A TOUR OF THE MARKET PLACE ITSELF
Olney's market was held each Monday until the mid 18th century but during the second half of the 19th century it fell into a decline. Later the market was held fortnightly on Thursdays, and the Cattle Market revived and held again on Mondays. The general market was still held on Thursdays. The last cattle market was held in April 1987 and the last Fat Stock Show took place in 1986.
Originally the Lord of the Manor received the rents from the Market, but when part of Olney Court Estate was sold in 1941, Lot 6, entitled 'Manorial Rights of Fair and Market belonging to the Manor of Olney' was acquired by the then Parish Council.
Concerts and meetings were also held on the Market Place, it being the ideal gathering place for the townsfolk.
Olney's triangular Market Place, sometimes wrongly called 'Square' and even 'Hill', was resurfaced around 1780, thanks to the generosity of Daniel Raban, a baker. William Cowper, the poet who lived for 19 years in a house overlooking the Market Place records the resurfacing in one of his letters to John Newton dated February 1782.
In more recent times, Tom Garner (draper) left a thousand pounds in his will towards the resurfacing of the Market Place, which was completed in the early 1960's. This improvement was the salvation of the modern market, resurrecting it from two stalls to a waiting list of traders wanting pitches on Olney's Thursday market.
Another feature was the Shiel Hall, a two storied building, the upper part of which was reached at the northern end, by a double flight of steps. A blacksmith's forge occupied the southern end. The building was used as a 'town hall' and a school, which was run by the eccentric Samuel Teedon. The Shiel Hall was taken down around 1816.
To the east of the Shiel Hall was the third significant building, the Round House or Lock Up, a small hexagonal building. The distance from the Round House to the High Arch (near the United Reformed Church) was the ancient whipping distance in Olney. The Round House was taken down about 1846 and re-erected for a short time further down the High Street. All that remains today is the stone ball that topped it, which is now in the Museum Yard.
Originally there were three elm trees on the Market Place, said to commemorate the union of the three kingdoms (England, Scotland and Ireland) in the reign of James the First. Under them stood the stocks. One tree disappeared before 1800, another was blown down about 1832, and the third was damaged by a bad storm on 4 July 1884 but recovered and continued to flourish until around the end of the nineteen forties. Seven Linden trees were planted around the Market Place during the late 1800s to compensate for the eventual demise of the elm tree.
In the 18th century, along the eastern side of the Market Place itself was once a row of untidy buildings, running from opposite the poet's house towards the Round House. These were (a) a yard belonging to Lawrence Spencer, (b) a Butcher, and (c) John Bent of the Horse and Jockey. It is thought that they were not demolished until the early 19th century. The Kettering to London Turnpike road ran along the western side of the Market Place while the southern side was known as 'The Parade'.