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Aylesbury in 1835

AYLESBURY, a considerable town in Buckinghamshire, on the road from London to Warwick and Birmingham, thirty-eight miles from London, through Watford Berkhampstead and Tring, and forty and a half through Uxbridge, Amersham, and Wendover.

This town is situated near the centre of the county, on a small elevation in the midst of the fertile vale of Aylesbury. It is close to a small rivulet which comes from the neighbourhood of Wendover, and which, after passing Aylesbury, falls into the Thame about two miles north-west of the town. It consists of several streets and lanes irregularly built. The elevation of the town above the general level of the vale caused the want of water to be frequently felt by the inhabitants ; but the houses are now well supplied by means of machinery in the gaol, which is worked by the prisoners. The town is also well paved, and lighted with gas.

Although Aylesbury does not give name to the county, it seems to have the fairest title to be considered as the county town. The quarter-sessions are always held here. Lord Chief Justice Baldwin caused the removal of the assizes to this town in the reign of Henry VIII, but in 1758 Lord Cobham procured an act of parliament for holding the summer assizes at Buckingham ; the Lent assizes are however still held at Aylesbury, where also is the county gaol. It is the place where the county members are nominated and where the return is announced.

The county hall is a handsome brick building, erected in the earlier part of the last century. The old town hall and market-house, built at the expense of Lord Chief Justice Baldwin already mentioned, have been lately replaced by a building on the model of the Temple of the Winds at Athens. The parish church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a spacious ancient structure, in the shape of a cross, with a low tower rising from the intersection of the nave and transepts. This tower, from its elevated situation, is seen for many miles in every direction. The church contains little that is remarkable. There is a monument of Sir Henry Lee’s lady, who died in 1584, and a marble effigy dug up some years since in the ruins of the church of the Grey Friars, supposed by Browne Willis to be that of Sir Henry Lee, who died in 1460. The pulpit is ornamented with some curious carved work. The churchyard is very large, and has several walks planted with double rows of trees. There are meeting-houses for Independents (formerly Presbyterians) Baptists, Quakers, and Methodists.

There is a school, the origin of which does not appear to be clearly known. It was endowed with some tenements by Sir Henry Lee, of Ditchley, in Oxfordshire, before the year 1687 ; but the principal endowment is a bequest of £5,000 left by Mr. Henry Phillips of London, in 1714, and invested in the purchase of land, which, with the other resources of the school, produces an income of nearly £540. The school buildings are adjacent to the churchyard, and consist of two houses, one for the head or Latin master, and the other for the writing or English master, with a school-room connecting the two. In this school-room 100 boys are taught by the English master, while twenty more are instructed by the head master in the different branches of a classical and mathematical education, in a building adjoining and belonging to the church, supposed to have been originally a chantry chapel. There is a charity, denominated, from the name of the founder, Bedford’s charity, deriving a yearly income of about £535 from houses and lands, which income is employed in repairing the roads in and about the town, or distributed in money and clothing to the poor. There are five large cottages near the church gate, occupied as alms-houses, bequeathed by a person of the name of Hickman, in 1695, together with some other property, the net proceeds of which (about £60 per annum) are distributed in alms to the poor. There is also a considerable property left by William Harding of Walton, in 1719, for the purpose of apprenticing poor children. An apprentice fee of £20 is given with each child, and fourteen boys and girls are on an average bound yearly. There are many minor charities.

The only manufacture carried on in the town is of lace. There is a market on Saturday, principally for corn, and six fairs in the year, chiefly for the sale of cattle. A market once held on Wednesday has been disused.

Aylesbury was made a corporate town and a parliamentary borough by charter of Queen Mary, in 1554. The corporation consisted of a bailiff, ten aldermen, and twelve capital burgesses ; but the powers of the charter expired (so far as the corporation was concerned) in a few years after it was granted, in consequence of neglect in filling up the vacancies caused by death ; and the right of voting for the members of parliament, which had been at first in the corporation, passed to the inhabitants paying scot and lot. In the early part of the last century occurred the case of Ashby and White, which brought on a serious difference between the two houses of parliament. Ashby claimed to be a voter of Aylesbury, and brought an action at law against White and others, the returning officers, for refusing his vote. He obtained a verdict ; but the Court of Queen’s Bench, before which the case was subsequently brought, gave judgment in favour of the defendants.

