The architecture of Aylesbury, the county town of Buckinghamshire, reflects the ordinary architecture which can be found in many small towns in England where the buildings of the town were designed by local architects. This is characteristic of the built environment of Aylesbury, itself a good example of an English county town. The local architecture and vernacular buildings in the market towns were usually inspired at second hand by the work of the great master architects or the general architectural style popular at the time. England had a middle class long before many other European countries, these bourgeois merchants would often return from a visit to one of the cities, or having seen a glimpse of one of the great country houses then require a replica of what they had seen. A local architect would then be employed to recreate it, within limited financial restraints. Sometimes the patron would merely draw an image of what he required and a builder would then interpret the requirements to the best of his ability.
This percolation of architectural style was not confined to private houses, but to civic architecture too: an illustrious architect added to civic pride; and when an architect was too expensive for the civic coffers, for a fraction of the price he would judge a competition between local architects, for the privilege of designing a town hall or church. This is exactly what happened in Aylesbury. John Vanbrugh judged two sets of plans for the County Hall (now Aylesbury Crown Court). Thus for ever Vanbrugh’s name was remembered in association with the building, the local architect almost forgotten, and civic pride maintained.
It is this provincial, often unappreciated and unnoticed architecture, by nationally unknown architects still being produced today which continues to give many English market towns their unique atmosphere and character, the architecture of Aylesbury demonstrates this admirably Aylesbury retains some buildings from the medieval, Stuart, Georgian and Victorian periods, as well as the 20th century. Ceely House, Ardenham House, the Union Workhouse and The County Gaol are among the most notable buildings in the town.
St Mary’s Church, sited upon a hill surrounded by narrow streets and squares of substantial 18th-century town houses, such as Castle Street, Temple Square and Parson’s Fee give an indication of how Aylesbury may have appeared in the 18th century.
Saxon to medieval period
The earliest stone buildings in the town were the castle and the parish church. Little is known of the castle: its existence is speculation based on the names Castle Street and Castle Fee, though archeological excavations in the 1960s uncovered a section of the castle wall and part of an Iron Age fort. It is likely that it was a Norman structure consisting of just a motte-and-bailey. Built immediately after the conquest it was probably demolished after outliving its requirement following the quelling of the Anarchy of the early 12th century.
The parish church St. Mary the Virgin, Aylesbury, dedicated to St Mary is the oldest surviving building in Aylesbury. Cruciform in design, it follows a common layout of English churches, the tower in the centre, the nave with aisles in the west, leading to the chancel in the east, and chapels in the north and south transepts. The eastern chapel, known as the Lady chapel has beneath it a crypt containing Saxon brickwork, possibly dating from circa 571 when Aylesbury was a Saxon settlement known as Aeglesburge. It is thought a Norman church, of which only the font remains, then stood on the site. The present church was built during the first half of the 13th century, and has later perpendicular battlements. The tower is crowned by a small spire dating from the reign of Charles II. Between 1850 and 1869 the church was restored under the direction of Sir George Gilbert Scott. Pevsner describes this restoration as “so reckless both exterior and interior look mostly Victorian”. Scott removed features such as the intricately carved manorial pew, the “three decker” pulpit and replaced some perpendicular windows with Gothic triple lancet windows beloved of the Victorians (the original east window can now be found in the gardens of Green End House in Rickford’s Hill). The church was, at this time, in a dilapidated state, the roof was perilous, and innumerable internal burials had undermined the foundations, in addition to this much of the church was let to local organizations, the local fire service kept three fire engines in one of the chapels, and the local regiment and militia stored their stock of gunpowder in part of the church. Many fine architectural details did survive the neglect and following restoration – the large west window, the perpendicular roofs to the transepts, the late 12th century font and the four misericords besides some well carved stone monuments and memorial tablets. In the 1970s the church was again considered perilously unstable, and at one time appeared to be facing demolition, though was eventually restored, and is today the town’s principal Church of England place of worship.
The former friarage at 27 Rickfords Hill is the oldest residential building in Aylesbury. Constructed circa 1386 as a Franciscan priory the substructure remains intact although the exterior is more modern. Part of the original foundation of the building can still be seen at the side in Friarage Passage.
It is possible that the building was re-fronted shortly after the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 16th century. Re-fronting was a common practice in British building techniques and involves stripping away the external shell of the older building, sometimes just the front, and then adding a new shell.
