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Aylsham is a historic market town and civil parish on the River Buremarker in north Norfolk, Englandmarker, about 15 km (10 miles) north of Norwichmarker. The river rises near Aylsham and continues to Great Yarmouthmarker and the North Seamarker, although it was only made navigable after 1779, allowing grain, coal and timber to be brought up river.

The town is close to large estates and grand country houses at Blicklingmarker, Felbriggmarker, Mannington and Woltertonmarker, which are important tourist attractions.

The civil parish has an area of 17.52 square kilometres and in the 2001 census had a population of 6000 in 2448 households. For the purposes of local government, the parish falls within the district of Broadland.


Archaeological evidence shows that the site of the town has been occupied since prehistoric times. Aylsham is just over two miles from a substantial Roman settlement at Bramptonmarker, linked to Venta Icenorummarker at Caistor St Edmundmarker, south of Norwich, by a Roman road which can still be traced in places - that site was a bustling industrial centre with maritime links to the rest of the empire. Excavations in the 1970s provided evidence of several kilns, showing that this was an industrial centre, pottery and metal items being the main items manufactured.

Aylsham is thought to have been founded around 500 AD by an Anglo Saxon thegn called Aegel, Aegel's Ham, meaning "Aegel's settlement". The town is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Elesham and Ailesham, with a population of about 1,000. Until the 15th century, the linen and worsted industry was important here, as well as in North Walshammarker and Worsteadmarker, and Aylsham webb or 'cloth of Aylsham' was supplied to the royal palaces of Edward II and III.

John of Gaunt was Lord of the manor from 1372 and Aylsham became the principal town of the Duchy of Lancaster. Although John of Gaunt probably never came to Aylsham, the townspeople enjoyed many privileges, including exemption from jury service outside the manor and from payment of certain taxes. The village sign depicts John of Gaunt.

In 1519 Henry VIII granted a market on Saturdays and an annual fair to be held on March 12, which was the eve of the feast of St Gregory the pope. Aylsham markets have always been an important feature of the town, and businesses developed to meet the needs of the town and the farming lands around it. Besides weekly markets there were cattle fairs twice a year and, in October, a hiring fair.

The historic Black Boys Inn in the Market Place is one of Aylsham's oldest surviving buildings, and has been on the site since the 1650s, although the present frontage dates to between 1710 and 1720. There is a frieze of small black boys on the cornice and a good staircase and assembly room. The Black Boys was a stop for the post coach from Norwich to Cromermarker, had stabling for 40 horses, and employed three ostlers and four postboys.

A thatched waterpump was built in 1911 at Carr's Corner in memory of John Soame by his uncle, a wealthy financier. An artesian well 170 feet (52 m) deep, its canopy is thatched in Norfolk reed.

As with many of the other market towns in the county, the weaving of local cloth brought prosperity to the town in medieval times. Until the 15th century it was the manufacture of linen which was the more important, and Aylsham linens and Aylsham canvases were nationally known. From the 16th century linen manufacture declined and wool became more important, a situation that continued until the coming of the Industrial Revolution. Thereafter the principal trade of the town for the 19th century was grain and timber, together with the range of trades to be found in a town which supported local agriculture. Records show that Aylsham had markets and fairs, certainly from the 13th century. Such weekly and annual events were important for the trade that they brought. Annual horse fairs would bring many other traders to the town, and the weekly market would be the occasion for more local trade. The rights of the stallholders in the market place today date back to the rights established in medieval times.

Local government

In medieval times the parish of Aylsham was established as four manors, the main manor of Lancaster, Vicarage manor, Sexton's manor and Bolwick manor. The ownership of the Lancaster manor changed hands many times, before James I assigned it to his son, the future Charles I.

In the course of the events which lead up to the English Civil War Charles I had to raise as much money as possible, and mortgaged Lancaster manor to the Corporation of the City of Londonmarker. The Corporation eventually sold it to Sir John Hobart, and through him it passed to the ownership of the Blickling Estatemarker. The current lords of the manor are the National Trust.

Formerly part of the South Erpinghammarker Hundred, Aylsham was, for administrative purposes, absorbed into St. Faiths and Aylsham Rural District Council in 1894 and became part of Broadland District Council in 1974.

Notable residents

A plaque on the wall of Barclays Bank in the Market Place commemorates Christopher Layer (born 1683), who was a militant Jacobite and supporter of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the 'Young Pretender'. He was tried for high treason and hanged at Tyburnmarker in London in 1723. Nearby, a plaque commemorates Joseph Thomas Clover (1825–82), the father of modern anaesthetics, who was born above a shop overlooking the Market Place.

Daniel Defoe stayed in Aylsham in 1732 and enjoyed a meal at the Black Boys Inn. Parson Woodforde, the famous Norfolk diarist, also dined there in 1781, and Horatio Nelson, whose cousin lived in Aylsham, is said to have danced in the Assembly Room attached to the inn.

Humphry Repton (1752–1818), the landscape gardener who lived at nearby Susteadmarker, is buried in St Michael's Churchyard, and his watercolours provide a fascinating record of the Market Place in the early 19th century.

Clive Payne (b. 2 March 1950), former professional footballer for Norwich City and A.F.C. Bournemouth.

