9 fascinating facts you didn’t know about Aylsham

PUBLISHED: 09:31 08 May 2019

The Bure Valley Railway has a special Spring Bank Holiday Weekend with all of it's locomotives running as possible between Aylsham and Wroxham (photo: Mark Bullimore)

The Bure Valley Railway has a special Spring Bank Holiday Weekend with all of it's locomotives running as possible between Aylsham and Wroxham (photo: Mark Bullimore)

Archant Norfolk 2016

Singing sheep, digging deep and two kings lulled to sleep are part of the rich tapestry of life in idyllic Aylsham

1. Dead and buried

Aylsham glove-maker Thomas Hudson was burnt at the stake in Norwich for his protestant beliefs in 1558, during the reign of Catholic Queen Mary. In 1723 Christopher Layer of Aylsham was hanged for treason in London as a supporter of the Catholic claimant to the throne, Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Landscape gardener Humphry Repton, who designed some of the grandest parks and gardens in the country, is buried in his own mini-garden in Aylsham churchyard. Humphry came up with the term 'landscape gardener' as he revamped the estates of 18th and 19th century England including Kensington Palace, Longleat and Woburn Abbey. He began by designing his own garden at Sustead, near Aylsham. Word of the beautiful landscapes he conjured from fields and woodland spread through the aristocracy and he was soon a gardening celebrity, famous for his sales technique of 'before and after' paintings. His Norfolk projects included Sheringham Park and, although he would never have seen the full glory of the rhododendrons and azaleas come into bloom every May, he was able to imagine and paint the future for his clients.

Last year's Aylsham Show (photo: Nick Butcher)Last year's Aylsham Show (photo: Nick Butcher)

His gravestone declares, in his own words: 'Not like Egyptian tyrants consecrate, unmixed with others shall my dust remain, but mold'ring, blending, melting into earth. Mine shall give form and colour to the rose, and while its vivid colours cheer mankind, its perfumed odours shall ascend to heaven.'

2. Aylsham, Lancashire?

Aylsham was once the main town of the royal Duchy of Lancaster. Seven centuries ago the Norfolk town was made the administrative centre for the Duchy by John of Gaunt, son of King Edward III and father of King Henry IV.

Geese enjoying the sunshine (photo: Denise Bradley)Geese enjoying the sunshine (photo: Denise Bradley)

It meant that the people of Aylsham were exempt from most jury service and some taxes.

John of Gaunt funded an extension to the church more than 600 years ago and still stars on Aylsham's sign.

3. Webb site

Aylsham Church (photo: Antony Kelly)Aylsham Church (photo: Antony Kelly)

Pillow cases fit for a king were once made in Aylsham. The town was an important centre of cloth manufacturing, with linen, canvas, worsted and wool all produced here.

Aylsham's signature material was known as Cloth of Aylsham or Aylsham Webb and was used in the royal palaces of Edward II and Edward III in the 14th centuries. It was used for lining armour, covering pillows and cushions and making flags, and in 1333 extra was ordered to make hobby horses for the royals.

4. Medical marvels

A man dubbed 'the father of modern anaesthetics' was born above a shop overlooking Aylsham Market Place in 1825. Joseph Clover's inventions included a portable ether inhaler and a device to administer chloroform. Edward VII and Florence Nightingale were two of the many thousands of patients he safely anaesthetised.

For centuries before that, Aylsham was once known for its spa - a spring of iron-rich water said to help people suffering from asthma. There is still a Spa Farm, on Spa Lane.

5. Famous names

One of Aylsham's oldest surviving buildings is the Black Boys Inn in the Market Place. Its name is variously said to refer to black servants employed by nearby wealthy households or to King Charles II, who was so dark-haired and skinned that his mother nicknamed him Black Boy. The inn once had stabling for 40 horses and its own ghost story, featuring the original owner who was killed in a fight with one of Oliver Cromwell's men. Buried in the grounds, his ghost was said to have haunted the inn in the 18th and 19th centuries. More definite visitations include author Daniel Defoe and Admiral Horatio Nelson. In 1815 John Crome, of the Norwich School of Painters, was commissioned to paint a sign for the inn which he based on a portrait of Charles II.

6. Wonders of Norfolk

Blickling is the birthplace of Anne Boleyn, beheaded second wife of Henry VIII, and mother of Elizabeth I. She would have been born into a grand Tudor house, but this was replaced by an even grander mansion in the 17th century. It includes the Long Gallery library - the most prestigious collection of books held by the National Trust. A conservation project is cataloguing and restoring every book. Most have been at Blickling since 1740, when they were bequeathed to owner John Hobart (who had inherited the estate aged just five after his father was killed in 1698 in the last duel fought in Norfolk.

Blickling also has its own pyramid, built in 1793 for the bodies of John Hobart, earl of Buckinghamshire, and his two wives. Surrounded by woodland it is paved in marble with alcoves holding three marble sarcophagi.

7. On track

Until the 1950s Aylsham had two railway stations, with a northern line connecting it to Yarmouth and Melton Constable and a southern line heading east to Wroxham and west to Reepham. This second line is now the nine-mile narrow gauge Bure Valley Railway between Aylsham and Wroxham. Walkers and cyclists can follow the railway to Wroxham and trace the line of the route on the Marriott's Way to Reepham and beyond. The Weavers' Way long distance footpath also passes through Aylsham. This month the Bure Valley Railway will be running all available engines and coaches during its Everything Goes weekend from Saturday, May 25 to Bank Holiday Monday, May 27

8. Dig deep

Beneath the fertile soil of Woodgate Nursery a Roman settlement is being uncovered. Each summer a community dig reveals more - including Roman tiles with paw prints made by wild boar, wild cats and pine marten.

It began with nursery owner Peter Purdy finding fragments of the past in his garden and surrounding fields and has developed into an annual August dig. Amateur archaeologists, led by experts, have unearthed evidence of a Roman villa and pottery kilns, and hundreds of finds - some of which are on permanent display in Aylsham Heritage Centre. The next dig takes place from August 5 to 23. Find out more, including how to help or visit, at aylshamromanproject.com

9. Baa baa beardie

A singing sheep from Ingworth near Aylsham made it into the charts in 1982. Clare Hoare kept a flock of Welsh Mountain Sheep and launched a business, called Black Sheep, selling shawls and sweaters knitted from their wool and pottery featuring pictures of her sheep. In 1982 the savvy businesswoman was astonished to find that one of her sheep had started singing.

She immediately called her nephew and asked him to record the musical mutton. The result was a 7-inch single called Baa Baa Black Sheep (B side Flock around the Clock) with the singing sheep accompanied by a choir of other farmyard animals. It reached number 42 in the UK charts and spent five weeks in the top 75 after being released on Virgin Records - by Clare's nephew Richard Branson. u

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