HIGH, or CHIPPING-WYCOMBE, a large market town, 29 miles from London, on the road to Oxford, lies within the hundred of Desborough, and in the deanery to which it gives name. The market, which is on Fridays, has been held from time immemorial: it is a great mart for corn and other articles. There is only one annual fair, the Monday before Michaelmas. The town, which is much the handsomest in the county, is situated on the banks of a small tiver, which rises at West-Wycombe, and in its course through this parish, turns several corn and paper mills. High-Wycombe has sent members to parliament since the year 1300; the right of election is vested in the mayor, aldermen, bailiffs, and burgesses, the number of which at present is about 180. Edmund Waller, the poet, was one of the representatives of this borough in 1625: the brave Sir Edmund Verney, King Charles's standard bearer, who fell at the battle of Edghill, was elected in the parliaments of 1639 and 1640: Thomas Scott the regicide, was one of the representatives during the protectorate of Cromwell. The town appears to have been first incorporated in 1461, but the mayor and aldermen are mentioned in a record of the reign of Edward III.: The earliest charter now existing among the records of the corporation, bears date 1586. The corporation consists of a mayor, twelve aldermen, a recorder, and other officers; the office of High Steward was annulled by the charter of King Charles II. but has since that time by virtue of former charters been held by the Earl of Bridgwater, Lord Chancellor Jefferies, and the Marquis of Wharton. The town-hall (situated in the high-street) is a brick structure on stone pillars, built in 1757 at the expence of John Earl of Shelbourne: in this hall are held the sessions for the town and other public meetings. The assizes for the county were held at High-Wycombe eleven times between the years 1683 and 1712. By the returns made to parliament under the population act in 1801, it appears that the town of High-Wycombe then contained 458 houses and 2349 inhabitants; of these 1088 were males and 1261 females: 58 persons only are described as chiefly employed in agriculture, and 386 in trade, manufactures, and handicraft. The whole number of houses in the town and parish appear to have been 836: the whole number of inhabitants 4248: the proportion of males 1943; of females 2305; the number of persons employed chiefly in agriculture 282, of those employed in trade, manufacture, and handicraft 724.
The only historical fact which has occurred relating to this town is a successful attack made by Prince Rupert on the parliamentary quarters at Wycombe in 1643, soon after the battle of Reading.
The manor of High-Wycombe was the property of Robert D'Oyley one of the followers of William the Conqueror, who acquired it by marriage with the daughter of Wigod de Wallingford. Robert Doyley's daughter and heir married Milo Crispin and afterwards Brien Fitzcount. She and her second husband having both assumed the habit of religion, the King (Henry II.) took possession of their estates, and gave this manor to his natural son Geoffey Archbishop of York. In 1203, the greater part of the manor which afterwards acquired the name of Bassetsbury, was granted to Alan Basset, Lord Basset of Wycombe, from whose family it passed by a female heir to the Despencers, and in 1326 reverted to the crown by attainder. In 1332, it was granted to William de Bohun, and on a partition of the inheritance of that noble family in 1421, became again vested in the crown. King Edward IV. gave it in 1479 to the church of Windsor. The lease of this manor became vested in the Dashwoods about the beginning of the last century: the present lessee is Sir John Dashwood King bart.
Robert Vipont, to whom a part of the manor of Wycombe was granted by King John, gave it to the Knights-Templars. This estate, now the manor Temple-Wycombe, upon the abolition of that order, was given with most of their possessions to the Knights-Hospitallers. After the reformation it was granted (in 1552) to John Cock. This manor, the manor of Loakes (which, in 1483, had been the property of Robert Bardsey,) and the manor of Windsors or Chapel fee, which had been in the Windsors and afterwards in the family of Welles, were purchased by the Archdales in the early part of the 17th century, and having continued in that family till the year 1700 were sold by Thomas Archdale esq. to Henry Petty, Lord Shelburne (afterwards Earl of Shelburne,) who bequeathed all his estates to his nephew John Fitzmaurice esq. created Earl of Shelburne in 1753, and Baron of Chipping-Wycombe in 1760. His son, who was in 1784 created Earl Wycombe of Chipping-Wycombe and Marquis of Lansdown, sold these manors by auction in lots, which were soon afterwards (about the year 1795) all purchased by the present proprietor Lord Carrington.
The manor house of Loakes, which is situated near the town, was formerly the seat of the Archdales: it was considerably enlarged and improved by Lord Shelburne: the Marquis of Lansdown bestowed much cost in laying out the gardens and pleasure grounds. The house has been almost wholly rebuilt by the present noble owner in the Gothic style from the designs of Mr. Wyatt: it is now called Wycombe-Abbey. The small river which passes through this parish runs through the pleasure grounds to which it is a great ornament.
