OLNEY, in the hundred and deanery of Newport, lies in the north part of the county, near the borders of Northamptonshire, 56 miles distant from London. It has a small market on Mondays, and two annual fairs, Easter Monday, and June 29. That on the 29th of June, being the festival of St. Peter, was granted in the year 1315. A fire happened in this town in the year 1786, when forty-three houses were burnt down. According to the returns made to parliament under the population act in 1801, the town of Olney then contained 451 houses, of which 444 were inhabited: the number of inhabitants was 2003; of these, 872 were males, and 1131 females: sixty-six persons were chiefly employed in agriculture, and 1928 in trade, manufacture, and handicraft. Lace-making is carried on to a great extent in this town and neighbourhood.
The manor was anciently in the Earls of Chester, from whom it passed successively to the families of Albini and Basset. Upon the attainder of Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who was one of the co-heirs of the Bassets, it was granted in 1397 to Thomas Moubray, afterwards created Duke of Norfolk; and upon his banishment, the reversion, after the death of Lady Basset, to whom this manor had been assigned in dower, was granted to Edward Duke of York, who fell at the battle of Agincourt: dying without male issue, this manor reverted to the crown, and was not alienated till the year 1638, when it was sold by King Charles I. to certain citizens of London. It now belongs to the Earl of Dartmouth, having been inherited from his mother, the late Countess Dowager, heiress of Sir Charles Gunter Nicholl, in whose family it had been a considerable time. The manor of Warrington, a hamlet of this parish, which was given by Lord Basset of Drayton to the neighbouring abbey of Lavendon, has of late years been held with Olney, to which it had formerly been annexed before Lord Basset's donation.
The church is a handsome Gothic building, with a stone spire, 185 feet in height. There was formerly a chapel in the church-yard, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, in which was a chantry, founded by Lord Basset. The great tithes of Olney were appropriated to the abbess and convent of Sion. In 1620, Sir Robert Gorges, being then impropriator and patron, endowed the vicarage with a stipend of 46 l. 13s. 4d. per annum, charged on the great tithes, in addition to the ancient stipend, which was only 20 marks. The rectory and aadvowson were afterwards in the family of Johnson, from whom they passed to the Nicholls, and are now the property of the Earl of Dartmouth. Moses Browne, author of Piscatory Eclogues, and other works, who, from the humble occupation of a pen-cutter, rose by his own merit to the station of a respectable divine of the Church of England, was vicar of Olney. Cowper the poet resided for some time at Olney, from whence he removed to the neighbouring village of Weston-Underwood.
The parish of Olney has been inclosed by an act of parliament passed in 1767; when an allotment was assigned to the impropriator in lieu of tithes and the vicar's stipend was increased to 70 l.