment of Toll & Dues in all Markets & Fairs the Bishop’s Dues would not have been increased in their case.
The earliest record of the Tuesday Market and by implication of the New Town, since Tuesday has always been Market-day in New Thame, dates from the time of Bishop Walter de Coutances (1183–84). The Market was then well established and was held by Prescriptive Right. A Royal Charter Granting a Market at Thame was not obtained until 1215 & in 1219 a Licence was obtained by Bishop Hugh de Welles to divert the Oxford-Aylesbury Road so as to make it pass through ‘his Town of Thame‘. The object of the diversion was to oblige Travellers to pass through to the Market-place and so increase & facilitate the Collection of Tolls. The old Route was by Lashlake & Priestend, following the course of the River. The new Route was the present one – along Friday Street (now North Street) and into the High Street.
Whatever the date of the creation of the Borough it is evident that it was prosperous & expanding in the 1st-half of the 13thC. According to the Hundredal Inquest of 1255 Bishop Hugh de Welles had erected Houses in 1221 in the King’s Highway in Thame in order to increase his Rents, and these were occupied in 1255 by Geoffrey Taylor & 5 Others. At the same Inquest the Jurors of the Burgus said that 18-Stalls were erected in the Marketplace in the Royal Way, and that Bishop Robert Grosseteste had been the 1st Offender in 1251/2 and that he was followed by Bishops Henry Lexington (1254–8) & Richard Gravesend (1258–79) and their Bailiffs who ‘augmented the encroachments from year to year‘. These encroachments evidently marked the beginning of the erection of permanent Stalls & Houses in the Marketplace, the modern ‘Middle Row’. An earlier account of New Thame, included in the Survey of the Bishop of Lincoln’s Estates in the Hundred made in the 2nd Quarter of the 13thC, records that there were already 63 Burgesses, and that the Rents of Assize in Thame brought in 75s plus a new increase of 4s-9d, while the issues of the Borough (i.e. from Courts, Markets & other Dues) totalled £17-4s-1½d. The increment of 4s-9d. must refer to new Burgage Tenements laid out after the creation of the Borough and presumably to the Buildings in the Market. At the time of the Survey a few Burgesses held more than or less than 1 Burgage: Alexander the Carpenter has 3½ Burgages, another has 3, another a ½-Burgage, but the majority held 1 Burgage apiece. The uniform Rent of 1s for a whole Burgage puts Thame among the many post-Conquest Foundations that had this Rent and whose Customs may have been modelled on those of the Norman Town of Breteuil. The Rent here as elsewhere was a Ground Rent – 1s for each Plot of Burgage Land.
The Survey itself and many later 13thC Charters show that the original Burgages were Field Acre-Strips. At the time of the Tithe Award of 1826 the Township of New Thame covered 50 statute acres, and in view of the well-known permanence of Township Boundaries it must be supposed that this was the original amount of Land cut out of the Bishop’s Demesne. The acres were soon subdivided into ½-acre & ¼-acre Burgages: their pattern is still clearly visible between Southern Road & Brook Lane on the 25-inch Ordnance Survey. It looks as if uniform Burgage Strips may have once extended as far East as Park Road. The Southern Boundary is formed by Southern Road and the Footpath which continues it. The Houses on the High Street almost all have long narrow Gardens, of uniform Length but varying Width, and their Boundaries, by analogy from other Ancient Towns, can confidently be assumed to be identical with those of many of the 13thC Burgage Tenements. The length of the present Strips is about 700ft.
The pattern is less clear to the North of the High Street and may never have been so regular. The area immediately North of the Market is circular in shape and can never have contained more than a few Burgages of 700ft long; at present most Tenements are 300ft or less in length. The Permanent Houses & Stalls erected in the King’s Highway have already been mentioned. Today Middle Row, with some of its Houses fronting on the Butter Market and some on the Cornmarket, extends 100-yards along the middle of the Town’s Main Street. Here probably was ‘le Shop Rew‘ with Stalls in it recorded in 1345, and ‘le Bocher Rew‘ of 1377.
There is little direct evidence about the development of the Town & its Trade in the later Middle Ages, but a pointer to its growth is the subdivision of Tenements. There is evidence that this subdivision was well advanced before the 3rd Quarter of the 13thC. There were then many Burgages with several Houses built on them, and ½ or ¼-acre of Burgage was frequently being sold. The new Tenants came largely from neighbouring Towns or Villages, and sometimes from further afield. Men from Berks & Buckse as well as Oxon were among them. Out of 7 Witnesses to a mid-13thC Charter 5 came from Abingdon, Chinnor, Hughenden, Tusmore, & Upton. Other Burgesses came from Aylesbury, Oxford, Attington, Fritwell, Mapledurham, Sydenham, & Tetsworth. The Town’s Development was threatened by the setting up of a rival Market at Haddenham (Bucks), only 3-miles North-East of Thame, but on the Petition of Bishop John Dalderby the Charter Granting a Market was withdrawn in 1302, and in the Tax-Assessment Lists of the early 14thC Thame appears as a prosperous small Market-Town, easily outstripping its rural neighbours in Wealth & Population. At the beginning of the Century New Thame & Old Thame (which included Priestend) were roughly equal in Wealth, the New Town paying £6-3s-2d in 1306 and the Old Town £6-1s-10d.
