In 1854 Olney suffered a fire that is believed to have started on the western side of the High Street. It was reported in 'The Illustrated London News' as a "destructive and calamitous conflagration". The report continued:
"From house to house the burning masses continued to be borne by the wind, till several dwellings and outbuildings, barns, and two or three farm-yards, were enveloped in flames. The three parish engines, aided by two from Newport Pagnell, and one from Yardley Hastings, all worked by able and willing hands, did their utmost, but could not be ubiquitous; and the fire made its way from ridge to ridge, till some twenty or thirty houses on the eastern side and some ten or twelve opposite, together with a considerable number of buildings in the rear, outbuildings, and a large quantity of hay, beans &c., were destroyed, or rendered useless; one-sixth of the whole number of houses in the town being burnt down or seriously damaged".
In 1872 the opening of the Northampton to Bedford railway line allowed people to seek better pay in the industries in those towns. With greater industrialisation, shoe factories were built in the town and replaced the small cottage workshops. A shoe industry of sorts continued after Word War I until the 1960's. Olney is now a vibrant market town, with many people commuting to nearby towns for work. It's famous for the yearly pancake race which started here hundreds of years ago. Many local people know it as a place with a strong sense of community and as a safe and prosperous town to live.
Sources and Acknowledegments:
Olney and District Historical Society provides a fantastic resource for those wanting to find out more, inlcuding an online historical tour in pictures, articles and first person accounts about Olney. Link at www.mkheritage.co.uk/odhs/index.html