There is a high likelihood that the building was re-fronted for a second time or had extra features added to it in the 18th century: the front door, for instance, is of a much later design than 16th century. However records suggest that the size of the doorway, and the position of the windows are original features from the 14th century structure.
Today the building is one of the offices of a firm of solicitors, who have been based in this building for over 20 years, the main office is 25 yards away at 14 Bourbon Street. It had been the private residence of one Colonel Crouch a Clerk of the Peace and Clerk of Buckinghamshire County Council (1924–1955).
15th century to 18th century
Aylesbury has always been quintessentially a market town, with the Market Square at its heart. The Market Square is still used for four markets a week and other events on special occasions. The siting of the medieval market stalls both semi-permanent and temporary has given the Market Square an unusual architectural character. As the temporary medieval market stalls, or allocated lots of the traders, on Market Square became less transient so the stalls began to become permanent buildings. Many of the square’s oldest buildings such as the King’s Head Inn are hidden in what appear to be back alleys on the periphery of the square.
This encroachment continued into the 16th century until the western area of the square (where the Dark Lantern public house is today) was a complex of alleys and lanes. This curious maze-like complex existed until the 1960s redevelopment of the town, and the King’s Head still appears to be partially hidden by buildings in front of it.
Parsons Fee has its name steeped in history. Aylesbury remained a feudal manor until the 13th century when new smaller landholdings were formed. These new small manors created by royal grant were often known as fees: Aylesbury had several fees about the time of Henry II. These included the Castle Fee held by the principal lord of the manor of Aylesbury, who also held the Lord’s fee; Otterers fee which was granted to Roger Foll, the King’s otter hunter in 1179 and Church Fee endowed to the church, which eventually in Aylesbury was allowed a small degree of autonomy as a prebend of the Diocese of Lincoln. Hence church fee was controlled by the “parson” or priest of Aylesbury, and thus Church Fee came to be known as Parson’s Fee.
The row of cottages in Parsons Fee adjacent to the parish church are some of the oldest dwellings in Aylesbury. These timber framed dwellings which date from the 17th century have oversailing upper stories, a common feature of the period, which had the advantage of increasing the space of a small land site.
The brick-built cottages to the left are almshouses belonging to the Thomas Hickman charity. Thomas Hickman was a resident of Aylesbury in the 17th century who left money in his will to provide money for dwellings for the old and infirm. These dwellings were built in the 19th century to look like their neighbours.
Aylesbury has many public buildings which reflect its position as the county town of Buckinghamshire since the 16th century. In the early 18th century plans were submitted by two architects, Mr. Brandon and Thomas Harris, for a new County Hall. John Vanbrugh selected Harris’ plan.
The building was completed in 1740, a red brick building of seven bays and two stories. The windows are round topped on the lower floor and pedimented on the upper. The three central bays are unified under a pediment. The whole style is Palladian with some baroque influences. One feature on the principal facade shows the building’s provincial pedigree, Vanbrugh or Wren would have left the facade undecorated, or the windows interspersed by pilasters: here in rural Aylesbury the architect chose to place a humble drainpipe symmetrically between the windows, in London plumbing was discreet or hidden. The interior contained a panelled court room, and a council chamber.
Almost from the moment of the building’s completion, the 18th century County Hall was not large enough. As local government became more complex and bureaucratic more office space was required and so Judges’s lodgings were constructed in 1849-50 on the back of County Hall. Following the Local Government Act of 1888 the newly established Buckinghamshire County Council based itself here, thus further council rooms, including a Mayor’s parlour, were added too.
Ceely House is one of Aylesbury’s larger houses. Of medieval origin it was the brotherhood house of the Fraternity of the Virgin Mary. In the mid-18th century it was converted to a private house and given a new classical front, by the Aylesbury lawyer Hugh Barker Bell. Constructed of red brick, its main facade is five bays. The centre bay projects slightly to accentuate the main entrance, which is protected by a porch in a loose palladian style of two unfluted Corinthean columns supporting a pediment. The pitched roof is hidden by an unusual parapet masquerading as an undecorated entablature. As in the case of the Friarage however Ceely House is another example of a much older building with a new front: medieval wall paintings may be found in the upper storeys of the house, which is now part of the Buckinghamshire County Museum.
