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
Buckinghamshire (bŭk´Ĭng-əmshĬr), Buckingham, or Bucks, county (1991 pop. 619,500), 727 sq mi (1,883 sq km), central England. The county seat is Aylesbury; the county is divided into four administrative districts: Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks, and Wycombe. The Thames River forms part of the southern boundary of the county. In S Buckinghamshire are the chalky Chiltern Hills with their beech forests; furniture made from beechwood is one of the county's most notable manufactures. The area is largely agricultural; barley, wheat, oats, and beans are the chief crops of the fertile Vale of Aylesbury in N Buckinghamshire. Cattle, pigs, sheep, and poultry are raised farther south. Industries have developed in Aylesbury, High Wycombe, and Wolverton.
In ancient times Icknield Street and Watling Street crossed the county, which has extensive Roman and pre-Roman remains. Thomas Gray is buried at Stoke Poges, in the country churchyard that inspired his "Elegy." John Milton had a cottage for a time at Chalfont St. Giles, and the poet William Cowper spent many years at Olney. Also in Buckinghamshire are Hughenden Manor, home of the statesman Benjamin Disraeli; Checquers, a historic Tudor mansion and residence of British prime ministers since 1921; and Eton College, England's most famous public school.