One of the places featured in the book Oxfordshire A Glorious County is Thame.
Thame has been described as the ‘Quintessential English Market Town’. It has been an important and prosperous market town for centuries with a High Street stretching for a mile and which is one of the widest in the country. The town has buildings of a variety of architectural styles, a large parish church, and associations with a number of famous people including John Hampden, James Figg, and Robin Gibb of Bee Gee fame who lived at the Prebendal with his wife.
During the English Civil War John Hampden, a Parliamentarian who had spent schooldays at the Grammar School in Thame, was brought here from Chalgrove Field after being critically injured in a skirmish to the Greyhound Inn where he died on 24th June 1643. The building is now known as Hampden House.
James Figg was born here in 1684 and went on to become the first bare fist Champion of England and the first Boxing coach. The Greyhound Inn became his headquarters.
The Bird Cage is Thame’s oldest public house. It is timber framed and gabled providing a picture post card view which has been described as looking as if it was out of a fairytale. The earliest parts date to the thirteenth century. French prisoners during the Napoleonic wars were held here, and the building has also been used to hold petty thieves and lepers on the upper floors. The Bird Cage has been an inn since the fifteenth century.
On the opposite side of Cornmarket The Spread Eagle Hotel, built in the eighteenth century, also has a fascinating history. It has a massive thirty foot high signpost with intricate ironwork, and crest. Its famous visitors include Evelyn Waugh, George Bernard Shaw, H.G Wells, and G.K.Chesterton, and perhaps its most famous owner was John Fothergill. He was the innkeeper here from 1922-1932, wrote ‘An Inkeepers Diary’, and pioneered the improvement in country inn catering.
The Grammar School in Church Road, founded by Lord Williams in the sixteenth century, is where John Hampden was among its pupils who also included Henry King who later became Bishop of Chichester and John Fell who later became Bishop of Oxford, and Daniel Whistler founder of the Royal Society. The school moved to new premises in the nineteenth century.
St Marys Church is a large cruciform shape building, with a central tower, which dates to the thirteenth century. It has been described by Arthur Mee in his series Kings England as ‘like a cathedral in miniature’.
A path through the churchyard leads to The Prebendal which stands to the west of St Marys. A Prebendal house was first recorded here in 1234. The Prebendal’s original purpose was to house the Bishop’s representative and consisted of a hall, solar, and chapel. It was later became a private residence. Its most famous resident of recent times was Robin Gibb who lived and composed here between 1983 and 2012.
Thame with its range of architecture from almost every century from the thirteenth, onwards, history, fascinating people from the past, and a range of shops and restaurants, is a delight to visit.