Joseph Nollekens is said to have designed the large neoclassical Ardenham House for his sister-in-law a “Miss Welch”.The daughter of Justice Saunders Welch, (a friend of both Samuel Johnson and Hogarth) Nollekens had married her younger sister Mary in 1772. This means the house can be no earlier than this date. Miss Welch is reported to have been a great intellectual, using Ardenham house as a literary salon. The large square red bricked edifice is of a simple design – a three-bayed front of three floors. The severity of the facade is only alleviated by a porch with tuscan columns, with a tripartite window above, and above that a tripartite lunette window. The roofline is hidden by a broken parapet. The design of this facade is typical of the more simple neoclassical approach to architecture of the late 18th century.
The 19th century saw a period of unprecedented expansion to the town brought about by improved methods of transport allowing increased industry: in 1814 the Grand Union Canal reached the town which then had a population of 3,450. When the London and Birmingham Railway arrived in 1839, the population was 5,000. The second railway, the Great Western in 1863, served a population of 6,170. By this time, the town had the first of its large national employers the printers Hazell, Watson and Viney. By the end of the century, Aylesbury had a population of 10,000, all of whom had to be housed, many in the solid 19th-century houses which grew up on the roads approaching the town – Tring Road, Bierton Road and Wendover Road. Many of these large Gothic villas still stand today.
Two of Aylesbury’s earliest notable 19th-century buildings were at the time of their erection built for social reasons in open countryside, opposite each other, on the road to Bierton immediately adjacent to the town. These were the Union Workhouse in 1844, and the County Gaol in 1845.
Pevsner dismisses Aylesbury Workhouse as “Red brick, gabled, dull”. Workhouses were frequently designed to be as austere and forbidding as possible in order to deter the undeserving. However, Aylesbury’s workhouse was built of a mellow redbrick, designed by the architects Strethill Oakes Foden and Henry W. Parker to resemble an inviting Tudor manor house with large bay windows and tall decorative chimneys. The large gatehouse, reminiscent of an Elizabethan or Jacobean manor, was designed to provide the barest legal accommodation for passing vagrants, on whom the town did not wish to spend its money. These unfortunates were allowed one night’s refuge before being sent outside of the town’s confines. The building still stands, and houses the Tindal Centre, a hospital for people experiencing mental illness.
If the Workhouse was designed to be inviting and warm, the County Gaol most definitely was not. Designed by a Major J Jebb in 1845 the layout of the original design was to serve one of the Victorian eras most controversial methods of penal reform. Prisoners were kept in complete solitary confinement, and silence, for the duration of their sentences. 250 men were kept in individual cells in which they ate, slept and washed alone and in silence. They left their cells only to worship. The prison chapel (described by Pevsner as “elegantly built” had 247 seats designed that while the convicts could see the priest, they could not see each other.
The architecture externally of the Gaol could be described as typical 19th century prison architecture, the principal facade facing onto the Bierton Road, the only part of the prison visible to the public has classical pretensions. Built of red brick with dressed stone quoining the focal point is the large central bay containing the arched entrance. The bay has an entablature but no pediments. The frieze bears the date 1845 in Roman numerals. The central bay is flanked by two short wings containing administrative offices leading to two large cubed blocks which were the residences of the governor and his deputy. An unexplainable architectural mystery here is that the short flanking wings are dwarfed by massive chimneys containing far more chimney pots than the rooms within could possibly require. Behind this severe public face of the prison, all attempts at attractive architecture ceased. Tall red brick cell blocks several stories high under a slate roof surrounded the central courtyard. The architecture was utilitarian in the extreme. The building still stands, the main facade largely unchanged. It remains a prison.
The Old Aylesbury Bank was founded in 1795 by a local entrepreneur William Rickford and was for many years the only banking establishment in the town. The quality of the bank’s architecture is a good barometer of the wealth that came from being the sole financial depository within a large rural area. The building dates from 1853. It seems that the highly fashionable Gothic revival had not yet reached Aylesbury, as the owners of the bank selected an Italianate classical style. The ground floor is rusticated but the blocks of ashlar are imitation, as is the quoining on the floors above. The upper floor, which would have been the banks administrative offices, suggests a piano nobile, with tall sash windows crowned by segmental pediments. The Bank standing on the junction of Market Square and Kingsbury Square has a canted facade in order to suit the triangular junction cause by the meeting of the two squares and a common street. The building in style is very reminiscent of those buildings of Thomas Cubitt and Edward Blore in London at this period. The possibility of a notable architect is likely as in nearby Leighton Buzzard the great Gothic revival architect Alfred Waterhouse was commissioned to design an equally small provincial bank (the Basset Bank) in the town’s High Street and there was great rivalry between the small rural banks. The appearance of the Bank itself was seen not only as a sign of prestige, but also financial security, both evaluated by small local businessmen and farmers when entrusting their money.
