Aylesbury

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Aylesbury (/ˈeɪlzbri/) is the county town of Buckinghamshire in South East England. However the town also falls into a notional geographical region known as the South Midlands an area that encompasses the north of the South East, and the southern extremities of the East Midlands, and the western portion of the East of England. In the 2001 census the Aylesbury Urban Area, which includes Bierton, Fairford Leys, Stoke Mandeville and Watermead, had a population of 69,021, which included 56,392 for the Aylesbury civil parish.

The town name is of Old English origin. Its first recorded name Æglesburgh is thought to mean “Fort of Aegel”, though who Aegel was is not recorded. Since earliest records there have been 57 variations of the name. Excavations in the town centre in 1985 found an Iron Age hillfort dating from the early 4th century BC. The town is sited on an outcrop of Portlandian limestone which accounts for its prominent position in the surrounding landscape, which is largely clay. Aylesbury was a major market town in Anglo-Saxon times, famous in addition as the burial place of Saint Osyth, whose shrine attracted pilgrims. The Early English parish church of St. Mary (which has many later additions) has a crypt beneath. Once thought to be Anglo-Saxon, it is now recognised as being of the same period as the medieval chapel above. At the Norman Conquest, the king took the manor of Aylesbury for himself, and it is listed as a royal manor in the Domesday Book, 1086.

In 1450 a religious institution called the Guild of St Mary was founded in Aylesbury by John Kemp, Archbishop of York. Known popularly as the Guild of Our Lady it became a meeting place for local dignitaries and a hotbed of political intrigue. The Guild was influential in the final outcome of the Wars of the Roses. Its premises at the Chantry in Church Street, Aylesbury, are still there, though today the site is occupied mainly by almshouses.

Aylesbury was declared the county town of Buckinghamshire in 1529 by King Henry VIII: Aylesbury Manor was among the many properties belonging to Thomas Boleyn the father of Anne Boleyn and it is rumoured that the change was made by the king in order to curry favour with the holders of the manor. (Previously the county town of Buckinghamshire was Buckingham).

The town played a large part in the English Civil War when it became a stronghold for the Parliamentarian forces, like many market towns a nursing-ground of Puritan sentiment and in 1642 the Battle of Aylesbury was fought and won by the Parliamentarians. Its proximity to Great Hampden, home of John Hampden has made of Hampden a local hero: his silhouette is on the emblem used by Aylesbury Vale District Council and his statue stands prominently in the town centre. Aylesbury born composer, Rutland Boughton (1878–1960), possibly inspired by the statue of John Hampden, created a symphony based on Oliver Cromwell.

On 18 March 1664, Robert Bruce, 2nd Earl of Elgin in the Peerage of Scotland was created 1st Earl of Ailesbury, Viscount Bruce, of Ampthill in the County of Bedford, and Baron Bruce, of Skelton in the County of York, all in the Peerage of England.

The Jacobean mansion of Hartwell nearby was the residence of Louis XVIII during his exile (1810–1814). Bourbon Street in Aylesbury is named after the king. Louis’s wife, Marie Josephine of Savoy died at Hartwell in 1810 and is buried in the churchyard there. She is the only French Queen to be buried on English soil. The town’s heraldic crest is the Aylesbury duck, which has been bred here since the birth of the Industrial Revolution.

The town also received international publicity in the 1960s when the culprits responsible for the Great Train Robbery were tried at Aylesbury Crown Court. The robbery took place at Bridego Bridge, a railway bridge at Ledburn, about six miles (10 km) from the town. The 7 July 2005 Piccadilly Line bomber Germaine Lindsay’s home was in Aylesbury at the time of the bombings, though he was originally from Jamaica.

A notable institution is Aylesbury Grammar School which was founded in 1598. The original building is now part of the County Museum buildings in Church Street; other grammar schools now include Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School and Aylesbury High School. Other notable buildings are the King’s Head Inn, which with the Fleece Inn at Bretforton is one of the few public houses in the country owned by the National Trust still run as a public house, and the Queens Park Centre, the UK’s largest independent arts centre.

Chequers, the country residence of the Prime Minister since 1921, is just four miles southeast of Aylesbury.

James Henry Govier the British painter and etcher resided at Aylesbury and produced a number of works relating to the town including the church, canal, Walton, Aylesbury Gaol, the King’s Head and views of the town during the 1940s and 1950s, examples of which can be seen in the Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury. Govier was born at Oakley, and was the etching demonstrator at the Royal College of Art.

The town’s population has doubled since the 1960s due to new housing developments, including many London overspill housing estates, built to ease pressure on the capital, and to move people from crowded inner city slums to more favourable locations. Indeed Aylesbury, to a greater extent than many English market towns, saw substantial areas of its own heart demolished in the 1950s/1960s as 16th-18th century houses (many in good repair) were pulled down to make way for commercial developments.

