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The History of Aylesbury

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Aylesbury sits on the site of an Iron Age hillfort that itself dates from around 650BC. The fort was rediscovered during excavations in the town centre in 1985. By Anglo Saxon times Aylesbury was flourishing, it was still of strategic importance but now it was also a thriving market town. When King William of Normandy ousted the Saxons from Aylesbury he decided he liked the place and took the manor for the crown.

Henry VIII was another King who looked favourably upon the town and he granted it county town status in 1529, making the town the new administrative centre of Buckinghamshire. The change was a significant one as the honour had previously been held by the original county town of Buckingham . During the Civil War it was parliament not royalty that held the town after Cromwell found plenty of support in the market town for his puritan message. Royalty continued to flirt with the town
though and the exiled Louis XIII lived at the nearby Hartwell . The Jacobean mansion served as his residence from 1810 to 1814. It was in 1810, while the king was beginning his exile, that his wife Marie Josephine of Savoy died. She was buried in the churchyard at Hartwell and the presence of the French royalty is still commemorated in Aylesbury as Bourbon Street is named after King Louis.

The town’s rich history is also illustrated by some of the ancient institutions there. The Guild of St Mary, which had great influence in the outcome of the War of the Roses , was founded at Aylesbury. In 1598 Aylesbury Grammar School opened, a sign of the town’s growing sophistication and importance at the time. Cromwell’s troops may be long gone but the parliamentary connection with Aylesbury is still
continued today. The Prime Minister’s official residence since 1921 is at Chequers which is close to the town. Aylesbury also has the honour of being home to the King’s Head Inn , one of the surviving handful of public houses owned by the National Trust that is still actually open and serving drinks.

One of the town’s more dubious claims to fame is the Great Train Robbery . The sensational hold up of the Royal Mail train travelling from Scotland to Euston in London netted a 2.5 million pound haul. This was on the 9th of August 1963, in the days when a million pounds was a lot of money and millionaires were still few and far between! The train was ambushed at Sears Crossing, Cheddington and the gang, which included the notorious Ronnie Biggs, escaped with the cash. They holed up at Leatherslade Farm near Brill but local herdsmen alerted the police to the suspicious goings on there. By the time the police arrived, however, the gang had gone leaving some of the stolen loot behind in their haste to escape. A massive manhunt ensued, with Aylesbury the centre of the operation. The local paper, the Bucks Herald, even reported how children were getting involved in the hunt saying; “many of the children in the area collect car numbers and the police are interviewing every one of them who might have been jotting down numbers during the past week.” Eventually arrests were made and Aylesbury was once again the centre of international attention when the accused stood trial during the five-week proceedings held at Aylesbury Rural District Council Chamber. The council chambers were used for the trial as the Buckinghamshire Assizes building couldn’t accommodate the 20 accused and their 30 barristers, let alone the army of press in attendance.

The Great Train Robbery wasn’t the only thing to come to Aylesbury during the Sixties , the town’s relatively close proximity to London and road and rail links to the capital meant it was soon targeted for housing developments. Construction of sprawling estates to cater for the population overspill moving out from the city saw the population of Aylesbury increase rapidly and it is now double the 1960 level at
just over 55,000. The town isn’t standing still even after all this growth as demonstrated by the opening of the new Bourg Walk bridge in March 2009. Also known as the Southcourt or Roberts bridge,the new walkway connects Southcourt to Aylesbury town centre.

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