The Returns for 1327 suggest that New Thame, where there was greater space for development and where all the Land was freely held, was expanding: there were 50 Contributors in Old Thame & 67 in New Thame. Their combined assessment was £11-11s-5d compared with £10-10s-11d from the Miltons and their 3-Hamlets, an exceptionally large & populous Rural Parish. If the assessments of Moreton & North Weston Hamlets are added to that of Thame, and it seems certain that at Moreton at least some of the Villagers were partly living on Thame Market, the total assessment comes to £16-19s-10d. When the Tax Assessments were revised in 1334 New Thame’s Tax was steeply increased. This and the disastrous effects of the Black Death on the neighbourhood may have been responsible for the Bishop of Lincoln’s efforts between 1351 & 1361 to enforce the payment of Toll in his Thame Market by Traders from Villages in the Honour of Wallingford and so check a decline in his Revenues.
The Poll Tax of 1377 clearly reveals the comparative density of Population both in Old & New Thame and emphasises once again Thame’s outstanding position in relation to the ordinary Rural Village. The documents throw some light on the Trade & Crafts carried on from the 13th to the 15thCs. For the most part, the occupations appear to be those commonly found in other Towns. Among the various Middlemen recorded were Spicers, Fishmongers, Horsemongers & Victuallers (Vyneter); among the Crafts were those of Fuller, Weaver, Skinner, Couper, Tanner, Saddler, Tailor, Lorimer, Leadbeater, Napper, Cordwainer, Glover, Chandler, Goldsmith, Parchment-maker & Baker of white bread. In a small Market-Town the Brewers & Bakers must always have been preponderant, but there is no direct evidence for this until the 15thC. One Craft, however, early gained a lasting reputation. William the Glazier of Thame is believed to have supplied much of the Painted Glass for Merton College Chapel. He received £10-2s in 1307 & 1310 for his Painted Glass. He also supplied Notley Abbey where fragments of Glass similar to the Merton Glass have been found. An Alice & a William the Glazier occur in 1309 & 1317. The Tax Roll of 1327 lists 4 Glaziers, John the Glazier, Adam & another John, all living in New Thame, and a Henry the Glazier in Old Thame. Adam was alive in 1332 when he Witnessed a Charter & Thomas Glazier, who was living in 1353, may have been his son. Although so pre-eminent for glass-painting Thame was far from being able to supply all the skilled hands required, and still less could the materials needed for such enterprises as the Church Restoration be obtained in the Market. When the Aisle of St Mary’s was being rebuilt in 1443 Lead, for example, was obtained from Aylesbury. In 1449 a Carpenter from Chilton was engaged to make the Seats and at a later date William Holden, a Smith of Bicester, to repair the Clock. In 1502, 2 men from Abingdon were obtained to mend the Bells.
The most influential of the Burgesses, however, from the start were naturally the Merchants. A ruling hierarchy on a small scale, composed of men whose wealth seems to have been partly based on Land and partly on Merchandising, is clearly in existence in the 13thC. The names of Thomas Elys, William Pyron, Richard Basset, Richard Dereman, & William Surman constantly appear in the records of New Thame as Witnesses. The Elys Family were certainly engaged in the Wool Trade, and Pyron may have been too. He owned, as ‘Mesne Tenant’, part of the Land of the new Borough: Burgages are constantly said to be in his ‘Fee’. The Merchants & Innkeepers stand out as the Leaders of the Town in the following Centuries also. The early 14thC Edward le Spicer, for example, who was rich enough to begin making a Causeway between Thame & Rycote, was a Mercer. But the Elys Family was for some generations perhaps the most outstanding of the Merchant Families. Its Wealth & Influence was apparently based on Land & Trade combined, and although members of the Family owned many Burgages this was probably by way of Investment and in order to acquire the Freedom of the Market. Most of them appear to have lived in North Weston. Richard Elys of North Weston and his son Thomas were among the most frequent Witnesses to the surviving Charters of the 2nd half of the 13thC. Thomas Elys, who was accumulating Burgages in the Town & Acres in the Field at the end of the Century sold in 1311, just before his death, around 400 acres with Messuages. Robert Elys, Wool Merchant of Thame, was perhaps a younger son. Knowledge of his connection with the Wool Trade has been preserved by chance. His 16-Sarplers (792lbs) of Wool, Shipped in 1316 on the ‘Petite Bayard‘ of London, were lost with the Ship to the Admiral of Calais who made an armed attack on it in the Channel. Elys’s Cargo, valued at £160, was the 2nd largest consignment on the Ship which was carrying the goods of 16 Merchants. It is significant of the Family’s interest in the Trade of Thame that when the daughter of Thomas Elys married William Cray of Long Crendon (Bucks) her parents gave a Burgage Tenement with her. Elys’ son John Elys was also an influential man, who almost certainly combined the keeping of sheep flocks with Town interests. Like his father, he lived at North Weston. He served on a Commission of Oyer & Terminer in 1351 and was appointed Justice to keep the Statute of Labourers in Buckinghamshire in 1359. In the next Century one of the Elys Family, a Citizen & Mercer of London, is found buying Wool at Watlington in 1476 in Company with Richard Gardener, a Mercer & Alderman of London.
