Now the centre of Aylesbury, Market Square is not as old as the adjoining Kingsbury Square. It is nevertheless still medieval and the presence of the market made it an important area of the town. Expansions in the population in the area put pressure on the square, resulting in a series of encroachments. This additional construction, particularly where Friar’s Square shopping centre now stands, reduced it in size considerably to close to the area we know today. Markets have been held in Aylesbury for much longer than the Square has existed for. Domesday mentions market tolls, and a deed of around 1200 mentions a market.
The largely open space we know today is a fairly recent innovation. Until 1866 a series of buildings existed in the centre of the square. The old Market House, pulled down around 1808, was home to an upstairs room used by conjurors and fortune tellers, as well as for cockfighting. On the site of the present tower there was a cage used as the venue for corporal punishment. Offenders would be marched from the prison at the bottom of the square to the cage, tied to the cage door and whipped. Close to the Market House were the stocks and the pillory. The building was reported to contain a cellar with treadmill for pumping water, linked by tunnel to County Hall in the south and to one of the shops in the north west of Market Square.
The market brought its own unsavoury activities. The 19th Century antiquarian and journalist Robert Gibbs recorded that ‘seldom a fair or market day passed without a pitched battle taking place’. The market also gave the opportunity for the people of Aylesbury to buy a bull to indulge in bull baiting. When the trial of Queen Caroline was abandoned in 1820, a bull baiting on Market Square was a centre piece of the celebrations. The practice was eventually discontinued in 1821.
Additional furniture was added to Market Square over the course of the late 19th and early 20th Century. The Clock Tower was erected in 1876, followed by the arrival of the two lions outside County Hall brought from Waddesdon in 1888. The statues of Lord Chesham (1910), John Hampden (1912) and Benjamin Disraeli (1923) are further landmarks around the square. The War Memorial, installed 1921, was given further prominence by the relocation of the Hampden statue from the top of Market Square to its present position in 1988.
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