Thursday, May 30, 2013

Origin of the Olney Surname and Village

The Olney Coat of Arms hereby illustrated is officially documented in Burke’s General Armory.

The original description of the Arms (Shield) is as follows;

“OR, three piles in base GU, on a canton AR, a mullet SA.”

When translated the blazon also describes the original colours of the Olney Arms as;

“Gold; three red triangles in base; on a silver square, a black star.”

Above the shield and helmet is a crest, which is described as;

“out of a gold ducal crown, a natural coloured phoenix, in the beak, a green branch.”

Olney Family Name History

The following extracts are from"The Family of Charles and Martha Olney" compiled by Keith R.Collyer Page 1.

"Until about 1100, very few English people had last names. They would be called by their first names - John, William, etc. If there hap­pened to be several of the same name in the village (say John), there were a number of ways that they could identify which John was being referred to.

One way was by some characteristic of John - John Short or John Armstrong. Another way was by his occupation - John the Mason, John the Baker, and so on. A third way was by his parentage - John, son of Robert (Robertson), John son of William (Williamson).  Another way was by place name. For example, if John had moved from the parish of Luton he might be called John of Luton. This would also hold true if he were the most important person in the village.

These 'nicknames' were temporary and at first were not carried on from father to son as surnames are today. However, by 1200 many of these surnames had stuck and probably half of the people did have fixed surnames. By the end of the 1300s this increased to three-quarters and soon all English people had surnames".

Peter & Joy Olney, Darren & Fiona, Michael, Sarah & Matthew Olney-Fraser visited Olney 2007
Darren in Olney 2007
Olney is a place name. Olney is a quiet, well-known market town on the Ouse River in Buckinghamshire. The name itself means 'Olla's Island' or 'lonely grove’.

The Bull Inn in Olney 2007

The Castle Inn in Olney 2007

The Swan Inn in Olney 2007
High Street, Olney 2007
The following extracts are from "The Family of Charles and Martha Olney" compiled by Keith R.Collyer Page 1.

"Olney is a very old town. After William of Normandy defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings, one of his first thoughts was to determine the wealth of this new country he had conquered. To do this, he sent his people into every town and village in England.  Their job was to determine who owned the land, and to calculate the value of all the property there. 

To historians and others, these records in the Doomsday Book, give an unparalleled snapshot of England in 1086, (the year it was compiled).

Olney was listed in the Doomsday Book as being owned by the Bishop of Coutances. The entry for Olney provides a fascinating description of the town:
"It answers for ten hides (a measure of land). Land for 10 ploughs... 24 villagers with five smallholders have seven ploughs, five slaves; 1 mill at 40 shillings and 200 eels; meadow for 10 ploughs; woodland for 400 pigs; in total, value, 12 pounds."    
These values were, in effect, the taxes from the town to be paid to the king".

"The town of Olney still celebrates the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race. The ladies, all Olney residents, must wear skirts and aprons with scarves or hats as they run the 400-yard course to the porch of the church, tossing their sizzling pancakes as they go. The pancakes that survive the race are given to the bellringer, who pays with a kiss. The race was first run in 1445".

Market Place in Olney taken 2007

The Pancake Race 5 February 2008
Olney, once celebrated for its manufacture of bone-lace, has more recently been the centre of a boot and shoe industry. 

Bobbin Lacework memorial at William Cowper Museum in Olney 2007
Bucks Lace Industry in Olney 2007
The Olney Cobbler 2007
Olney Rugs 2007
Olney Picture Framers 2007
New Leaf of Olney - The Florist 2007

The Olney Delicatessen 2007

Alan's of Olney and Jay's of Olney 2007
The following extracts are from "The Family of Charles and Martha Olney" compiled by Keith R.Collyer Page 2.

"Olney can boast of its gothic style Parish Church with its magnificient 185-foot high spire, built in 1325, beside the River Ouse. Well-known John Newton, while a slave trader, had an experience with God. He later became Curate of Olney from 1764 to 1780.  In 1779 Rev. John Newton published the “Olney Hymns”, a collection of hymns written by himself and poet Sir William Cowper. John Newton wrote 280 hymns including “Amazing Grace” and “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds”. William Cowper wrote 68 hymns including “God moves in mysterious ways” and “O for a closer walk with God”. His greatest poems “The Task” and “John Gilpin” were written while in Olney. Sir William Cowper was a frequent guest at the vicarage and lived in Olney from 1767 to 1786 residing at the house now called the Cowper–Newton Museum. A memorial to Cowper can be found in the Parish Church. John Newton and his wife Mary are buried in the Olney churchyard with a monument to mark the spot".

I acknowledge and give credit to the copyright work of Keith R.Collyer (desceased) in his book "The Family of Charles and Martha Olney". Page 1 and 2.
St Peter & St Paul Olney Parish Church 2007
John Newton Memorial Window
Interior St Peter & St Paul Olney Parish Church
Interior of  St Peter & St Paul Parish Church in Olney 2007
Peter could not resist the opportunity of getting in the pulpit in Olney

Vicarage where John Newton lived while Vicar at Olney 1764 - 1780.  He wrote 280 hymns including "Amazing Grace" and published the "Olney Hymns" in 1779.  William Cowper wrote 68 hymns and a frequent guest at the Vicarage.

John Newton died 1807, wife Mary died 1790.  John Newton was famous for helping to abolish the slave trade in 1807.
The Cowper & Newton Museum in Olney 2007
William Cowper's personal items
Collage of William Cowper's Photographs

William Cowper

Rev.John Newton

Please note: Ross Olney is the keeper of the Olney Family Tree.  If you have information that needs to be corrected or added to, please contact him direct by email -

You can order your own hard copy of "The Family of Charles and Martha Olney" by clicking on -

If you wish to contact the author of these Olney Family Archives blogs with corrections or further information, please contact Joy Olney via email  -
These blogs have been written as another way of sharing the Olney family history with those interested. They do not cover all branches.  My interest primarily is with the "David" Olney branch with parents Charles and Martha Olney. 

Peter and Joy Olney were fortunate enough to vist England in 2007 and visited many of the churches, places, villages and houses written about in the books by Keith Collyer and A.Gordon Keys.  More recent generations in Australia are included in the Olney Family Archives blogs.

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