From the beginning of the 19th century, most towns in England had a building known as the corn exchange. Here farmers and grain merchants bartered for, and fixed the price of grain. In a rural community, where the greatest percentage of the community was directly involved with agriculture, this was a very important building, as here was decided the economy of the district. Often other agricultural commodities such as wool, were traded here. The corn exchange was often a grand imposing building which doubled as a venue for public entertainments, such as concerts and plays. The corn exchange in Aylesbury is less grand than some of its contemporaries: at nearby Leighton Buzzard the corn exchange was an Italianate palace. The building was erected by a consortium of local business men known as the Aylesbury Market Company, with capita of £18,000. They purchased and demolished the White Hart Inn replacing it with a new cattle market and the Corn Exchange. The site adjoined the County Hall which conveniently reflected its intended importance in the community. Designed by David Brandon in 1865, the Corn Exchange takes the form of a red brick triple triumphal arch leading to further council offices. Above the arches the reception rooms have large mullioned and transomed windows. This Jacobethan building sits incongruously in the corner of the Market Square next to the classical county hall and opposite a bow fronted regency public house with an ornate entablature. However, this siting of opposing styles of architecture, and constant change is the essence of character of an English market town. The agricultural depression which occurred from the 1870s resulted in a steep decline in the value of grain, the corn exchange never realised the profits its builders intended and in 1901 it was eventually sold to the Urban District Council as a town hall. The Corn Exchange today houses council conference rooms and a youth coffee bar.
Market Square is the historic trading centre of the town, and indeed markets are still held here weekly today. The site at the centre of the square was formerly occupied by the market house which served on the ground level as an open covered market. Stall holders would pay extra to have their market stall here, above it would have been a town meeting room, where the stallholders’ fees were collected and kept. Often these upper chambers also served as a form of town hall, a similar market house is at the nearby town of Amersham. The Market House was demolished in 1866: by this time markets while still a popular occurrence had been replaced in importance by regular and permanent shops. Ten years later on the site was built the clocktower, constructed of local stone, in the Gothic revival style, designed by the local architect D Brandon, also responsible for the Corn Exchange and many other public buildings in the town. The clocktower complete with spire sits on a slightly raised dais from the rest of the square and has been used as a platform from which important speeches have been made in the past. The horse troughs that had been placed adjacent to the clocktower when it was constructed have since been removed.
20th century and modernist period
Around 1929 the county architect C. Riley was commissioned to design a large office block for Buckinghamshire County Council. The County Offices (later known as County Hall) was a three-storey building of 17 bays in an almost Second Empire design. The flat facade has a slight projection of the terminating bays, and a low stone portico at the centre. On the first floor the centre window, and the windows at the centre of the terminating bays were given pediments. Otherwise the facade beneath a mansard roof is unadorned.
Today this building known as Aylesbury Vale District Council’s Exchange Street Offices is part of the administration centre of the local government. Completed in 1931 This building’s original use was industrial – the home of the electricity board. The ground floor being showrooms, with offices above, while at the rear of the building was the power station supplying the town with electricity. The architecture of the building is a subtle form of the classical united with the Baroque. The sophisticated proportions and design of the building are unusual for a mundane utility building of the early 1930s – a period of general depression when cost and economy of design took precedence over the aesthetics of architecture. The ground floor suggests the open loggias of town architecture of the Renaissance, where open arcades provided covered space for market stalls and vendors, while above was living accommodation. However, here, to suit both the 20th century and more northern climate, the arcade is closed. The windows above are slim and elongated redolent of those used by such architects as Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor during the English Baroque period of the early 18th century.
The facade is given an importance and a focal point by a low pediment very much in the English Queen Anne style which immediately followed the short lived English Baroque period. building was demolished in November 2007 by Aylesbury Vale District Council in order to make way for the new Waterside development.
Buckinghamshire County Council appointed a new County Architect Fred Pooley in 1954, previous being the deputy architect in Coventry. He influenced many new buildings in Aylesbury and around the county. Pooley was experienced in the design of schools having drawn the plans for three educational establishments in the town: Quarrendon County Secondary School in 1957, Grange Secondary Modern School in 1954, and Oak Green Primary School in 1950. Pooley’s choice of architecture was Brutalist, an architectural style sometimes referred to as “the celebration of concrete” – its chief building component, the first example of this style in the town.