The parish church is said by Mr. Langley in his history of the hundred of Desborough to have been built in 1273: in the appendix he quotes the authority of Wharton's Anglia Sacra for its having been built and dedicated in the reign of Henry II. The present fabric is certainly of a much later date than either of those periods. Mr. Langley says that the tower was built in 1522; and ornamented with pinnacles at the expence of John Earl of Shelburne about the year 1755. Between the aisle of the church and the chancel is an ancient oak screen, which by an inscription on the north side appears to have been put up in 1460 at the expence of the family of Redhode, or Redhead. William Redhead the son was mayor of Wycombe in 1476. The altar piece painted by Mortimer represents St. Paul converting the Druids: it was given to the church by Dr. Bates of Little Missenden. In the chancel is the monument of Henry Petty, Earl of Shelburne, who died in 1751, by Scheemakers, erected at the expence of 2000 l. bequeathed by him for that purpose. The effigies of the deceased is represented lying on a sarcophagus of black marble ornamented with several emblematical figures and a medallion of the celebrated Sir William Petty, the earl's father. In the South aisle is a very handsome monument for Sophia Countess of Shelburne (first wife of the late Marquis) who died in 1771, with a female figure reclining on an urn, by Carlini. There are memorials in the church for the families of Archdale, Lluelyn, Shrimpton, and Bradshaw. William Bradshaw, who died in 1614, was 103 years of age. In the church yard is the tomb of Robert Williams the late sexton, who died in 1793 at the age of 102.
The rectory of High-Wycombe, which was formerly appropriated to the priory of Godstow, is now the property of Samuel Welles esq. in whose family it has been for several years. Lord Carrington is patron the vicarage, the advowson of which had belonged to the Archdales and to the Shelburne family. Dr. Gumble who wrote the life of General Monk, and is supposed to have assisted him in concerting the measures which led to the restoration of King Charles II. was vicar of High-Wycombe.
The principal hamlets in this parish are the Marsh, Flackwell-heath, and Loudwater. At the latter is a chapel of ease, founded by Mr. Davis in 1791, and endowed with lands of the value of 40 l. per annum.
High-Wycombe is at present the residence of the senior department of the Royal Military College, established in the year 1799, under the superintendance of Major-General Le Marchant, the Lieutenant-Governor, to whom the nation is indebted for the first suggestion of this very useful and laudable institution. The establishment is divided into two departments, one of which, called the first, or senior department, has hitherto been placed at High-Wycombe; the other, being the second, or junior department, at Great-Marlow; but it is intended to remove both, when the building about to be erected for their reception at Sandhurst, in Berkshire, shall be completed. This institution embraces a complete system of military education; the junior department is intended for the education of young persons, destined for the military profession, from the age of thirteen: the sons of those meritorious officers, either in the land or sea service, who have fallen or been disabled in the service of their country, and have left their families in need of pecuniary support; and the sons of all subaltern officers serving in the army, are boarded, educated and supplied with clothing free of expence: the sons of captains and other officers are paid for according to their father's rank; the sons of Noblemen and gentlemen, young persons intended for the engineer or artillery service, and cadets in the service of the East India Company pay ninety guineas per annum for their education, boarding, and clothing.
The first, or senior department of the college, which is placed at High-Wycombe, is intended exclusively for the instruction of such officers as are desirious of qualifying themselves to serve in the general staff, and it is necessary, that previously to their admission they shall have served four years with their regiment, and be thoroughly conversant with the interior care of a company, and their duty in the field.
There was formerly a hospital for lepers in this town dedicated to St. Margaret and St. Giles, which was founded before the year 1229. Another hospital dedicated to St. John the Baptist appears to have been founded before 1235: a record of the year 1344 speaks of it as in the patronage of the mayor and burgesses: it was granted by Queen Elizabeth to the corporation, and the lands are now applied to the maintenance of a hospital for poor people and a grammar school. Mr. Bowden, who died in 1790, gave the sum of 1000 l. to be laid out in the funds for the purpose of paying 30 l. per annum, in addition to the salary of the master, who receives the same sum from the hospital estate and has a house and garden with an orchard of two acres. The remainder of the produce of Mr. Bowden's donation is to be given to the poor of the hospital, in which there are now eight poor widows who receive 2s. a week each from the hospital chamberlain.
The learned William Alley, one of the translators of the Bible, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who was promoted to the bishopric of Exeter in 1560 and died in 1570, was a native of this town. Charles Butler, author of a treatise on Rhetorick, and the Female Monarchy, or a treatise on bees, was also a native of High-Wycombe.