The Burgess Aristocracy of the 1st half of the 15thC was a select group consisting chiefly of the Families of Elys, Benett, King, Wendelborough, Manyturne, Bate, Bonste, & Hall. It was they who gave the largest sums for the reconstruction of the North Aisle in 1443 and for the making of the Church Seats when a collection was made in 1449. From their Ranks came the Churchwardens & the Bailiffs. William Bate, to take one example, who was the 2nd highest contributor, was a Draper, and his son John Bate was later to acquire Gentle Rank.
Relations at this time between Thame and the Capital were evidently comparatively close. Grants of Land or of Burgages in Thame were sometimes made by Thame men to Londoners and vice versa, and many sons of Thame Families went to London and prospered there. Sir John Daunce of London, for instance, was the son & heir of John Daunce of Thame and the Owner of Burgage Land in Thame. Thomas Wells, Citizen & Tailor of London was the cousin and heir of John Wells (d.1488) of Thame; and Sir Michael Dormer, Lord Mayor of London, was the son of Geoffrey Dormer (d.1503) of Thame. There is some record too that as in later Centuries, Trade was done by Londoners in Thame. Direct evidence for this, however, is only found when bad Debts were incurred. A Thame Baker was sued by a London Citizen, a London Fishmonger was owed £2 by a Thame Plough-maker, and a London Mercer had a Debt of £5-10s owing from a Thame Chapman.
In the 15thC, there were 2 Merchants resident in the Parish whose importance far outstripped the normal Small Trader of Thame, though the increasing wealth & importance of some of these are reflected in their Brasses in the Church. The 1st was Richard Quatremain, a younger son of Thomas Quatremain of Rycote & North Weston, who had been brought up to Trade and was employed in the Customs in London before he succeeded to North Weston and became an MP & Sheriff of the County. His experience of Trade & Connections with London can hardly have failed to have been useful to the Town. He was certainly its Benefactor, for he founded 6-Almshouses. In the last Quarter of the Century by far the wealthiest and most influential of the Thame Merchants was Geoffrey Dormer, member of a Family long settled in Thame, and a Merchant of the Calais Staple. He bought Baldington’s Manor-House, ‘the Place House‘, with the Manor in 1473 and lived in it until a few years before his death in 1503.
Place House stood within its 3-acre Grounds, which occupied the Land once the Site of Thame Cattle Market. To the South of it, at the corner of Wellington Street & North Street today, stood a Farm, which in later years became known as Manor Farm. When Sir John Williams died at Ludlow in 1559 his Body was brought back to Rycote to Lie in State, but the night before his Funeral at St Mary’s Church in Thame his Body Lay in State at Place House. Place House was clearly a major Centre of Power & symbol of Authority for Thame during the 16thC.
The importance of the Family in the Town is reflected in the Church. The earlier Quatremains & Baldingtons, who were both large Landowners in the neighbourhood, had in turn given their name to the South Transept, and similarly, the North Transept, where Geoffrey Dormer’s Stone Table-Tomb may still be seen and where later Dormers were buried, was known as Dormer’s Aisle in the 16thC. Besides Sir Michael, Geoffrey’s 2nd son, his youngest son William Dormer, a Benefactor to the Church and active in Town Affairs, seems also to have been engaged in Trade and to have had close connections with the City of London. He was associated, for example, in his dealings over Baldington with John Peers, Fishmonger of London and Ancestor of the Peers Family of Chislehampton. After his death his Widow Elizabeth married Hugh Hollingshed, a London Merchant and no doubt another of his London Associates. Hollingshed too made Thame his place of Residence.
Another local Family, widespread in the neighbourhood but of less importance, which was said to have been also engaged in Trade as well as Farming, was the Yeoman Family of Hester. Vincent Hester, a Cordwainer, leftover £64. worth of Goods at his death in 1605. The Family was to acquire Gentle Rank & considerable wealth in the 17thC. From the time of Henry VII the Hesters were often Churchwardens, and under Edward VI & Elizabeth they supplied the Church with new Service Books.
The Price Revolution and the Religious changes of the 16thC had a far-reaching effect on the Town. As elsewhere the Century was a period of great prosperity for the Yeoman Farmers in the Thame area, & Thame Market and its Tradesmen must have benefited from their prosperity. There is little direct information about the Town’s development, but there is enough to indicate that considerable progress was made during this Century and the next. Early-16thC subsidies indicate to what a great extent New Thame had already developed: it contributed almost 4 times as much as Old Thame. In 1523–4 £15-15s–d was paid by New Thame Householders compared with £4-18s-10d at Old Thame and £9-4s- 4d altogether from the rest of the Hamlets.