In the mid-1960s, a large part of the town centre was redeveloped to designs by Bernard Engle (now tp bennett + Engle) under the direction of Fred Pooley, who prepared the general plan for public inquiry in 1962. The projected provided a new shopping centre, bus station, and linking with the new County Hall. The new town centre was tiered, with an underground bus station and market, an open ground level pedestrian square around which were larger shops and a cafeteria built high on stilts, and above, a three floored department store. While this form of town planning is often scorned today, at the time it provided exactly what was required by its consumers, greater shopping choices with easy access and convenient public transport all in a modern environment contrasting with the war time building restrictions which had lingered, in Britain, until the previous decade.
The foundation stone of the new concrete and glass County Hall was laid on 22 October 1964 by Sir Henry Floyd, Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire. The building stands 200 ft. high and consists of 15 floors sitting above a complex containing the County Reference Library, Aylesbury Register Office, and the County Record Office. Inside it brought together for the first time all the departments and machinations of Buckinghamshire County Council. The building is visible from many villages and towns several miles distant. Dominating a predominantly low-rise 18th-century town, it proved to be a conversational piece of architecture. Often referred to locally as “Pooley’s Folly” or “Fred’s Fort” (after the architect Fred Pooley) the building took just two years to build and was completed in 1966 at a cost of £956,000. Today its architectural merit is recognised by some, and the building is listed for preservation as Grade II.
The Jarvis building was originally intended to be one wing of a large department store, extending from the High Street to the Market Square. It was built in the early 1960s on the site of Jarvis’ original shop. The wooden painted panels beneath the many windows of the 1960s block are here accentuated, almost caricatured, to become the most dominant features of the facade and the windows become of negligible value.
Late 20th- and 21st-century architecture
During the late 20th century, Aylesbury began to expand industrially with several well known companies establishing in the town and bringing with it a new type of commercial office accommodation.
Hampden House at the junction between the High Street and Vale Park Way was conceived as an office block for an international company, its curved facades hint at the Streamline Moderne: this is further enhanced by the upper floors themselves appearing as bands of brickwork and glass. The large store on the ground floor is recessed into a faux arcade of a lighter stonework than the upper floors.
This large office building in Walton Street was constructed in 1982 and designed by GMW Partnership. It has won awards for the its design with sloping blue mirrored facades. When first built it was thought to be a potential hazard to passing motorists, due to the sun reflecting from its glass surfaces: a row of trees were therefore planted alongside the main road to prevent dazzling.
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
The 1970s Civic Centre was replaced with the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre in 2010. It was designed by RHWL Arts Team.
Notable buildings that have been demolished
Other buildings in Aylesbury have, for one reason or another, been demolished over the years and certain of these were remarkable or notable in their own right. The Church of St John in Cambridge Street was designed by the eminent Gothic revival architect J P St. Aubyn between 1881 and 1883, a tall red brick, church with no tower it had lancet windows and a later chancel of 1894. The former Wesleyan Chapel, in Friarage Passage, later the “Ex-Services Club” this is a three-bayed structure under a large pediment, with segment headed windows, and had blind arcading as a decorative feature, unusual in a Wesleyan Chapel, usually known for the simplicity of their design.
Other notable buildings that have disappeared that have not already been mentioned elsewhere in the article include the Railway Hotel (described by Pevsner affectionately as: “an engaging little horror built in 1898” ) in Great Western Street, the Baptist Chapel in Walton Street, the public baths in Bourbon Street and the Union of London & Smith Bank in High Street. In 1935 a public lido was opened in Aylesbury, this has undergone a number re-building works and is the current location of the Aqua Vale Swimming and Fitness Centre which still incorporates a 20-meter outdoor pool.
Aylesbury’s smaller churches
Other places of worship in the town include the remainder of the Congregational Church in the High Street designed by Rowland Plumbe in 1874. It originally had a simple asymmetrical facade though now only the tower remains and is used as offices. In Buckingham Street is the Methodist Church of 1893 designed by James Weir, and described damningly by Pevsner as of a “terrible Italianate style”. This description is a little harsh, as the church also displays not only Italianate features but also some Byzantine and Romanesque features too.
In the high street is the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to St Joseph built in the 20th century and in Walton is the Holy Trinity Chapel built in 1845.
Source From Wikipedia