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During Medieval times Norfolk saw the greatest growth nationally in markets.
Every fifth or sixth parish had a market serving a catchment of about 10,000 acres. The resulted in markets about eight to 10 miles apart, which kept down the distance a farmer had to travel to sell his goods.
Most of the Markets were in existence for many years before they were given official charters. The earliest outside Norwich was Wymondham with a charter dated 1139. Unfortunately by the 16th century many markets had disappeared although the market place, narrow streets and closely grouped buildings still remain as distinct features.
Aylsham's history is thought to date from about 500 AD when a Saxon named Aegel (a common name) set up his homestead there. As Ham means Homestead, the new village would have been known as Aegel's Ham. About 300 years later when the Danes arrived the village would have been sufficiently well established to keep its Saxon name.
Aylsham's known history dates back to pre-Norman times. It was recorded as Elesham in the Domesday Book and had around 2,370 cultivated acres, 25 of meadow and 640 of woodland. The remaining 1000 acres was wild making a total of 4,035 acres. Today the parish still only covers 4329 acres.
At the time of the Norman Conquest the manor was held by Guert, a noble of Danish origin and a large Norfolk landowner. It is thought that Guert was killed at Hastings and his estates became the property of William I who held them as Royal possession.
The manor of Aylsham was then bestowed to a Norman, Ralph Giedar, Earl of Norfolk. When he too turned against King William the manor was taken back by the crown. From this time until the reign of Charles I it was held by the monarchy who granted it a series of tenants.
Eventually in 1372 the town of Aylsham and other manors and estates in Norfolk were bestowed to John of Gaunt by his father King Edward III. John of Gaunt was already Duke of Lancaster through his marriage to Blanche. The title was granted to him in exchange for the Earldom of Richmond.
When John of Gaunt set up his court of the Duchy of Lancaster it brought the area much greater importance.
John of Gaunt became one of the most powerful noblemen in the country and was feared by the young King Richard II and the Commons. One of the many privileges he granted to local people was exemption from jury service outside the manor.
When John of Gaunt died in 1399 the manor was held by his widow and second wife Catherine. On her death, his son Henry, by his first marriage to Blanche, held the manor. Henry had been King Henry IV since his father's death and it was at this point that the Duchy of Lancaster merged with the crown.
When Charles I became king he held the manor, but mortgaged it to the Corporation of the City of London. The King could never redeem this mortgage so it was sold in 1634 to Sir John Hobart of Blickling. The manor passed through the Earls of Buckinghamshire, along with the Blickling Estate, to the Marquesses of Lothian and then to the National Trust who are its guardians today.
Places of Interest
The Parish Church of St Michael's was built mainly around 1380 by John of Gaunt. It is a large and beautiful church that owes much of its prosperity to the linen and worstead industry.
Major repairs were undertaken to the church in 1852 and again in 1938 when the whole tower was re-pointed.