Aylesbury’s population was expected to increase between 2003 and 2005 with a new housing estate designed to cater for eight thousand people on the north side of the town, sandwiched between the A41 (Akeman Street) and the A413, and the expansion of Fairford Leys village.

Housing estates in the modern Aylesbury include: Bedgrove, Broughton, Elm Farm, Elmhurst, Fairford Leys, Haydon Hill, Hawkslade Farm, Meadowcroft, Prebendal Farm, Quarrendon, Queens Park, Southcourt, Stoke Grange, Walton Court, Watermead and the Willows. Aylesbury has also been extended to completely surround the former hamlets or farms at Bedgrove, California, New Zealand, Prebendal Farm, Quarrendon, Turnfurlong and Walton. If plans to increase the size of the town by twenty thousand people go ahead, suburban Aylesbury could well meet up with the neighbouring villages of Bierton, Hartwell, Stoke Mandeville, Stone, Sedrup and Weston Turville. Areas most popular in the town are the Conservation Area around St. Mary’s church and Queens Park, particularly facing onto the canal. These anticipated developments are expected to raise the urban population of Aylesbury from its current approximation of 75,000 to around 100,000 within the next 15–20 years.

The local newspaper is the Bucks Herald. The local radio station is Mix 96. One of the more prominent buildings in Aylesbury is the “Blue Leanie” office block, home to Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS). When first built it was thought to be a potential hazard to passing motorists, due to the sun reflecting off its large mirrored surface. As a result a line of mature trees was planted alongside the main road to prevent dazzling.

The town is served by Aylesbury railway station and Aylesbury Vale Parkway railway station, the latter of which is the present terminus of passenger services from London Marylebone.

Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, a new £42 million theatre, with 1,200 seat auditorium, opened in October 2010. In addition to this, the surrounding area is being redeveloped as part of the £100 million Waterside project. When this is completed, originally planned for June 2010, there will be 260,000 sq ft (24,000 m2) of new retail floor space and 1,100 new jobs created, although when this will be completed now is unclear.

The Bourg Walk Bridge (also called the Southcourt Bridge or the Roberts Bridge after a local councillor) opened in March 2009 connecting Southcourt to Aylesbury town centre. The focus of the footbridge is a central concrete pillar with four suspension cables supporting the structure. This bridge forms a central part of the Aylesbury Hub project. Bourg Walk was nominated and won the Engineering Excellence Award 2009 awarded by the Institution of Civil Engineers – South East England branch .

Aylesbury Town Council is the parish council within Aylesbury Vale district for the town. In 2010, it comprises 24 councillors, 19 of whom are Liberal Democrats, the remaining 5 Conservative. The council represents only the constituents of Aylesbury town itself. Surrounding villages and some recent developments on the outskirts of Aylesbury like Fairford Leys & Watermead have their own parish council. In 2010 the district council decided that the new developments of Berryfields and Weedon Hill, both to the north of Aylesbury, should also join to form a new parish as of May 2011.

The Town Council also elects the Town Mayor from the serving Town Councillors every year. The process culminates in a formal “Mayor Making” ceremony where the new Mayor takes over from the preceding Mayor. The role of mayor is mainly a ceremonial role representing the town at various events and acting as an ambassador for the town.

The Town Council is in a process of discussions to take over responsibility for some public services from Aylesbury Vale District Council.

The architecture of Aylesbury reflects the ordinary architecture which can be found in many small towns in England. John Vanbrugh judged two sets of plans for the County Hall (now Aylesbury Crown Court); however, the buildings of the town were designed by local architects.

Aylesbury retains some buildings from the medieval, Georgian and Victorian periods, as well as the 20th century. Ceely House (part of the County Museum), Ardenham House, the Union Workhouse and the County Gaol are among the most notable buildings in the town.

St Mary’s Church, sited upon a hill surrounded by narrow streets and squares of substantial 18th century town houses, such as Castle Street, Temple Square and Parson’s Fee give an indication of how Aylesbury may have appeared in the 18th century.

Traditionally the town was a commercial centre with a market dating back to the Saxon period. This is because it was established on the main Akeman Street which became an established trade route linking London to the southwest. In 1180 a gaol was established in the town (it is still there though has moved locations two or three times) which only really happened in main towns across the country.

By 1477 flour was being ground in the town for surrounding parishes. By the modern period this had grown into a huge established industry: the last mill in Aylesbury was closed in the 1990s (Hills & Partridge on the canal behind Tesco). By 1560 the manufacture of needles had become a large industry in Long Crendon, a village close to Aylesbury, which was an important production centre.

