views updated May 11 2018

Buckinghamshire has little geographical unity and seems to be an entirely artificial creation. The chalk hills of the Chilterns run across the middle of the county from south-west to north-east. The area to the south drains into the Thames, which forms the southern boundary. North of the Chilterns stretches the vale of Aylesbury, rich clay farming land, and north of that again the valley of the Ouse, looking towards Northampton, Bedford, and the midlands. Communications between north and south have always been poor, and Olney in the north, where William Cowper lived, was in a different world from Stoke Poges in the south, where Gray wrote ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’.

The diffuseness of the shire was increased by the fact that the county town was not Aylesbury, near the middle, but the smaller town of Buckingham in the extreme north-west corner. For centuries there was rivalry between the two and in the 1740s the assizes were moved to Aylesbury and then back again. Tradition looked upon Buckingham as deeply conservative and Aylesbury as radical. But Aylesbury in the Hanoverian period was venal rather than progressive. Most of the numerous Buckinghamshire parliamentary boroughs were under the secure control of the neighbouring gentry families—the Drakes at Amersham, or the Wallers and Pettys at Wycombe. The powerful county families included the Verneys of Claydon and, when their money ran out, the Grenvilles of Stowe, who had complete command over Buckingham itself.

Pre-Roman Buckinghamshire was in Catuvellauni territory, and Cunobelinus, grandson of Cassivellaunus, is believed to be commemorated in Great and Little Kimble, near Chequers. The Roman road Watling Street ran across the north-east of the county through Stony Stratford, intersecting with the older Icknield Way just east of the county near Dunstable. In the 6th cent. the area was disputed between the Britons and the English, the latter reported by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to have captured Aylesbury in 571. The region became part of the kingdom of Mercia. As a county Buckinghamshire probably developed after Edward the Elder, king of Wessex, launched his great advance against the Danes and fortified Buckingham as a frontier outpost in 918. It was first mentioned as a county in 1010 when most of it was overrun by a second Danish advance. In Domesday Book, Buckingham was the only town to be separately assessed and appears to have been substantial. It did not maintain its pre-eminence and was overtaken by Aylesbury, Wycombe, Marlow, Chesham, and other towns. Leland, in early Tudor times, found Aylesbury a ‘fair town’ with a celebrated market and the county gaol. Wycombe had parliamentary representation from early on, Buckingham and Aylesbury from the 16th cent., and Wendover, Amersham, and Marlow as late as the 17th cent.

Industrial development also came late to Buckinghamshire. Lace-making gave the county considerable prosperity in the 17th and 18th cents. but declined sharply in the 19th. Slough did not even merit a separate entry in the 1801 census but was included in the parish of Upton. The 19th cent. gave the county a network of railways, which stimulated the growth of Wolverton, Slough, and Wycombe. Proximity to London led to great changes in the 20th cent., the balance of population moving south. Between 1931 and 1951 the rate of growth was third in the whole country, largely due to Wycombe and Slough, which, by 1961, had grown to 50,000 and 80,000, while Buckingham remained at just over 4,000. The development of Milton Keynes in the north-east as a new town promises to restore the balance. By the Local Government Act of 1972 Buckinghamshire lost Slough and Eton in the extreme south to Berkshire. The Banham commission report in 1994 in favour of abolishing the county, save for ceremonial purposes, was not accepted: the county survived, though Milton Keynes was made a unitary authority.

J. A. Cannon


views updated May 14 2018

Buckinghamshire County in se central England; the county town is Aylesbury. In the Vale of Aylesbury to the n, cereal crops and beans are grown. Livestock and poultry are reared in the s. Industries: furniture, printing, building materials. Area: 1877sq km (725sq mi). Pop. (1996 est.) 474,600.

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