Thame Abbey then consisting of an Abbot & 12 Monks was surrendered to the King in 1539, and Town Tradesmen may have suffered some temporary loss, for Bishop Longland had recently complained of the elaborate Feasts at Taverns indulged in by the young Monks and of the reckless extravagance of Abbot Warren; but in the long run the material gain to the Town was great. The Abbey’s Lands went to Sir John Williams who also acquired the Bishop’s Lands. To this moderate & humane man, the Town perhaps owed during the Religious changes of the Reformation Period more than appears on the surface. One obvious benefit was the Grammar School, founded one must suppose in response to local desire. Another was the Refoundation of the Almshouses.
Evidence for the arrangement of the Market Place is fuller in this Century. The Market or Moot Hall is 1st recorded in 1509. It had Shops underneath it, 4 of which were Leased by Geoffrey Dormer for 20s from the Bishop of Lincoln; and a Clock is mentioned in 1543. As one would expect, special parts of the Market were devoted to the Sale of particular Wares. Cock Row, the Drapery, and Sheep Row are recorded in 1509; the Butter Market, the Cornmarket, and the Hog Fair, although not recorded until the 17thC, were no doubt in existence. The Market Cross stood between the Moot Hall and the head of Middle Row, with the Drapery 16ft to the North. To the South of the Cross was the Common Well: both were recorded in the 15thC.
The Market brought large numbers into Thame from outside and Inns & Victuallers must have thriven. One of the Innkeepers, John Benett, appears to have been one of the richest men in the Community in the 1st-half of the Century. For several Generations his Family had been a leading one in the Town, and like so many Thame people their wealth may have been partly based on their Farms: the John Benett who was arrested for Debt & Pardoned in 1456 was described as a Yeoman. In 1587 there were 20-Victuallers in the Town, amongst them the Stribblehills, one of the leading Families in the Town, and the Owners of the ‘Swan‘.
References to the Michaelmas Fair at Thame occur in 1577, when the Inhabitants of Aylesbury, where Plague had broken out, were forbidden to go to it, and in 1592, when the Fair was postponed on account of the Queen’s Visit to Rycote and the fear that London Merchants would bring the Plague to the Thame neighbourhood. The growing importance of the Cattle-Market in this Century may be assumed from our knowledge of the increase in Pasture Farming that took place in the surrounding District during the Century. Its importance in the next Century is vouched for by a letter written from Henley in 1644 by Sir James Harrington. He commented on a proposal of the King to Fortify Shirburn saying that this would ‘cut off all our provisions from Thame which is our best Market for Cattle‘. It is clear from this letter that Thame Market continued during the Civil War despite the fact that the Town lay in a disputed area. Anthony Wood, who witnessed many Skirmishes in the Streets, wrote ‘you cannot imagine what disturbances they [the people of Thame] suffered by the Soldiers of both Parties, sometimes by the Parliament’s Soldiers of Aylesbury, sometimes by the King’s from Boarstall House and at Oxford and at Wallingford Castle‘.
The Woollen-draper, the Linen-draper, and the Mercer are among the most influential Tradesmen in this Century & the next. There is no evidence, however, to suggest that there was anything approaching a Clothmaking Industry in Thame: the Wool seems mostly to have been sold to be made up elsewhere. In 1606 when Lord Norreys obtained a Confirmatory Grant of the Tuesday Market it was called a Wool-Market. The date fits in well with the conversion of many Lands in the neighbourhood to Sheep Farming. A variety of Crafts are also recorded in this Period, Furrier, Capper, Armourer, Gunsmith, Fletcher, Cordwainer, & Chandler, but as far as one can tell from the fragmentary evidence there seems to have been no specialisation in any particular Craft. The Milliner and the Apothecary are 1st Recorded about this time and the Brickmaker also. In the 1640’s if not earlier it was obligatory to have Brick or Stone Chimneys: a man was Presented at the View in 1648 for not pulling down an old Chimney in his house and having a new Brick or Stone one made according to the Order of the Court. The Industry developed and ultimately gave its name to Brick-Kiln Lane (the modern Park Street).
The Town seems to have made a good recovery from the setback of the Civil War. The climate of Religious & Political opinion during the Commonwealth was favourable to the Small & Medium Trader, and new families were attracted to the Town. The Reynolds, Wollastons, & Burrows, for instance, were said to have come from Leicestershire. The Burrows were Woolstaplers as well as Drapers; they had a Business in London with a Branch at Thame and were clearly substantial people. George Burrows (d.1693) is entitled ‘Marchant‘ in the Parish Register.
The Hearth-Tax returns of the 1660s show that many of these Traders lived in substantial Townhouses and that New Thame had developed considerably. In 1662, 149 Householders were listed in New Thame & 7 in Old Thame & Priestend. Some 30 years later there were said to be 1,300 adult persons in Thame and its 2-Hamlets of Moreton & Weston. Many of the inhabitants of New Thame were Farmers, a reminder of how much a Market-Town of this kind was dependent on the surrounding Countryside, and several of the richest were Innkeepers. The Keeper of the ‘Red Lion‘, (Opposite the Moot Hall) whose substantial Hostelry was rated on 10-Hearths for the Hearth Tax of 1662, was one of the Thame Tradesmen to issue Tokens between 1653 & 1669. Other Tokens that have survived were issued by 3 Grocers, 2 Chandlers, 2 Hatters, 2 Mercers, 1 Draper, & 3 Post Innkeepers.
