Henley's Street Plan
Henley's central streets originated probably in the late 12th century, when the planned town of Henley was laid out alongside the river within a pre-existing royal estate.
The founder may have been King Henry II, who is known to have founded other towns including New Woodstock in west Oxfordshire. Such town foundations were common from the 11th to early 13th centuries, and represented hard-headed commercial ventures by wealthy lords hoping to benefit from the expanding economy and growing commercialization of the period. Henley proved a success, based partly on its role in the Thames river trade. The early street plan was simple, comprising two main intersecting roads (see map). The first was a single, broad east-west street, leading eastwards across the medieval bridge, and opening up on the west into a wide wedge-shaped market place. In the Middle Ages its whole length was called High Street, but from the 16th or 17th century its east end became known as Hart Street, from the medieval White Hart Inn on its north side. Intersecting it was a north-south route from Oxford and Dorchester to Reading, known in the Middle Ages as North Street (north of the crossroads) and Brook Street (south of the crossroads, so called from the town brook or ditch near its southern end). These later became known as Bell Street (from the important Bell Inn at Northfield End), and Duke Street (a corruption of Ditch or Duck Street). Both streets may have existed in some form before the town was laid out. Friday Street, on the medieval town's southern edge, may have originated as a small squatter settlement, though by c.1300 its north side was included in the town, and it acquired some high-quality late medieval houses. New Street (running from Bell Street to the river) was an addition to the original town plan, but seems to have been built up by 1307 when it was mentioned in a surviving property conveyance. Until the early 19th century Henley's street plan expanded very little. But from then on there was pronounced suburban growth, particularly to the south along Reading Road and the neighbouring St Marks Estate (e.g. St Marks Road, St Andrews Road, Vicarage Road etc). Station Road was laid out to serve the new railway station (opened 1857), with Queen Street (1879) and King's Road added later. (See map.) Further growth took place in the 20th century, with new building along Peppard Lane and Mount View (1930s), and after the Second World War on the Gainsborough estate and elsewhere on the town's west side. Even so, Conservation legislation has done much to preserve the town's character and save it from unbridled expansion, particularly on the north along the ancient Fair Mile. Read more about Henley's medieval origins and 19th-century suburban development, or explore particular streets (including census entries):