When you’re wandering round an Oxfordshire town centre in 2018, there are certain things you don’t expect. Such as random sightings of replica cows. Milton Keynes, maybe; it has a reputation for concrete bovines. But we saw a few as we pottered around Thame today.
Perhaps it’s no more than a useful reminder that Thame has been a market town for almost a millennium, and that the upper end of its high street was once occupied by a livestock market, with cattle and pigs penned into an area now marked by cobbles. That would certainly help to explain the wide High Street and market place, with narrow entrances at both ends. There still is a cattle market each Wednesday and Friday, along with a general market each Tuesday and a farmers’ market on the second Tuesday of each month.
Conservation efforts over many years have ensured that many other traces of the town’s history remain for visitors to find. There’s the 15th century Nag’s Head, which used to be called the King’s Head… till a supporter of Charles I was hanged from the sign by Parliamentary soldiers during the Civil War. Further along the High Street, by the corner with Church Road, the timber frame alms houses, founded in 1447 by Richard Quartermain, are almost trumped by the elaborate 19th century bandstand in the grounds. Or there’s the Swan Hotel, whose Georgian facade belies the timber frame jettied construction inside, or the James Figg pub on Cornmarket, named after the world’s first boxing champion, who grew up in the town; or the plaque on Hampden House commemorating the heroism of John Hampden in the Civil War – he went to school in Thame, and died in Hampden House after sustaining injuries in battle in 1643. And there are buildings with links to Evelyn Waugh and WB Yeats.
All in all, Thame is an excellent place to wander around for a day. A host of cafes can refresh you, and we thoroughly recommend The Thatch for lunch. Maybe best to avoid the slow-braised beef brisket, though… just in case you catch a cow’s eye on your way back up the high street.