Apologies for the weak attempt at humour to introduce this piece. I live in Buckinghamshire about 12 miles from Aylesbury and have long wondered why the county is called Buckinghamshire and not Aylesburyshire. So I looked into it.
Buckingham is a small market town, which has the river Great Ouse winding its way through its centre. It is characterised by an array of Georgian buildings and the Old Gaol that sits dominantly in the centre of the town.
It’s much smaller than Aylesbury and it’s not up to much to be honest. It’s a bit drab, the town centre is really quite small and uninteresting, the parking is hopeless and the shops are uninspiring.
Buckingham was the county town of Buckinghamshire from the 10th century, when it was made the capital of the newly formed shire of Buckingham until Aylesbury took over this role early in the 18th century.
Buckingham is home to Britain’s first modern independent University. The town also enjoys close links to the Silverstone Motor Racing Circuit and the magnificent Stowe Landscape Gardens.
In the 7th century, Buckingham, literally “meadow of Bucca’s people” is said to have been founded by Bucca, the leader of the first Anglo Saxon settlers. The first settlement was located around the top of a loop in the River Great Ouse, presently the Hunter Street campus of the University of Buckingham. Between the 7th century and the 11th century, the town of Buckingham regularly changed hands between the Saxons and the Danes, in particular, in 914 King Edward the Elder and a Saxon army encamped in Buckingham for four weeks forcing local Danish Viking leaders to surrender. Subsequently, a fort was constructed at the location of the present Buckingham parish church. . Population is around 12,000.
Aylesbury is much bigger than Buckingham and it is easy to understand why it took over from Buckingham as the county town. Population is around 58,000. It is home to the County Museum (which includes the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery), and has a pretty market square
and an impressive Crown Court building (I have been inside when I was a juror two years ago).
When we first moved to the area 40 years ago, although Aylesbury was already the biggest and the county town, it was to be frank, a bit rough and shabby. Everyone round here went to Oxford – for the pubs, the shopping, the theatre, the restaurants and the sights. Not any more. Although Oxford is much bigger than Aylesbury (population around 170,000), today, apart from Oxford University and its ‘dreaming spires’ and its beautiful architecture, Oxford is a quite a bit shit. It has quite rough and dangerous areas it has been over ‘enriched’ and the traffic and parking is horrendous. In the last 40 years, Aylesbury has smartened up, got its act together, parking, shops, pubs, public spaces have all improved immensely. Hardly anyone we know goes to Oxford anymore.
Aylesbury is part way through an exciting multi-million pound improvement programme. The town centre has seen major change in the last 5 years with the opening of the Waterside Theatre,
a new marina at Circus Fields, as well as improvements to Waterside South, Vale Park and public spaces and there are smart restaurants and bars springing up all over the town.
Whenever Aylesbury is mentioned, people reply, “Oh, ducks!” In the town itself, the Aylesbury Duck has lent its name to many public houses and locations. It is central to the heritage of the town.
In the early 1800s almost everybody who lived at the “Duck End” – where Mill Way now runs – bred Aylesbury Ducks. This pure breed is characterised by its pale pink beak, white plumage and bright yellow feet. The pale pink colour of the beak developed because of the grit that they were fed which is characteristic of the Aylesbury area.
Sometimes similar ducks with yellow beaks are mistakenly named as Aylesbury ducks but these are in fact a commercial cross between the Aylesbury Duck and the Peking Duck. In 1873 the Peking Duck was brought to Britain from China, and the Aylesbury breed was frequently crossed with it. As a result, the pure breed began to disappear and by the Second World War ducking in and around Aylesbury had almost vanished. Beatrice Potter’s foolish but much loved ‘Jemima Puddleduck’ is based on the breed.
Throughout the 19th Century the main market for duck meat was provided by the wealthy people of London, and by 1839 the ducks could be transported by rail. J K Fowler, writing in 1850, said “oftentimes in the spring, in one night, a ton weight of ducklings from six to eight weeks old are taken by rail from Aylesbury and the villages round to the metropolis.” As the popularity of the famous Aylesbury Duck grew, visitors flocked from far and wide to buy the local delicacy from the town’s fat stock markets.
The Aylesbury Vale (or Vale of Aylesbury) is a large area of gently rolling agricultural landscape located in the northern half of Buckinghamshire. Its boundary is marked by the Borough of Milton Keynes and South Northamptonshire to the north, Central Bedfordshire and the Borough of Dacorum (Hertfordshire) to the east, the Chiltern Hills and Wycombe to south, and South Oxfordshire to the west.
The bed of the vale is largely made up of clay that was formed at the end of the ice age. Also at this time the vast underground reserves of water that make the water table in the Vale of Aylesbury higher than average, were created.
The district has a number of historic buildings and landscapes, which are popular tourist attractions. The National Trust owns several properties including Waddesdon Manor, Claydon House and the landscaped gardens at Stowe House. The Silverstone Circuit sits on the northern boundary of the district with South Northamptonshire, and the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre is located near Quainton.
Buckinghamshire should really be called Aylesburyshire, but somehow it doesn’t sound right, does it? Buckinghamshire it is then.
And it’s home.
© John Booth 2018