Winslow is a small market town on the road from Aylesbury to Buckingham. It is noteworthy for having been given by Offa, King of Mercia, by charter of 782 as an endowment for St Albans Abbey. The precise extent of the land given by Offa was not known until 1993 when a copy of the St Albans Cartulary, with Anglo Saxon additions giving boundaries of several Abbey estates, was found in the National Library in Brussels. The Winslow text mentions forty landmarks which can still be traced and includes the ‘Swanaburnan’, the stream which forms the boundary between Winslow and Swanbourne at Shipton Bridge.
The principal road in Winslow once ran east to west and the oldest houses are therefore found along Sheep Street and Horn Street. The Abbot of St Albans secured the market charter in 1235 and carved out a market place from Horn Street and the Churchyard. He even laid out a New Town, once called Cow Street and then, more politely, High Street but little remains of his grange at Biggin, where the manor courts were held, except a dried up moat.
A feature of the town is Winslow Hall, built in 1700 by William Lowndes, the local boy who made his fortune in London and rose to be Secretary of the Treasury. His grandfather had made ploughshares and kept the Angel Inn in Market Square. How he must have shocked his contemporaries as he bought the farms on Sheep Street only to demolish them to improve his view towards Granborough!
The Lowndes family not only changed the town but transformed the landscape. Their enclosure of the open fields of Shipton in 1745 and Winslow in 1767 meant that all the land which the farmers had cultivated in common was re-allocated and quick-set hedges laid around the new allotments. Furze Lane was created to give access to several small allotments. Verney Road replaced the old route to Addington and the road from Swanbourne to Buckingham, which had bypassed the town, was blocked in order to divert traffic through Market Square.
The old coach road from Aylesbury, which followed a Roman road from Quarrendon to Granborough and then headed for Buckingham via East Claydon, was diverted through Whitchurch and Winslow in 1745. This gave a boost to trade in the town, where the Banbury Coach stopped at the Bell Inn. Winslow may not have been a significant market but it was certainly home to a large number of wealthy professional people serving the gentry of the surrounding villages. At any given time there would be two or three doctors, several attorneys and more than one surveyor, all of them occupying large houses near to the Market Square.
Central Government was responsible for the next major change in Winslow. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act brought about the sale of village poorhouses and their replacement by Union Workhouses in the larger towns. Winslow became the centre of a Union and a grim new Workhouse serving the town and neighbouring villages was built on Buckingham Road. A Board of Guardians was elected to run the Workhouse and the Rural Sanitary Authority was formed in 1872 as a sub-committee. The Sanitary Authority was replaced in 1894 by a Rural District Council whose main legacy was the building of solid new houses to rent at Western Lane, Tinkers End, Demoram Close, Burley’s Road, Missenden Road and Verney Road. These authorities were to provide for general housing needs and those displaced by slum clearance.
The northern part of the town was developed in the Victorian period with the building of the Workhouse in 1837 and the laying out of a new road to the station in 1850. The railway brought no industry to the town but it did provide a route to London for local dairy products. The railway also made Winslow accessible to the London sporting fraternity who kept hunting boxes in the town. Hunting boxes were country houses where the wealthy employed resident grooms to keep their horses in readiness for their owners to join the local hunts. Whenever a large house came on the market, the agents stressed its proximity to the station and the town’s convenience for the meets of the Whaddon Chase, Bicester and Duke of Grafton’s foxhounds. The station closed in the 1960s.
The town’s population rose from 1,100 at the beginning of the nineteenth century to 1,890 in 1861 but then declined to 1,500 by the Second World War. Housing development in the last three decades has seen the population increase to more than 4,500 and there is now talk of re-opening the railway.
To find out more about the history of Winslow visit www.winslow-history.org.uk
Kind acknowledgements to T. Foley & J. Hunt