There are many testimonies to the importance of the Market in this Century, and in the early 18thC. Its prosperity had been threatened in 1657 by a Petition for a Chartered Market at Aylesbury, but Thame Traders Petitioned against it with success. The Market evidently served a wide area, for it was decided in 1683 that the ‘Hair’ Market & Horse Fair at Thame relieved the necessity of one at Oxford. ‘The New State of England‘ (1691) summed up the general opinion when it noted that the Market was ‘eminent chiefly for the buying of Cattle, which makes it much frequented by Graziers & Butchers from London and other parts‘. Daniel Defoe described it in 1722 as ‘a Great Corn Market‘, and in 1746 it was said to be ‘well furnished with live Cattle and all other provisions & necessaries‘. The solid Georgian Houses that today line the High Street, the Monuments in the Parish Church, and the Charitable Foundations still bear Witness to the Prosperity of the Upper-class Townsman in the 1st-half of the 18thC. Disputes over Pews are also significant: Mrs Frances Stribblehill, for example, was Presented in 1701 for trying to make several Seats into one large Pew & keeping it locked for her Sole use although it would hold at least 12-Persons.
New Trades & Professions appear: those of an Attorney, a Bodice-maker & a Hat-band Maker were among those who had Wall Monuments in the Church to commemorate them, and an Apothecary Richard Callis, who sold his Practice in 1771 to his Journeyman Apprentice for £200, described himself as having a ‘very considerable Business‘. There was also a group of Clock-makers – William Lawrence flourished from c.1740–1770 and a Thomas Lawrence (? a son) was Apprenticed to him in 1759 for 7-yrs. Joseph Stockford, also a Bell-hanger, made the Clock for Ewelme Church; and Thomas Stockford, who was Established at Great Haseley in 1764, later transferred to Thame. Finally, 3 members of the Stone Family were Clock-makers. This Family was one of the most influential in the 2nd half of the 18thC and the ‘Spread Eagle‘ is said to have been built as their Private House. Edward Stone’s Will (proved 1765) shows that he was a Saddler, and that of his 3 sons one was a Saddler, another a Watch & Clock-maker, and a 3rd a Silversmith & Whip-maker. The Clock-maker was Richard Stone, Apprenticed in 1761 to Charles House in London, but after of Thame. One of his Clocks is now in St Nicholas Church, Old Marston. A John Stone was also making Clocks at Thame from about 1760-1795 when he seems to have been succeeded by Thomas Stone. A certain Tomlinson was making Long-case Clocks at the end of the Century, but he was not apparently John Tomlinson, Watch-maker & Gunsmith, who had a Shop in the High Street in the mid 19thC.
We can see the Burgage Plots along the Southern part of the Lower High Street at Thame, and we can also see the ancient Town enclosures. The Windmill we have seen on Barley Hill in earlier Maps is not shown on this Map (Davis 1797), but a new Windmill at the end of what is now Windmill Road is shown. At the top of the Map, we see Thame’s Pest House. This was an isolated Residence for unfortunate souls with contagious diseases. To the left of the Pest House we see the Aylesbury Road Turnpike, where Tolls were paid by Travellers to Aylesbury.
As there was no Staple Trade & the Craftsmen & Shopkeepers were entirely dependent on the prosperity of the surrounding Agricultural area the last decades of the 18thC and particularly the period of depression between 1815 & 1818 were far from prosperous ones for the Town. There had been Food Riots as early as 1766 when the Mob attempted to have the prices of bread, cheese, butter, & bacon reduced. The Napoleonic War bore hardly on the Town: between 1786 & 1820 the Poor rate increased alarmingly. In 1785 Lord Torrington found Thame ‘a mean and gloomy Town‘ and in 1809 Arthur Young spoke of the ‘very depressing poverty’ of Thame. Various local factors, however, assisted in the recovery which was marked in the 3rd quarter of the 19thC. The improvement in the Roads and ease of Communication after 1800 was great and the Inclosure Award of 1826 was also beneficial since it allowed greater concentration on Grazing & Dairy Farming, for which the area was particularly suitable and so increased the importance of the Cattle Market. The Project, mooted in 1828, to build a Canal from Aylesbury to Thame would, if carried through, have done much to relieve poverty, for, as Young noted, the high price of Coal, high because of the necessity of bringing it 13-miles by Land, was ‘greatly against the comforts of the Poor‘. Rising Population added to the difficulties of the Town: it rose from 2,293 in 1801 to 3,053 in 1851, mainly as a consequence of Immigration from the neighbouring Villages of Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire, though some Immigrants came from as far afield as Scotland & Abroad. Nevertheless, in 1860 Lupton could write of Shops well stocked with Goods of great variety from Poplins to Ploughs and of well-to-do Graziers doing ‘great business‘ in the Streets. Business was encouraged by 2-Banks that had Offices in the Town: the London & County Joint Stock Banking Company and the Thame & Aylesbury Old Bank, drawing on Praeds & Co, were open on the Tuesday Market Day and by 1887 the London & Co Bank was opened on 2-days a week and on Fair Days. Although the Population of the Parish remained at about the 1851 level for the rest of the Century, the numbers of Inhabitants in the Town was increasing slightly at the expense of that of the Hamlets.
