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The History of Buckingham

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Although the county of Buckinghamshire contains plenty of evidence suggesting settlement there going back to prehistory, there is little to suggest the site of the town of Buckingham itself was occupied prior to Saxon times. The town is supposed to have been founded by a Saxon named ‘Bucca’ around the 7th century. He chose a site at the top loop of the River Great Ouse , now the site of the Hunter Street campus of the University of Buckingham. During it’s first 300-400 year history the settlement changed hands with the Saxon’s losing the town to the Danes on many occasions. The frontier of the long battle between the Saxons and the Danes, often marked by the nearby Roman road Watling Street, was just a few miles from the town. After the Saxon King Edward the Elder chased away a Danish Viking army in 914 a fort was built there. Buckingham Church sits on the elevated ground of the site of original fort. This fort helped to establish Buckingham’s status in the area and it became a one of the Royal Burgs of Wessex and also county town. Buckingham also had a royal mint producing silver pennies, another sign of the settlement’s growing influence and importance in the county. The town is associated with the canonised Saxon king; Saint Rumbold.

After the Normans defeated the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 Buckingham was given to the church. The estates were attached to the new cathedral at Lincoln and remained in the Diocese of Lincoln until as late as 1850. The Norman family who came to Buckingham to rule it were the Giffords, they built a castle on the site of the old Saxon fort. Only occasional fragments now survive, the last ruins of the castle were finally lost when the church was built on the site in 1777-1781. It had already been a ruin for hundreds of years by this time, at least since the rule of King Charles II .

The Giffords, and their successors the de Braose family, tried to make Buckingham into a thriving market town. They built a large market area, on the same site as the current main retail area. Early in the 14th century when, during something of a population explosion, poor weather, crop failure and subsequent famine struck the area. Buckingham was very hard hit with widespread deaths from starvation and disease. In 1349 Black Death struck the already weakened population particularly hard. The entire population of the nearby Luffield Priory perished and the town’s own population dipped to levels that threatened Buckingham’s very existence. This severe
depletion of the population created a severe shortage of labour. Wages went up, rents down and many of the very old established landowner families sold up.

Many of the new land and business owners coming to Buckingham from the 15th century onward actually lived in the town and put a lot of effort into the local economy. Royal connection saw visits from Henry VIII and also Catherine of Aragon , who were hosted by the local, and very influential Fowler family. It is said that Catherine introduced lace making to Buckingham, a craft that was to become very important to the town’s economy. Unfortunately the same royal connection saw the county town status stripped from Buckingham and granted to Aylesbury when Henry VIII moved his attentions on to Anne Boleyn , who was from an Aylesbury family. But Buckingham owes its town charter to the Tudors , for it was Henry’s daughter Mary Tudor who bestowed it upon them. The Royal Charter gave Buckingham a real boost and the town bloomed. Trade and craft guilds flourished as Buckingham grew rich. Even a disastrous fire in 1725 couldn’t halt the town’s progress, although it does explain why so little of Tudor Buckingham survives today.

Although being on the Grand Union Canal gave the town much better transport links, once again Buckingham suffered a dip in its fortunes when the main London railway was built away from the town. The Duke of Buckingham suffered bankruptcy in 1848 and this had a major knock-on effect as the town suffered the loss of the last remnants of it’s county administrative status. By 1931 Buckingham’s population was
hovering as low as 3,000 but the Second World War gave the town new impetus. Troops and airmen were stationed in and around the town and factories were relocated out of London to Buckingham. This growth continued after the end of the war and the population is now around 12,000.

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