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Grid reference: SP889513
Location: 52°9’11"N, 0°42’0"W
Population: 6,032  (2001)
Post town: Olney
Postcode: MK46
Dialling code: 01234
Local Government
Council: Milton Keynes
North East Milton Keynes

Olney (ˈ is a small market town in the northeast corner of Buckinghamshire; a place of some 6,000 folk. Olney stands on the River Great Ouse, very close to the borders with Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire and equidistant from Northampton, Bedford and Milton Keynes with easy access to the M1 motorway at Junction 14 and with fast train links to London from Milton Keynes Central or Bedford (each approximately twelve miles off). It is a popular tourist destination perhaps as well known for the Olney Pancake Race and for the Olney Hymns by William Cowper and John Newton.


First mentioned as Ollanege in 932,[1] the town has a history as a lace-making centre, and as the place where the Olney Hymns were written. John Newton began his career at sea, rising to captain a slave ship. Later he converted, repented of his past became curate in Olney. Here he wrote the famous hymn Amazing Grace ("Amazing grace, (how sweet the sound!) that saved a wretch like me"). Newton is buried in Olney. His guest was William Cowper (a poet and hymnodist (1731–1800) from Huntingdonshire) and the two together developed a number of hymns. The Cowper and Newton Museum in the town is dedicated to them: the museum was William Cowper's actual house, and was given to the town in 1905 by the publisher William Hill Collingridge (who had been born in the house himself).

Newton was succeeded as curate here by the biblical commentator Thomas Scott (1747–1821).

During the Civil War, Olney was the site of the Battle of Olney Bridge.[2]

Olney formerly had its own railway station on the line from Bedford to Northampton, but the line was closed in 1962.[3]

The Olney Pancake Race

Signpost advertising 2009 Pancake Race

Since 1445, a pancake race has been run in the town on many Pancake Days.[4] Tradition records that back in 1445, on Shrove Tuesday the "Shriving Bell" rang out to signal the start of the Shriving church service. On hearing the bell a local housewife, who had been busy cooking pancakes in anticipation of the beginning of Lent, ran to the church, frying pan still in hand, still in her apron and headscarf.

The women of Olney recreate this race every Shrove Tuesday by running from the market place to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, a distance of about 416 yards. The traditional prize is a kiss from the verger.

In modern times, Olney competes with the town of Liberal in Kansas in the United States for the fastest time in either town and winner of the "International Pancake Race". There is also a children's race, run by children from the local schools. The children have to run a distance of about 22 yards (20 m). This competition has been run every year since 1950.

About the town

Village sign

The A509 road runs into the wide High Street bordered by historic town houses and the Market Place is home to a general market on Thursdays and a farmers' market on the first Sunday each month. The vast majority of Olney shops are independents, attracting shoppers from further afield to find the galleries, antique, rug & furniture sellers, as well as interior design and clothes boutiques and perfumery. There are restaurants, pubs, cafés and takeaways offer a wider variety of British and international food.

As Olney continues to expand, with new housing estates, a secondary-level satellite campus, Ousedale School has opened for students from year 7 to year 11. Olney Infants School for reception to year 2 children and Olney Middle School which takes the children up to year 6, at the age of 11.

The route for an A509 by-pass may continue to be an issue for the residents of the town, as are the various wind farm sites proposed in the locality.[5]


  • Football: Olney Town and Olney Town Colts
  • Rugby: Olney Rugby Football Club dates back to 1877
  • Cricket
  • Bowls
  • Tennis

Outside links


("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Olney)
  1. Oxford Dictionary of Placenames (ed. A.D. Mills and Adrian Room, 2002, Oxford University Press)
  2. Town re-enacts battle of 1643 - Milton Keynes Citizen, 8 May 2008
  3. The Northampton - Olney- Bedford (LMS) Railway: A View from Olney - Milton Keynes Heritage Association
  4. http://www.olneyparish.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=61&Itemid=73
  5. Bucks Lacks Enough Wind