Although there was no Staple Trade there were several small Local Industries in the 19thC. These were Family Businesses and though some have declined and disappeared, others have continued until the recent time. Chief among them was the Wool-stapling Business of H & C Pearce. In 1860 Henry & Charles Pearce, who had a small Business in Bell Lane, took over the Business which had been carried on since 1750 by the Payne Family at Lashlake. In 1779–80 Paynes handled 3,376 Tods, valued at £2,476; in 1790 4,838 Tods, valued at £5,530; in 1800, 6,504 Tods valued at £10,118. H & C Pearce purchased Wool from the local Farmers and in 1939 they handled their maximum amount (including Skin Wool), for any one year, 1½M-lb weight at an average price of 1s per lb. In that year besides local Wool (about ½M-lb) they bought from other English Districts, from Ireland & New Zealand. The Firm was finally Liquidated in 2018.
The Ancient Trades of Fellmongering & Tanning were still being practised in 1823. In 1857 H C Pearce purchased Winchello’s Tan-Yard and it was used for Fellmongering. Under recent marketing controls this Firm, once associated with the Midland Hide & Skin Co, collected from 11 widely scattered Abbatoirs from Oxford to London and employed 15 workers. The nearest Fellmongering centre was Charlbury.
Another Old Trade which was flourishing in the 19thC was Brewing. In 1857 Benjamin Field was using the ‘Malthouse with enclosed Kiln etc.‘, in the High Street, and the Bell Yard opposite for Malting & Brewing. Robert Plot declared in his Natural History of Oxfordshire that Thame Well-water was unsuited for Brewing and that ‘their Beer will stink within 14 days‘, and that if the Town were not supplied by the adjoining Rivulet, ‘the place must needs be in a deplorable condition‘. Certainly, the Trade never acquired a reputation comparable to Bicester Breweries and Field’s had ceased by about 1880. Malting came to an end in 1904.
Basket-making & Chair-making were successfully carried on for many years by Hunt & Staples of Middle Row. Hunts were Basket-makers at least as early as 1804, for in that year William Hunt took as Apprentice a poor Boy from the Workhouse. In 1823 the 2 Businesses each employed 8 or 10 men making Baskets, parts of Chairs & wooden Bowls. Hunt used 8,000 bundles of Osiers a year from the Old Town Meadows, Kingsey Bottom, & Thame Park. In 1890 Osiers were obtained from Somerset, in 1935 from Algeria, but there was still a local supply for in 1921 the Moreton Osier Bed had been planted. The Baskets were mainly ‘Butter Flats‘, (straight-sided shallow Basket with a Flat-lid for taking Butter to Market) and the Industry slowly declined after 1865 when rinder pest 1st caused the local Farmers to change over from Butter-making to Milk Production.
Osier is a loose term covering a number of species of Willow (Salix), which can be Coppiced. Traditionally, most Lowland Villages had Osier Beds, the harvest of which would be used for making Basket-work, Eel Traps, Thatching Spars, Firewood, and Fencing. Although they are often associated with Rivers & Meadows, osiers in fact grow best on well drained Land, although they will not tolerate extremely dry conditions.
The Willow for Basket-making is harvested annually, usually during the Winter months before the sap starts to rise in the Spring. The Osiers are cut using a heavy-backed Sickle
Hook, and an experienced Cutter can harvest up to 40–50 bundles per day. As the demand for fruit grew throughout the 2nd half of the 19thC, so too did the demand for Willow Baskets to Store & Transport it. Osiers need to be planted in January or February in well cleared land in trenches up to 20-ins deep and 12-ins apart and can grow anything up to 18ins a week in Season. There is no Covert which Pheasants like so much as Osier-beds, especially if they are near water.
Chairs of Beechwood were also made by Fenner of Park Street & Newitt of High Street. The last were making complete Chairs & Polishing them in 1874 when the Business was closed. Thame Chairs had long had a good reputation in the Midlands.
William G Howlett’s Coach-Building Business nr the Fighting Cocks Inn in the High Street (now Sainsburys) flourished from 1843 until the beginning of the 20thC. It cut and carried its own Timber and even manufactured its own Springs.
The Thame Park Brick Kilns were opened in the early 19thC and Bricks for the County Court were made there in 1869. Those for the new Town Hall in 1887 were made at the Christmas Hill Works started in the mid-19thC. Both Businesses were ultimately killed by cheaper Bricks from Peterborough, but in 1934 the Christmas Hill Works were restarted as the result of a boom in Building, only to be closed on the outbreak of War in 1939. The Kilns & Yard were then used for storing War Material.