In 1672 poor children in Buckinghamshire were taught to make lace as a way to make a living. Bucks lace as it became known quickly became very sought after and production boomed as the lace was mainly made by poor women and children. The lace-making industry had died out by Victorian times, however, as new machine-made lace became preferable.

In 1764 Euclid Neale opened his clock making workshop in Aylesbury. In the 18th century he was one of the best clock makers in the country.

In 1814 the Aylesbury arm of the Grand Union Canal from Marsworth was opened bringing major industry to the town for the first time. At the same time the Wendover arm was built leading to nearby Wendover.

By the late 19th century the printers and bookbinders, Hazell, Watson and Viney and the Nestlé dairy were the two main employers in the town, employing more than half the total population.

Today the town is still a major commercial centre and the market still meets on the cobbles of the old Market Square four days a week. Nestle and Hazell, Watson and Viney have both gone, as has the US Automotive parts producer TRW, who left the town in 2006. Although three major industrial centres make sure the town has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

Aylesbury is served by the A41, which runs from London to Birkenhead. The A413 and A418 roads also run through the town. The M40 motorway at junction 9 is 14.7 miles (23.7 km) away and the M25 motorway is just over 21 miles (34 km) drive.

The railways came to Aylesbury in 1839 when the Aylesbury Railway opened from Cheddington on Robert Stephenson’s London and Birmingham Railway. The Wycombe Railway (later GWR) arrived via Princes Risborough on 1 October 1863, and on 23 September 1868 the Aylesbury and Buckingham Railway (later Metropolitan Railway) was opened from Verney Junction, to make an end-on junction with the Wycombe Railway. The Metropolitan Railway (MetR) from Baker Street arrived via Amersham in 1892. The Great Central Railway (GCR) connected from Nottingham Victoria to London Marylebone via the MetR in 1899. Between 1899 and 1953, Aylesbury had railway links to four London termini: Marylebone, Baker Street, Paddington, Euston. The Aylesbury Railway closed in 1953, The MetR, which later became the Metropolitan Line of the London Underground withdrew north of Aylesbury in 1936 and withdrew from the town in 1961. The GCR was dismantled north of Aylesbury in 1966. As a result, there were no regular passenger services north of Aylesbury until the opening of Aylesbury Vale Parkway railway station in December 2008. Now only the GCR south of Aylesbury Vale Parkway to Marylebone is used for regular London services.

A rail scheme to extend passenger services northwestwards to a new station, Aylesbury Vale Parkway, was completed in December 2008. This is sited on the formerly freight-only line towards Quainton at the point where the line crosses the A41 near Berryfields Farm, some 2.25 miles (3.62 km) north of the main Aylesbury station. This area is to be known as the Berryfields Major Development Area, and will include Park and Ride facilities for Aylesbury.

A further expansion of rail services to Bletchley and Bedford (see East West Rail Link) is suggested in a consultants’ report written to provide regional planning guidance to Bucks County Council concerning the development of Aylesbury Vale. Also the Great Central may be rebuilt in the future towards Rugby as the railway is in need for expansion to ease capacity constraints.

In 2005 the town won £1million funding to be one of six Cycling Demonstration towns in England, which was match-funded by Buckinghamshire County Council. This allows Buckinghamshire County Council to promote the use of cycling amongst the general public, as well as provide facilities for cyclists, such as bike lockers, bike stands as well as Tiger and Toucan road crossings.

Scenes from the film A Clockwork Orange were filmed in Friars’ Square in Aylesbury but did not make it to the final cut. This is the ‘Librarian Scene’ where outtakes from the shoot and rehearsal can be seen in Alison Castle’s The Stanley Kubrick Archives published by Taschen. The opening scene when the droogs beat up the elderly Irish man is mistakenly cited as being filmed in the underpass linking Friars’ Square Shopping Centre with the railway station. Although Christiane Kubrick’s book Stanley Kubrick — A Life In Pictures states this the underpass in the film has a different shape to the one in Aylesbury and these sequences were actually filmed in Wandsworth. According to Malcolm McDowell: “We did a sequence in Aylesbury. The town square was decorated with giant rubber ducks, weird animals, they were huge, and we accosted an old guy from the library. I ripped out these priceless books that he had and I threw them up. I remember my line, it was taken from the book, it was: ‘There’s a mackerel of a cornflake for you.’ The pages from the ripped books fall like confetti. The retribution was that Alex goes to the library when he is cured and all the old codgers in the library go: ‘You were the one!'”

The County Court building and Aylesbury Market Square regularly feature in the BBC Television series Judge John Deed.

Aylesbury is twinned with Bourg-en-Bresse, France.

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