Alex Hurrell, Reporter
Monday, July 21, 2014
A new history of Aylsham has been published, filling a gap of more than half a century.
Aylsham: Norfolk’s Premier Market Town is rich with illustrations and maps and covers the town’s story from pre-history to the present day.
Author Richard Harbord said the book was partly an attempt to update the respected Dr John Sapwell’s encyclopaedic A History of Aylsham, published in 1961.
Mr Harbord, 72, a retired architect and town planner, said he wanted to get away from nostalgia about the town’s Victorian and Edwardian past and look at how the town began. There were suggestions that it had been a Roman settlement.
Unlike many other towns, Aylsham had not been ravaged by a major fire in its past, nor had it been bombed in the world wars. Behind its Georgian facades were medieval and Tudor buildings.
“A lot of towns are under threat from over-development. Aylsham is one of the best-preserved market towns in Norfolk. It’s incredibly rich in its heritage, and we need to give it special attention,” said Mr Harbord, of Gunton Hall, who is also family historian for Lord Suffield.
Aylsham prospered through the weaving trade, and later its close association with the Blickling estate.
In the 14th century, Aylsham cloth was used to make Edward II’s bedlinen and two-and-a-half miles of textiles produced in the town formed part of Edward III’s coronation fabric.
In the 16th century, rich donors embellished the parish church and some of their images survive today. The chancel screen shows two of its patrons, Thomas Wymer and John Jannys.
Jannys’ son Robert left money in his will towards the endowment of Aylsham’s first school.
The arrival of the Hobart family, who bought nearby Blickling Hall in the 17th century and invested heavily in Aylsham, heralded another period of prosperity for the town.
“The result was an amazing number of large, comfortable houses and interesting families associated with them,” said Mr Harbord.
When the last private owner of Blickling Hall, Lord Lothian, gave the estate to the National Trust in 1940, it included Aylsham town centre, now part of its conservation area.
Transport improvements, such as the canalisation of the River Bure and arrival of the railway, are also covered.
“The book means to be a celebration of a wonderful place to live and work,” said Mr Harbord, who is currently working on village and town studies of places including North Walsham and Cromer.
The book costs £12.95 and is available from Barnwells in Aylsham, Jarrold in Cromer, and Bertram Watts in Sheringham.
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