The Chief 19thC representative of generations of earlier Carriers was Howlands. Carriers are known to have been going regularly to London in 1600, and Howlands claimed that they had been doing so since 1676. They delivered to London Agricultural produce from the surrounding Villages and the Markets of Marlow, Wycombe, & Thame. The Firm flourished and dealt mainly in Hay, Corn, & Fertilizers.
Lacemaking was never so important in Thame as in the surrounding Villages, particularly the Buckinghamshire ones, though some Pillow Lace was made in the 19thC and purchased by London Dealers. Young, writing at the beginning of the Century, observed that ‘a very few‘ at Thame made Lace and that ‘there is nothing flourishing in the fabric‘. The Napoleonic Prisoners continued the Trade, but it was dwindling away by 1860 & by 1884 it was almost extinct. In 1905 there was an Exhibition of the Thame Lace Industry at the Albert Hall, but there were no Lacemakers left in 1958.
Since 1856, when the Thame Gazette was 1st Published, Printing has been among the leading Thame Trades. It was first printed by Charles Ellis, then by Meers, and in 1910 the Business came into the hands of F H Castle, the brother of the recent Owner. The firm of Castle & Sons had 30 employees of whom 24 were engaged in Printing. In the 1880’s the Thame Observer and the South Oxfordshire News also began to appear.
Since the earliest times Inn-keeping has been one of the Town’s chief occupations. The Port-moot Rolls of the 15thC have many references to overcharging by the Victuallers and in one case overcharging for Horse Fodder as well as for the man’s food is specifically mentioned. These Inns depended entirely on the Market and the Country People & Traders that it brought into the Town. They provided Stabling & Accommodation for the night – the ‘Swan‘, for example, still had the remains of Stabling for 30 or 40 Horses – and not one was a Coaching Inn. Some 59 different names of Inns have been traced, but this does not necessarily mean that there were 59 different Hostelries. Inns often changed their names: the ‘Spread Eagle‘, for one, was stated in 1882 to have been formerly the ‘Oxford Arms‘. However, the number of Inns must always have been great: in 1906 there were 35 & 30 in 1914, nearly 3 times the average for the County in relation to the Population.
The name of The Falcon derives from the Crest of the Dormer Family, Landowners when the Pub was 1st opened in 1861. When the Railway came to Thame it was often referred to as the Falcon Railway Hotel. The original structure was replaced after a disastrous Fire in 1900. The Falcon is now the last of the many Pubs & Beer houses that were once prominent in this area.
The Chief Inn in Tudor & Stuart days was the ‘Red Lion‘. It stood opposite the Market-House on the Southside of the High Street. The Officials of the Peculiar held their Courts there. In the 18thC its reputation was poor: in 1785 Lord Torrington called it a ‘bad Inn‘. Nevertheless, the Turnpike Trustees held their Meetings there and it was the Chief Posting House & Social Centre in the early 19thC. It closed in 1860: it was since 1959 the Offices of Messrs Lightfoot & Lowndes. Its position as Principal Inn had been usurped by the ‘Greyhound‘ since at least the beginning of the Century. In 1816 with the ‘Bull’, ‘Crown’, ‘Anchor’, & ‘Swan’, the ‘Greyhound‘ was one of the 5 Inns at which the Churchwardens were to hold their Feasts in rotation. The Inclosure Commissioners put up there in 1823–6, but by 1852 it had become a Shop and the ‘Spread Eagle‘ was the leading Hostelry. Until the Town Hall was built in 1888 most of the Town’s Public Functions & Festivities were held in its large Assembly Rooms.
There were also many people whose livelihood depended on the Market & Fairs. In the 19thC there appear to have been at least 3. The Statute Fair for the Hiring of Servants was on 11th October and was continued on the 2 following Tuesdays. This Fair was also noted for the Sale of Horses & Fat Hogs. Other Fairs, held on the Tuesday in Easter Week and the 1st Tuesday in August, were principally for Cattle. In 1852 the Wool Market is said to have been discontinued for several years, but a Christmas Fatstock Market, held on the 1st Tuesday after 6th December had come into existence, certainly by 1849. Among the Tradesmen & Businessmen listed in Gardner’s Directory of 1852 were 2 Auctioneers, 3 Corn Dealers, a Cattle Dealer and a Horse Dealer.