A writ of error was brought into the House of Lords, who reversed the judgment of the Court of Queen’s Bench. The House of Commons claimed the sole jurisdiction in all matters relating to the right of electing their own members ; and on the 25th January, 1703-4 passed some strong resolutions on the subject, declaring Ashby guilty of a breach of privilege. An attempt on the part of Ashby to follow up the proceedings, and the institution of new legal proceedings against White and his brother officers by other parties, roused the spirit of the Commons, who committed the parties to the new proceedings to Newgate, and their attorney to the custody of the serjeant-at-arms. The prisoners moved for an habeas corpus in the Court of Queen’s Bench, but being remanded by that court, they petitioned the queen for a writ of error to bring the last proceeding into the House of Lords.

The Commons ordered the persons professionally engaged in these legal measures to be taken into custody : and some of them were taken, but the Lords granted them a protection, and passed resolutions declaring that neither house of parliament could create to themselves any new privilege, not warranted by the known laws and customs of parliament - that every freeman might seek redress for supposed injuries in a court of law - that the Commons in committing the persons who instituted the new proceedings had created a new privilege, and had, ‘as far as in them lay, subjected the rights of Englishmen, and the freedom of their persons, to the arbitrary votes of the House of Commons.’ They also condemned that House for censuring or punishing the professional men, and declared a writ of error to be ‘not a writ of grace, but of right.’ The Houses had several conferences ; fresh committals to the custody of the serjeant-at-arms were ordered, and resolutions passed by the Commons, directing that officer not to make any return of or yield any obedience to the writs of Habeas Corpus on behalf of some of the persons previously in custody, assuring him of the protection of the House. Ultimately proceedings were stopped by the prorogation of Parliament. Since this time actions have been frequently brought against returning-officers, and verdicts obtained : so that the Commons were in effect defeated.

The parliamentary history of Aylesbury presents another remarkable incident. In 1804, in consequence of the corruption of the scot and lot voters, the right of voting was extended to the freeholders of ‘the Three Hundreds of Aylesbury,’ conjointly with the inhabitants of the town not receiving alms.

The parish of Aylesbury includes the hamlet of Walton, where was formerly a chapel. The rectory forms the endowment of a prebend in the cathedral of Lincoln, within which diocese lies, and in the archdeaconry of Buckingham : the vicarage is in the gift of the prebendary. The population of the parish was in 1831 about 5,000, and the area was 3,200 acres. Many of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood derive support from their skill in breeding and rearing ducks, though the method pursued is by no means creditable to their humanity. They send a considerable number of ducklings to the metropolis about Christmas.

Aylesbury is a very ancient town, and is said to have been one of the strongest garrisons of the Britons in their struggle against the Saxons, who took it in 571 : from which time its name does not appear in history, till the great civil war in the time of Charles I, when it was garrisoned for the parliament during the years 1644, 1645. The British name is lost. The Saxons called it Aeglesburge. In Domesday Book, it appears under the name of Elesberie. In Leland, it is written Alesbury ; and in Camden, Ailesbury ; which last mode of spelling is retained in the title of Marquis of Ailesbury, which the family of Brudenell Bruce takes from this town.

There was a house of Grey Friars at the south end of the town, founded by James Earl of Ormond in 1387, but it was very poor ; the revenue, at the general suppression of religious houses under Henry VIII, being valued only at £3, 2 shillings and 5 pence per annum. It became the seat of Sir J. Baldwin, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, to whom Henry VIII granted it, and afterwards of the Packington family ; but it was so much damaged in the great civil war, that it was never afterwards inhabited by them.

The vale of Aylesbury extends on the S.W. to Thame. The other boundaries, except on the south side, are rather difficult to ascertain. Leland makes the vale extend ‘other-ways to Buckingham, to Stonye Stratford, to Newport Painell, and alonge from Alesbury by the Rootes of Chiltern Hilles almost to Dunstable.’ The Chiltern Hills bound the vale on the south side, and run in a direction E.N.E. and W.S.W., nearly across the country. They are formed of chalk. The vale is better calculated for grazing land than almost any in the kingdom ; but when the agricultural report of this county was drawn up (in 1794), the method of farming seems to have been little creditable to the skill and attention of the agriculturists. Grazing and dairy farming seem to be at present the chief objects of attention. Camden (in the beginning of the seventeenth century) says, ‘round about (the town of Aylesbury) on every side are numerous flocks of sheep, loaded with wool, and yielding great profit- to their owners.’


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