An attractive if relatively obscure market town, Olney was an important centre for bobbin lace-making for several hundred years. Still rustic but increasingly popular, it is primarily a dormitory community serving several large towns and the capital. It is in the middle of, and roughly equidistant to, Northampton, Wellingborough, Bedford and Milton Keynes - some 10 miles from each. Due to these towns and their train stations, and the M1, London commuters also find it convenient.
Olney has an extensive shopping parade and many large, 17th-century houses in a conservation area. It also has a fair sprinkling of Victorian and Edwardian houses, factory conversions and new executive homes. Nearby villages such as Lavendon, Weston Underwood, Emberton and Clifton Reynes have some new homes but are primarily period and protected.
The town's most prominent structure is its 14th-century parish church of St Peter and St Paul, where the "Olney Hymns" were first sung. They were composed by the poet William Cowper, who lived in Olney between 1767 and 1786, and the curate John Newton, an erstwhile slave-trader. The church plays a role in Olney's main claim to fame, its annual Shrove Tuesday pancake race. Local women in traditional costume run a 415-metre course while holding a frying pan containing a pancake. The winner tosses her pancake and gets a kiss of peace from the verger. The event ends with a church service.
After a recent period of steady growth, Olney is now home to around 6,000 people. "Our main buyers are families, many from London," says Stephen Webb of Taylors Countrywide. "Some buy a primary home, others come for weekends. We are near the M1, and it is only about an hour to Kings Cross."
The Lavendon-based portrait photographer Pam Harper says that "about 750,000 people live within a half-hour drive of my studio, and this is a fairly moneyed area. My husband Mike is a keen amateur photographer who works in Milton Keynes and flies frequently to Germany. It is ideal for him too. His daily commute is short, and Birmingham Airport is convenient for his foreign trips." The Harpers bought one of five new large executive homes built seven years ago.
What kind of homes are available here?
One-bed flats and cottages start at about £120,000, two-bed cottages from £145,000, and four-beds from £250,000. Detached double-fronted Edwardian houses start at about £450,000, and large Grade-II-listed three-storey Georgian houses in the High Street conservation area in good nick cost between £650,000 and £750,000. Wimpey's Shrove Meadows contains two-bed flats and four- and five-bed houses a mile from Olney centre, from £279,995 to £479,995.
What do small properties cost, then?
A one-bed refurbished cottage with a garden near the town centre is £129,995, and a two-bed end-terrace with garden is £158,000, at Stephen Oakley. A two- double-bed red-brick period cottage with a feature fireplace is £184,950 at Taylors Countrywide.
What about houses?
A refurbished Victorian town-house in the conservation area has two bedrooms on the first floor, a third bedroom with shower room in the loft, and a private rear courtyard garden; £215,000 at Stephen Oakley and Bairstow Eves. A spacious four-bed detached house with large garden, single garage and off-road parking for two vehicles is around £330,000 at Van Weenen's. A striking new three-storey town-house has a large balcony overlooking the River Ouse and water meadows; £450,000 with several agents.
How's the transport?
Olney is six miles north of exit 14 of the M1 on the A509 between Newport Pagnell and Wellingborough. To the east and west are Bedford and Northampton, on the A428. Olney is convenient for Luton Airport as well as Birmingham Airport.
And the shopping?
Olney High Street fulfils daily needs and then some, with a small Co-op, antique and oriental carpet shops, fashion boutiques, several restaurants, a saddlery and other independent stores. Thursday is market day and there's a monthly farmers' market, too.
What about the great outdoors?
Emberton Park, which was created from disused gravel pits, has an angling lake, children's playgrounds, a caravan and camping park and a sailing club.
How are the local schools?
Olney has a High Street school for pre-schoolers, and an infants' and middle school, and should have had its own secondary school by now. But Olney pupils are still continuing to rely on Ousedale secondary in nearby Newport Pagnell. Many local children attend independent schools.
And one for the pub quiz
Which famous hymn is one of the Olney Hymns?
Answer: "Amazing Grace"
Stephen Oakley, 01234 711 800; Taylors Countrywide, 01234 713 333; Van Weenen's, 01234 714 003Reuse content