People have lived in Olney from the days of the Roman Empire. In Saxon times, Olney was mentioned in a Charter of 979 AD as Ollanege (which is thought to mean 'Ola's Island'). Olney belonged to a descendant of the King of Mercia before becoming part of the Viking lands.
Following the Conquest in 1066, Olney, or Olnei, was mentioned in the Domesday Book. A loyal supporter of King William The Conqueror was granted lands, including Olney. Upon the King's death, he backed the wrong man to succeed the King and was stripped of the land.
The Battle of Olney in 1643 is a famous chapter in the story of Olney's history. During the Civil War between the Royalists and Parliamentarians, the latter held the area around Olney; Prince Rupert held Northampton for the King. Prince Rupert and his troops suprised the Olney forces and the Parliamentarians retreated to the bridge. Theirs was a defiant stand and they might have won decisively, but for a rumour that Cromwell's reinforcements were seen coming from Newport Pagnell. The Royalists retreated and the battle was over.
The remains of some of those who died in battle were discovered in the last century and were re-buried in the Olney churchyard. The Battle of Olney Bridge is commemorated on a recently installed plaque in Emberton Park.
During the 18th Century, Olney was a staging post for travellers. Horse-drawn coaches passed through taking people between Kettering and the Newport Pagnell Turnpike. It is said that by 1754 there were 27 inns in the town. This was also the home of poet William Cowper and writer, curate John Newton who wrote the 'Olney Hymns' together. See the entry on the Cowper and Newton Museum for more information.
During the 19th Century, Olney was a poor community hit by outbreaks of cholera and smallpox. The census shows people employed in farming, shoemaking and lace industries or in shops or businesses like butchery, bakery, brewing, carpentry and building.