Memories of Aylesbury

I was born in Aylesbury and lived in the town centre. My parents had a fruit and florist shop. In my younger days all shopkeepers lived on their premises.
Aylesbury was a lovely country town. I remember when the villagers brought their wares into the town for sale. It was one side of the cattle market which was the venue – under cover. It consisted of garden and dairy produce, milk, butter and newly laid eggs in abundance. Pets could also be bought, tame mice, puppies, kittens and rabbits particularly.
On the opposite side of the market were pens full of sheep, pigs and calves. Cows and bulls were also there. They went inside to be sold. The farmers all gathered round on stands and it was a treat if we could catch a sight of the auctioneer on his dais, high and lifted up. We never understood what he was saying. It was very noisy.

At the bottom of the market horses would be sold. Their owners would trot them through the arches by what was the Town Hall and past what is now the Civic Centre. That was a corn merchant's then.

The canal was an interesting place, too. At the Basin End was a coal yard. Barges were busy all the time and many goods were transported this way. Nestle had their own loading bay. Chocolate was the main product then, and cocoa. It was a lovely smell we had when we passed on our way to school. Many times I stood on the bridge and watched them loading. The barges were all very gay, and there would be a horse towing the barge along, as it walked along the tow-path.

Very few people had bathrooms. We used to go once a week to the public baths. Lashings of hot water and half an hour allowed for threepence. For sixpence you could have a towel and soap provided. This was after we were too big to have a tub in front of the fire. The fire brigade was housed next to the baths. It was always very exciting when the fire alarm sounded. The engine was horse drawn.
We used to love to rush up, and see if we could arrive before the firemen and see the horses harnessed up. Off they would go, clanging the bell. We followed as far as we could. I will never forget one fire which happened on my birthday. It was over a shoe shop. The smoke and the flames took a long time to control and sadly the proprietor's wife died in that fire. I didn't realise the severity at the time.

It was a special event when the fair came to town. There would be big roundabouts, and little roundabouts, and hoopla, and coconut shies. I loved the swinging boats. Another great feature was the rock they used to make. They had gaslights on their stalls to make the rock. After cooking, in some sort of cauldron, it had to be stretched over a hook and looped over again and again as it was pulled into shape. A brown substance was put on it, and as it was stretched it made a stripe. When cool enough shears cut it in bars. It smelled lovely and tasted lovely too.

Down Cambridge Street there was a gipsy encampment. The Fire Brigade now occupies that site. Their caravans were all very ornate and the people were colourful too. Many of them were quite illiterate, except for money. Many times they came to my mother to decipher letters.

Tramps were seen daily, traipsing up to the workhouse. They had a casual ward where they could stay overnight. I believe they had some chore to perform in the morning before they left. They were harmless enough. Sometimes they asked for their billycans to be filled with hot water.

Article written by members of the Buckinghamshire Federation of Women's Institutes for the publication "Buckinghamshire Within Living Memory" (1993) and reproduced here with their permission

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