Watlington Town and Market Hall
|Area||14.55 km2 (5.62 sq mi)|
|Population||2,727 (parish, 2011 Census)|
|• Density||187/km2 (480/sq mi)|
|OS grid reference|
|• London||43 mi (69 km)|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||South East England|
|Website||Watlington Parish Council|
Watlington is a market town and civil parish about 7 miles (11 km) south of Thame in Oxfordshire, near the county's eastern edge and less than 2 miles (3 km) from its border with Buckinghamshire. The parish includes the hamlets of Christmas Common, Greenfield and Howe Hill, all of which are in the Chiltern Hills. The 2011 Census recorded the parish's population as 2,727.
The Watlington area is likely to have been settled at an early date, encouraged by the proximity of the Icknield Way. The toponym means "settlement of Waecel's people" and indicates occupation from around the 6th century. A 9th-century charter by Æthelred of Mercia records eight 'manses' or major dwellings in Watlington. The Domesday Book of 1086 identified the area as an agricultural community valued at £610. Medieval documents indicate that the modern street plan was in existence in the 14th century, as Cochynes-lane (Couching Street), and Brook Street are recorded.
There are records of inns in Watlington since the 15th century. In 1722 the town's market was listed as being held on a Saturday. By the end of the 18th century the town had six inns, all of which were bought up in the next few years by a local brewing family, the Haywards. The number of licensed premises increased until late in the 19th century when George Wilkinson, a Methodist bought six of them and closed them down. Today Watlington has three public houses: the Carriers Arms, The Chequers and The Fat Fox Inn.
In 1664–65 the Town Hall was built at the expense of Thomas Stonor. Its upper room was endowed by Stonor as a grammar school for boys, and in 1731 Dame Alice Tipping of Ewelme gave a further endowment to increase the number of pupils. In 1842 the town Vestry established a National School, which shared the same rooms in the Town Hall. In 1843 a National School for girls was built next to St Leonard's church. In 1872 the boys' and girls' schools were absorbed into a new Board school, which like its predecessors was affiliated to the National Society for Promoting Religious Education. In 1927 the school was divided into separate junior and senior schools. In 1956 a new secondary school – the Icknield School – opened for senior pupils and the primary school took over the old premises. The Icknield School is now Icknield Community College.
By 1895 the Town Hall, no longer used as a school, was in disrepair. In 1907 it was restored by public subscription. It is a landmark at the meeting point of three roads in the centre of the town.
The Watlington Hoard, a collection of silver items dating back to the time of Alfred the Great in the 9th century, was rediscovered in Watlington by James Mather, an amateur metal-detectorist, in 2015. The hoard was subsequently excavated, and eventually purchased by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford for £1.35m.
Due to its close proximity and easy access to the Chilterns, Watlington is a popular gateway to the many outdoor activities in the area, including hill walking, cycling and birdwatching, especially of the red kite, which is well established in the vicinity.
The Watlington White Mark is cut into the chalk soil of Watlington Hill. This was designed by local squire Edward Horne, who felt that the parish church of St Leonard, when viewed from his home, would be more impressive if it appeared to have a spire. He therefore had this unusual folly cut into the chalk soil in 1764, and it continues to this day to be maintained by the local residents. The mark is 36 feet (11 m) wide at its base and 270 feet (82 m) long.
Church of England
The oldest parts of the Church of England parish church of St Leonard are Norman, including a diapered tympanum that was over the north door until this was dismantled for the building of the north aisle. The church was extensively rebuilt in the 14th century, and the arcade of the south aisle survives from this period. The south chapel is 15th century, built for Maud Warner as a memorial for her husband Richard, a woolman. The tower is also Mediaeval. A few Decorated Gothic and Perpendicular Gothic windows survive, but in the 1870s some were moved to different positions within the church.
In 1763 Edward Horne, a local landowner, obtained permission to build a burial vault east of the Warner chapel and south of the chancel. In 1877 the architects H.J. Tollit and Edwin Dolby restored St Leonard's. The church is a Grade II* listed building.
The west tower had a ring of six bells until 1909, when two recently cast ones were hung and increased it to eight. Henry I Knight of Reading, Berkshire cast the fourth bell in 1587. Ellis I Knight cast the sixth bell in 1635. Henry II Knight cast the third and fifth bells in 1663. Charles and John Rudhall of Gloucester cast the seventh bell in 1785. Mears and Stainbank of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast the tenor bell in 1869 and the treble and second bells in 1905.
During the English Reformation Oxfordshire had numerous recusant Roman Catholics. In 1549 William Grey, 13th Baron Grey de Wilton was sent to Oxfordshire with 1,500 troops to enforce the Reformation. Grey ordered William Boolar, a Catholic of Watlington, to be hanged as an example. Despite persecution, a number of local landowning families including the Stonors remained Catholic, and they and their chaplains supported small numbers of other Catholics in the area.
During the 17th and 18th centuries several nonconformist denominations existed in Watlington, with Quakers, Baptists and Seventh Day Baptists most prominent in different periods. Methodist preachers visited Watlington by invitation from 1764, with John Wesley himself preaching in the town in 1766, 1774 and 1775.
Early years and primary education in Watlington is provided by Watlington Primary School.
Icknield Community College does not provide sixth form education, and instead works with three partnership schools in the area, Henley College in Henley-on-Thames, Lord Williams's School in Thame, and Wallingford School in Wallingford, as well as sending students to many other sixth forms and colleges in the area.
In popular culture
The M40 motorway is about 2 1⁄2 miles (4 km) from Watlington, with access at junctions 5 and 6.
Bus routes serving Watlington have been reduced in the 2010s because of funding cuts by Oxfordshire County Council. Earlier services to Thame, Wallingford and Reading have been discontinued. The only remaining service is the Thames Travel route T1 between Chinnor and Oxford, calling at Watlington, although services only extend to Oxford city centre at peak times, otherwise terminating at Cowley. There are no evening or Sunday bus services.
In 1872 the Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway was opened. Its Watlington terminus is in fact in Pyrton parish, 1⁄2 mile (800 m) from Watlington. In 1883 the Great Western Railway took over control of the line. In 1957 British Railways closed Watlington station and withdrew all passenger services between Watlington and Chinnor, which was still being used by the local Chinnor Cement Works. In 1961 BR withdrew all services from the line, the track was lifted and the line left abandoned. Watlington railway station site remains, as does the station building, the corrugated iron carriage shed, and the brickwork of the goods shed.
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