GREAT MARLOW, in the hundred of Desborough and deanery of Wycombe, distant about 31 miles from London, has been a market town by long prescription, as appears from its ancient name of Chipping-Marlow. It sent members of parliament as early as the year 1299, but after the year 1308, this ancient privilege was disused until 1622, when it was restored by act of parliament. The right of election is in the inhabitants paying scot and lot: the government of the town is vested in constables, who are the returning officers. In the year 1599, John Rotheram, of Seymours, in this parish, left the sum of 40 l. towards procuring a charter of incorporation, and reviving a market to be kept weekly, the profits of which should be vested in the corporation; but his intention never took effect. The market, which appears to have been then discontinued, has been revived, and is held on Saturdays. In 1324, Hugh de Spencer had a grant of a fair at Marlow. There are now two fairs held, on the second and third of May, and the 29th of October. The latter is a great fair for horses. The town and parish of Great Marlow, according to the returns made to parliament, under the population act in 1801, then contained 643 houses, of which 26 were uninhabited. The number of inhabitants was 3236, of whom 1436 were males, 1800 females: the number of persons employed chiefly in agriculture, was 236, and those in trade, manufacture, and handicraft, 306.
The manor of Marlow, which had belonged to the Earls of Mercia, was given by William the Conqueror, to his Queen Matilda. Henry the First, bestowed it on his natural son, Robert de Melhent, afterwards Earl of Gloucester, from whom it passed, with that title, to the Clares and Despencers, and from the latter, by female heirs, to the Beauchamps and Nevilles, Earls of Warwick. It continued in the crown from the time of Richard the Third's marriage with Anne Neville, till Queen Mary granted it to William Lord Paget, in whose family it continued more than a century; after which, it passed, by purchase, to Sir Humphrey Winch, in 1670; to Lord Falkland in 1686; to Sir James Etheridge in 1690; to Sir John Guise in 1718; and to Sir William Clayton in 1736. It is now the property of Sir William Clayton bart. a descendant of the last purchaser.
Harleyford, the seat of Sir William Clayton, was formerly a distinct manor, belonging to the family of Cawood. It was annexed to the manor of Marlow, by the first Lord Paget, who made it one of his seats. His great grandson, William Lord Paget, resided here during the civil war. Harleyford has continued to be the residence of the subsequent proprietors of the manor, most of whom have represented the borough of Marlow in parliament. Sir James Etheridge was one of its members during the whole of King William's reign. The old mansion, which was very spacious, was pulled down in the year 1755; and the present house, which stands in a singularly beautiful situation on the banks of the Thames, was then built, after a design of Sir Robert Taylor.
The manor of Widmer, in this parish, belonged to the knights templars, and after the dissolution of their order, to the knights hospitallers. After the reformation it belonged for some time to the Widmers, an ancient family, who seem to have taken their name from the place, and it is probable, had been tenants under the hospitallers. About the year 1634, it was purchased by the Borlases, from whom it passed, by marriage, to the Grenvilles. The late Earl Temple sold it, about the year 1747, to Mr. Moore, of whom it was purchased in 1766, by William Clayton esq. father of Sir William Clayton bart. who is the present proprietor. Part of the manor-house (now a farm) is very ancient. The chapel has been converted into a brew-house.
The manor of Seymours, in this parish, belonged to the noble family of that name, and was given by them in exchange, to the dean and chapter of Bristol, under whom it was successively held on lease, by the Willoughbys of Woollaton, and the Earls of Powis. They resided occasionally in the manor-house, till the great civil war, when it was nealy destroyed. The lease continued in the Powis family till after the death of the Marquis of Powis, in 1748. It is now vested in Mr. Johnson.
Court-Garden, the seat of Richard Davenport esq. belonged to the noble family of Paget, and was reserved by them long after the manor had been alienated. In 1748 it was sold by Henry, Earl of Uxbridge, to Dr. Battie, an eminent physician, who built the house.
The parish church of Marlow is a spacious Gothic structure, and has a wooden spire, erected in 1627: between the nave and chancel, is a screen of chalk, with Gothic tracery. A neat baptistry was fitted up, and a new marble font given by the late vicar, Dr. Cleobury. The most remarkable monuments are those of Sir Miles Hobart, one of the members for this borough, who was killed by the over turning of his coach, as it was going down Holborn-hill, in 1632; and Katherine, wife of Sir William Willoughby, who was sheriff of the county in 1603. There are some memorials for the families of Clayton, Chase, &c. In the chancel are a few brass plates, one of which commemorates some children of Sir John Salisbury, who died in 1383.
The rectory was appropriated by John Russell, bishop of Lincoln, in 1494, to the abbot and convent of Tewksbury, after the dissolution of which monastery it was given to the dean and chapter of Gloucester, together with advowson of the vicarage. Part of the ancient rectorial house still remains, the great hall is now used as a kitchen. The sum of 80 .l per annum is paid to the vicar out of the impropriation. Mrs. Hawes, in 1749, gave a rent-charge of 10 l. per annum to the vicar. Mr. Drewe gave 20 l. per annum for a lecture on Tuesdays or Thursdays. This lectureship has been usually held by the vicar. Anthony Ellys, bishop of St. David's, was vicar of Marlow from 1729 to 1753.
The book of church-wardens' accounts in this parish, makes mention of a sum of money, disbursed for throwing in the bulwarks about the church and in Duck-lane, and cleaning after the soldiers had been quartered in it, in 1642. This was, when the parliamentary army, under the command of Major-General Brown, was quartered at Marlow. The sum of five shillings appears to have been paid to the ringers, when the unfortunate monarch passed through the town as a prisoner, in 1647.
Sir William Borlase founded a free-school in Marlow, in the year 1624, for 24 boys, three of whom are to be of Medmenham, three of Little-Marlow, and the remainder of this town. The master has a salary of 16 l. per annum, a house, garden and a large pasture field. An apprentice fee of 40s. is given to each boy when he leaves the school. Sir William founded also a house of correction, and a school for 24 girls, who were to be taught to spin, sew, and make lace, but this institution has not been kept up.
John Brinkhurst, in 1608 founded alms-houses for four poor widows, two more have since been added, out of the savings of the estate, which now produces 42 l. per annum. There are several other benefactions belonging to the town, the most important is that of 1000 l. left by Mr. Loftin in 1759, for the purpose of apprenticing poor children.
There has been a bridge over the Thames at Marlow from a very early period. Mention is made of it in a record of the reign of Edward III. Part of Marlow bridge was destroyed by General Brown, when his army was quartered in the town in 1642, in consequence of which, parliament issued a warrant for a county rate to repair it. The present bridge, which is of wood, was built by subscription in the year 1789.
The second department [Footnote: Intended for the instruction of those who, at an early age, are designed for the military profession] of the Royal Military College, a more particular account of which will be found under High-Wycombe, has been for some years placed at Great Marlow; where it is intended to remain till the building about to be erected for the whole establishment, at Sandhurst, in Berkshire, shall be completed.