During the last 3rd of the 19thC and the beginning of the 20thC the Market was carried on under many difficulties: rinderpest broke out in November 1865 and no Cattle were brought to the Market for a year. Many later closures were necessary on account of outbreaks of rinderpest in 1877, of Foot & Mouth disease in 1883, and of Swine Fever in 1894. The Board of Agriculture threatened to close the Market in 1903 unless accommodation was made for Cattle on a surface Impermeable to Water so that it could be efficiently Washed & Disinfected. The Right of the Market Authority, Sir Francis Bertie, to break up the Highway for the necessary Paving was denied by the Council, but eventually, the work was carried out by him with their approval. An area 100 × 6-yds. was paved along the North of the High Street for Cattle, a piece 60 × 4-yds. opposite the old Fox Inn for Sheep & 2 areas for Pigs in the Centre. In 1904, when the Paving was complete, Posts & Chains were erected to keep Cattle off the Pavement. There were never Pens or Stalls for Cattle. Throughout the 20thC Thame Market has ranked 3rd in the County in general importance. Until 1939 Livestock was Auctioned & Dairy Produce, corn, eggs, hay, straw, hides, poultry, & wool were sold Wholesale by Private Treaty. There was also a small Retail Market. Average weekly figures were: cattle 40–120 (150–200 in best weeks); sheep 120–700; pigs 150– 400; calves 60–160. During 1934 2,234 cattle, 19,135 sheep, 15,221 pigs, & 4,342 calves were entered for Sale. Supplies came from the Vale of Aylesbury, the Chiltern Hills, South Oxfordshire, & North and Mid-Bucks. Nearly all fat beasts were disposed of for Export to other Districts, Buyers coming from Aylesbury, Reading, London, and the central Midlands. In 1919 a 100 horses would be Auctioned, but in 1935 not more than 3 or 4, & by 1959 none.
After the Marketing Acts of 1931 & 1933 the method of distribution was changed greatly. Store Stock was not controlled, but no Fat Stock was Auctioned; it was only graded. When the areas for the Marketing of Fat Cattle were determined Oxford gained at the expense of Thame. There are now no Private Sales of Hides & Wool, the Sales of Hay have diminished, and none is now Exported to London. During the WW1 the production of Fat Cattle was discouraged in favour of Wheat, but in 1950 a distinct return to Fat-Stock Production was noted. In 1949 the Thame Fat Stock Show was resuscitated, and the keen interest in it revealed a desire to return to pre-War conditions as regards Fat-Stock. With the diminution of Auctioning, attendance at the Market decreased.
After many years of controversy, an Enclosed Market had been Established on a Site of about 4 acres in North Street at a cost of £35,000. It is equipped to deal with Fat-Stock & Dairy Cattle: there was a Sales Ring, Auctioneers’ Rostrum & Offices. For Dairy Cows & Calves there was a Covered Building containing 40 Stalls and there were Sheep & Pig Pens & Accommodation for Poultry. The Retail Market has moved from the Cornmarket to the old Site of the Pig & Cattle Market. Average annual Stall Tolls between 1945 & 1952 totalled £450. Cattle Tolls during the same period averaged £80 per annum, to which must now be added £1,100 per annum from the Auctioneers for the Rent of their Offices.
But since the WW2 Thame has become far less dependent on its Market. It remained the natural centre for the surrounding area of about 6-miles in radius, though its Services have been modified by modern Manufacturing & Marketing methods & Transport. It has become more than ever a Residential Town: in 1952 140 people worked at the Cowley Pressed Steel & Morris Motor Works and some in Oxford, Aylesbury, & Haddenham. Rateable Properties, excluding dwelling Houses & Farmland, numbered: Commercial 162, Inns 22, Industrial 10, Public Utility 6, Educational & Cultural 6, Entertainments 3, & Miscellaneous 14. There were few Industries in the Town, but the total number employed in them was relatively high. Thame Mill Laundry employed 200, mostly women, and 4 or 5 other Firms including Agricultural Machine Repairing, Printing, and Building 30 to 35 each, and 4 others including Fellmongering, Agricultural Merchanting, & Light-Engineering 10 to 15 each.
Of the Commercial Firms, 84 are Shops doing the normal Country-Town Business. The 15 Bespoke Tailors of 1846 have been reduced to 2, the 6 Iron Smiths to 1, but the last in addition to Shoeing has a local reputation for ornamental Ironwork, particularly Gates & Signs. Garages, Electrical & Wireless Shops were comparatively new ventures. The British Fan & Electric Co Ltd in Park Street dealt in Fume & Dust Extraction and employs about 15 in Staff. The later arrival was Shell Mex & BP Ltd which opened its Offices in 1958 for the Distribution of Petroleum Products in Oxon & Bucks. There were about 45 employees. Almost all Businesses are privately owned.
Population has increased rapidly in recent years. The decline which followed 1891, the peak year for the 19thC, was arrested after 1918 and numbers rose rapidly after 1945. The population in 1951 of the Urban District, a much smaller area than the Ancient Parish, was 4, 171.
The Town has an active Social & Sporting life. There is a Public Recreation Ground of nearly 9-acres under the control of the Urban District Council. A Sports’ Club & Cricket & Football Clubs flourish. The Town has a Cricket Pitch certainly by 1825 when 7 men were convicted for using it for Bull Baiting. A Rifle Club, instituted in 1908, has declined, but Hunting is still popular. The Town lies in the Country of the South Oxfordshire Hunt: the Earl of Abingdon 1st Hunted this Country from at least about 1770, but he limited himself to the area between Thame & Tetsworth and kept his Pack at Rycote.
The great annual event of the year is the Thame Show. It is claimed that it is the 2nd largest single-day Show in the Country. It was instituted in 1855 when the Thame Agricultural Society was Founded.