Kathleen Starling (1890–ca 1970) became an opera singer under the name of Kathleen Destournel. She sang at Covent Gardenmarker and entertained troops in north Africa during World War Two, before moving to Arizonamarker, USA until her husband's death after which she returned to Aylsham to live with her sisters.

The Parish church

The Market Place and surrounding area is dominated by the tower of the parish church of St Michael and All Angels, a fine example of Gothic architecture of the Decorated style. The small spire on top of the 30 metre (98 ft) tower is also a landmark that can be seen for miles around. The nave, aisles and chancel were built in the 13th century. The tower and ground floor of the south porch were added in the 14th century. The north transept was built under the patronage of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster around 1380. An upper floor to the porch was added in 1488. The lower part of the rood screen survived the destruction visited by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans, although some of the painted panels were disfigured.

Transport and tourism

The ancient but natural transport route for Aylsham would have been the River Buremarker, but it was not open to substantial navigation. There was a scheme in the 1700s to widen the navigation from Coltishallmarker to Aylsham and, after many difficulties, trading wherries from Great Yarmouthmarker were able to reach a staithe at Aylsham. The final end for this scheme was the devastating flood of 1912.

Road transport for Aylsham was very important. It was the principal coaching point on the Norwich-Cromer road, and the meeting point for other roads. Each day the coaches from Cromermarker and Holtmarker would draw up at the Black Boys, the main inn in Aylsham market place. Coaching ended with the coming of the railways in the 1880s. There were many different plans for railways, but eventually two lines served Aylsham, with the town having both North and South stations until the 1950s.

Aylsham once had two railway stations, both now closed, one Aylsham railway stationmarker on the Great Eastern line between County School railway stationmarker (near North Elmhammarker) and Wroxhammarker and the other Aylsham railway stationmarker on the M&GNJR line from Melton Constablemarker to Yarmouth.

Aylsham is also the terminus for the Bure Valley Railwaymarker, the Bure Valley Pathmarker and the Marriott's Waymarker. Blickling Hallmarker, the great country house in the care of the National Trust, is a mile and a half (2 km) away. With its dramatic symmetrical front, flanked by two great yew hedges, it is a fine example of a Jacobean brick-built manor house, and was formerly the home of the young Anne Boleyn, later to become Henry VIII's second wife.

Aylsham was once noted for its spa, situated about half a mile south of the town, comprising a chalybeate spring, formerly used by those suffering from asthma and other chronic conditions.

The Tourist Information Centre office is located adjacent to the Bure Valley Railway station. Local entertainment in the town includes concerts by the Aylsham Band, which plays at venues in and around Aylsham; the Aylsham Players who host one or two productions a year; and Aylsham High Schoolmarker, which presents an annual school musical.

The annual Aylsham Show features agricultural exhibits and takes place on August Bank Holiday Monday at nearby Blickling Park.

Aylsham today

Today Aylsham remains well-known for its twice-weekly market and its Monday auctions. It is a popular town for people working in Norwich, but remains an active local business centre in its own right, particularly in the support of agriculture. Today the town has a population of about 5,000, several local industries and still serves the needs of a wide area with twice weekly markets and a farmers' market on the morning of the first Saturday of each monthThe Aylsham Partnership was formed in 2001 to implement the Market towns Initiative in Aylsham. The Partnership includes elected members of County, District and Parish/Town Councils in the Aylsham County Council Division and representatives of other statutory bodies and community organisations.

Aylsham came fourth in the world in an international competition celebrating liveable communities, winning a Silver Award in category A (towns with a population up to 20,000) of the International Awards for Liveable Communities, held in El Coruñamarker, Spainmarker in November 2005.

The Market Towns Initiative finished in 2004 but the Partnership successfully bid for funding to take part in the Cittaslow pilot project and to sustain work on traffic management and heritage. As a result, Aylsham became one of the founding towns, and the first in Norfolk, of the Cittaslow movement, an international organisation promoting the concept of 'Slow Towns' ("a Network of towns where Quality of Life is important"). It is claimed that Aylsham did not have to change to become a member, as it was already a clear example of the type of community advocated by the Cittaslow movement.

Aylsham became Norfolk's first plastic-bag-free town on May 3, 2008.

Tescomarker's new store built from wood, recyclable plastic and other sustainable materials, and claimed to be the "greenest in the world" opened in the town July 2008.


Image:Black Boys Inn.jpg|Black Boys InnImage:Aylsham Town Hall.jpg|Aylsham Town HallImage:Lychgate.jpg|Lychgate at St Michaels churchImage:Aylsham.JPG| The John Soame thatched water pumpImage:River Bure at Aylsham.JPG|The River Bure downstream of the millFile:Aylsham Cawston Rd Mill.jpg|The windmill


Aylsham is twinned with and formerly had an informal connection with

See also


  1. Office for National Statistics & Norfolk County Council, 2001. Census population and household counts for unparished urban areas and all parishes. Retrieved December 2, 2005.
  2. The Aylsham show Retrieved 5 August, 2009
  3. International awards for Liveable Communities finalists, 2005
  4. The first Cittaslow in Norfolk. Cittaslow UK (Official Website). Retrieval Date: February 10, 2008.
  5. Norfolk's First Plastic-bag Free Town. Retrieved: March 30, 2008.
  6. Tesco news report Retrieved July 26 2008

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