Aylesbury (St. Mary)

AYLESBURY (St. Mary), a borough, market-town, parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Aylesbury, county of Buckingham, of which it is the county town, 16½ miles (S. E. by S.) from Buckingham, and 38 (N. W. by W.) from London by way of Watford; containing, with the hamlet of Walton, 5429 inhabitants. This place appears to have been one of the strongholds of the ancient Britons, from whom it was taken in the year 571 by Cutwulph, brother of Ceawlin, King of the West Saxons; and to have had a castle of some importance, from which circumstance probably it derives its Saxon appellation Aeglesburge, of which its present name is only a slight modification. In the reign of the Conqueror it was a royal manor; and some lands here were granted by that monarch, upon the extraordinary tenure that the owners should provide straw for the monarch's bed, sweet herbs for his chamber, and two green geese and three eels for his table, whenever he should visit Aylesbury. In the civil war of the seventeenth century, the town was garrisoned for the parliament; but it does not appear to have had any further connexion with the transactions of that period.

The town is pleasantly situated on a gentle eminence, in a fertile vale extending from Thame, in Oxfordshire, to Leighton in Bedfordshire; and is lighted with gas, and paved under the direction of a body called "the Incorporated Surveyors," who derive their funds from land and houses devised by John Bedford: the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. The houses are principally of brick, and the town has been greatly improved by the erection of some handsome private residences at the entrances into it from London and Buckingham. The only manufacture is that of bone lace, which is carried on upon a very limited scale. Ducklings and tame rabbits are bred in great numbers, for the supply of the London market. The market, which is amply supplied, is on Saturday; and fairs are held on the Friday after the 18th of Jan., the Saturday before Palm-Sunday, May 8th, June 14th, Sept. 25th, and Oct. 12th: those in Jan., May, and Oct. not being chartered, are free from toll, and those in Sept. and Oct. are also for hiring servants. The river Thame, which separates the town from Walton, is not navigable; but a canal, beginning at the hamlet, communicates with the Grand Junction canal at Marsworth. The branch railway from this town, to the London and Birmingham line, was opened in June 1839, and is one continued level throughout, seven miles in length. There is a florists' and horticultural society, which from its foundation has been liberally supported, and has produced some fine shows of flowers and fruit.

The inhabitants received their first charter from Queen Mary, in the year 1554, but the corporation soon lost their privileges, by neglecting to fill up vacancies: the town is now within the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who hold petty-sessions daily; and constables and other officers are appointed at the court leet of the lord of the manor. The elective franchise was conferrred also in 1554, and notwithstanding the loss of its charter, the borough has continued, since that time, to return two members to parliament. The right of election was originally vested in the corporation alone; and in the reign of Queen Anne, a disputed return for this place, in the cause of Ashby v. White, occasioned so serious a contest between the two houses, respecting the power of electors to bring actions against returning officers, for refusing to receive their votes, that the queen was obliged to prorogue the parliament, leaving the case undecided. After the loss of the charter, the two members were elected by the pot-wallopers; and in 1804, in a case of notorious bribery, an act was passed, extending the right of voting to the freeholders of the three hundreds of Aylesbury. The constables are the returning officers. The Lent assizes, and the quartersessions for the county, are held, and the knights of the shire elected, here: the powers of the county debt-court of Aylesbury, established in 1847, extend over the greater part of the registration-district of Aylesbury, and twelve adjacent parishes. The county hall, the magistrates' chamber, and offices of the clerk of the peace, form one range of brick building, of modern erection, with the county gaol and house of correction, which is well adapted to the classification of prisoners.

The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £24. 18. 1.; net income, about £300; patron, the Bishop of Lincoln. The great tithes have been commuted for land: the vicar has a house and garden, with two plots of land in lieu of tithes. An afternoon lecture, long supported by subscription, was endowed by the Marquess of Buckingham, about the close of the last century, with a rent-charge of £18, in consideration of which the vicar has for many years given a third service. The church is an ancient cruciform structure in the decorated English style, with some earlier portions, and a low central tower; the western entrance is very rich: on the north side of the chancel is a chantry chapel, now used as a vestry-room, in which are still remaining some traces of Norman character; and on the south side is another chantry chapel, now belonging to the grammar school. From the number of Roman tiles still found in several parts of the building, it is probable that a tessellated pavement originally constituted the floor of the whole. At Walton is a church, the living of which is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the Church-Patronage Society. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends, Independents, and Wesleyans, and one for Particular Baptists in the hamlet of Walton.

The Free Grammar School was founded by Sir Henry Lee, Knt., about the year 1611, and endowed with about £8 per annum, which was greatly augmented by Henry Phillips, Esq., who, by will in 1714, left £5000 in trust to be invested in land: the property consists of a manor and estate at Broughton-Abbots, in the parish of Bierton, and upwards of £1800 in the three per cent. consols, producing together an income of about £540. Thomas Hickman, in 1695, bequeathed land and houses (five of which are occupied as almshouses) now let for £73 per annum, which, after defraying the expenses of repairs and other small charges, is distributed among decayed tradesmen and tradesmen's widows not receiving parochial relief. William Harding, of Walton, by his will proved in 1719, devised certain lands and tenements now let for £289 per annum, by means of which about fourteen children are apprenticed annually, with premiums of £20 each; and there are also several charities for different purposes under the management of the churchwardens. A county infirmary, erected at the northern end of the town, chiefly through the exertions of John Lee, Esq., of Hartwell House, was opened for the reception of patients on the 23rd of October, 1833; it is a spacious building, consisting of a centre and two wings, the former of stone, and the latter of brick stuccoed in imitation of stone. The poor law union of Aylesbury comprises 40 parishes and places, and contains a population of 22,134. A monastery was founded here about the year 600, and dedicated to St. Osyth; and there were also two hospitals for lepers, dedicated respectively to St. John and St. Leonard, which had fallen into decay prior to the year 1360. A convent for Grey friars, the only one in the county, was established in 1387, by James, Earl of Ormond: its site was subsequently occupied by a mansion belonging to Sir John Baldwin, Knt., lord chief justice of the common pleas; but during the civil war the house sustained so much damage, that it has never since been inhabited as a seat. John Wilkes resided at Aylesbury for a long time, and for some years represented the borough in parliament. The place gives the titles of Earl and Marquess to the ancient family of Bruce.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.