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Watlington is a market town lying about 7 miles (11 km) south of Thame and approximately 2.5 miles (4 km) from junction 6 of the M40 motorway. St Leonard's Church dates from the 12th century and the 17th century Town Hall is Grade II* listed. Other buildings dating from the 17th century are concealed under frontages added in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The area is likely to have been settled at an early date, encouraged by the proximity of the Icknield Way. A 9th-century charter by Æthelred of Mercia mentions eight 'manses' or major dwellings in Watlington. In 1086, The Domesday Book 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, if not earlier.
In 1722 the town's market was listed as being held on a Saturday. Despite no longer having a market, Watlington is great venue for shopping offering a wide range of speciality foods and goods, from cheese, to cookware, homeware and antiques.
There are records of inns in Watlington since the 15th century. 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. Three inns now remain in the town.
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 1872 the Watlington and Princes Risborough Railway was opened. In 1883 the Great Western Railway took over control of the line, but by 1957 British Railways had closed Watlington station and withdrew all passenger services between Watlington and Chinnor. In 1961 BR withdrew all services from the line, the track was lifted and the line left abandoned. The Watlington railway station site remains, as does the station building, the corrugated iron carriage shed, and the brickwork of the goods shed. The line served the people of Watlington and the surrounding villages for 89 years.
By 1895 the Town Hall, no longer used as a school, was in disrepair. In 1907 it was restored by public subscription. It forms a landmark at the meeting point of three roads in the centre of the town.
The Ridgeway National Trail walking route, which forms part of the longer Icknield Way (one of the oldest roads in Britain) passes southeast of the town along the top of the Chiltern Hills.
Claim to Fame:
The Watlington White Mark 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 had this unusual folly cut into the chalk escarpment of Watlington Hill in 1764. It is 36 feet (11 m) wide at its base and 270 feet (82 m) long.
Things to do around Watlington:
There are several beautiful walks in and around Watlington. There are also suggested on and off road cycle routes and local wildlife information which are all available to download here. For more information please see www.watlington.org
Image of St Leonards Church Tower Watlington © Copyright Steve Daniels and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.