Southern English shire county immediately north-west of Greater London, also bordering Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. Although named for Buckingham, the county town and seat of local administration has been Aylesbury since the 19th century. Other major towns include High Wycombe, and Milton Keynes.
Prior to the redrawing of county boundaries in 1971 it also included Slough and Eton which were ceded to Berkshire without much complaint; more recently in the turbulent world of what passes for local government in the UK, Milton Keynes has been administratively hived off from the county as a unitary authority, also covering nearby Bletchley, Newport Pagnell and Olney. The abbreviated form of the county name for postal addresses and in general use is Bucks. The county emblem is a swan with a duke's coronet around its neck; this was taken from the badge of the De Bohn, Giffard and Stafford families who were Earls and later Dukes of Buckingham (the latter being the original owners of a London town house that was later to become Buckingham Palace). The relatively gemütlich middle-class nature of the place led to its being the last remaining county council under Conservative control after the Tories' general collapse at the 1997 elections. The population of the county (including Milton Keynes) is 666,000 (1995 figures).
Geographically, the county is more or less split in two; the southern part covers the central chunk of the Chiltern Hills - chalk hills with extensive woodlands, primarily beech, sloping down gradually to the banks of the River Thames which is the county's traditional southern border; the abrupt north facing scarp slope opens onto the Vale of Aylesbury, more open, gently rolling country like that typical of the rural English Midlands.
The proximity of London means that the southern part of the county in particular is largely a commuter area, the wealthiest outer fringes of Metroland, with old coaching towns like Amersham, Gerrards Cross and Beaconsfield which were also on the new railway lines expanding into large dormitory towns in the early 20th century; there has also been considerable infill and expansion of the villages between them. High Wycombe was a market town and a traditional centre of furniture manufacturing using local timber and more recently papermaking, and is now on the fringes of the wave of high-tech development along the M4 corridor. The attractiveness of the winding lanes of the Chiltern countryside is only partly compromised by the high rate of BMW ownership.
Aylesbury itself is a market town of no great distinction with a bit of light industry. To the north-east, the major transport corridor between London and northern England which was the route of the Roman's Watling Street (now the A5), then the Grand Union Canal, then the London & North Western Railway (now the West Coast Main Line) and latterly the M1 motorway crosses the county, and a small village just east of the railway town of Bletchley was chosen as the centre of the last and biggest of the mid-twentieth century New Towns: Milton Keynes.
The list of famous people from Bucks is a fairly short one, although plenty of the rich and famous have settled in the posher bits in recent years. However, there are a few worth mentioning:
- John Hampden
- William Penn
- John Otway
- Tim Rice
- Howard Jones (scraping the bottom of the barrel a bit here, aren't we?)
- Benjamin Disraeli (later Lord Beaconsfield) and John Milton are among the incomers who settled there, while Robert Gray wrote his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard at Stoke Poges.
A few places you might, at a pinch, want to visit (although on the whole I'd recommend just going for a walk or a bike ride through the countryside, really):
- Whipsnade Zoo
- Waddesdon Manor (stately home of the Rothschilds)
- Chequers (not that they'll let you in ...)
- Silverstone motor racing circuit
- Burnham Beeches
- West Wycombe caves - artificial caves, once the scene for meetings of the notorious Hellfire Club
- Bletchley Park museum
- John Milton's cottage, Chalfont St Giles