Olney

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Olney (/ˈoʊni/, rarely /ˈɒlni/ ol-nee) is a market town and civil parish in the Borough of Milton Keynes, England, with a population of around 6,000 people. It is also part of the ceremonial county of Buckinghamshire. It lies 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 at Junction 14 (approximately seven miles) and with fast train links to London from Milton Keynes Central or Bedford (each approximately twelve miles distant). It is a popular tourist destination perhaps best known for the Olney Pancake Race and for the Olney Hymns by William Cowper and John Newton.

First mentioned as Ollanege in 932, the town has a history as a lace-making centre, and as the place where the Olney Hymns were written. John Newton, author of the hymn Amazing Grace was curate of Olney and is buried here. His guest was William Cowper (English poet and hymnodist (1731–1800)) and the town hosts the Cowper and Newton Museum 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 English Civil War, Olney was the site of the Battle of Olney Bridge.

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

Since 1445, a pancake race has been run in the town on many Pancake Days. 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 (known in some countries as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday) by running from the market place to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, a distance of about 380 metres. The traditional prize is a kiss from the verger. In modern times, Olney competes with the town of Liberal, 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 20 metres. This competition has been run every year since 1950.

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 fashionable clothes boutiques & perfumery. There are restaurants, pubs, cafes and takeaways offer a wider variety of British and international food.

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