The Aylesbury Club

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According to the local Victorian historian, Robert Gibbs, In the early years of the present (nineteenth) century almost every householder at the 'Duck End' of the town fol­lowed the avocation of ducker. 'Duck End' was more or less the area now bounded by Castle Street, Whitehall Street and Friarage Road (formerly Oxford Road). This area was widely regarded as one of the poorer districts of Aylesbury as accounts of nineteenth century show it to have been a slum. Until the late nineteenth cent­ury there were no refuse collections or sewerage. Robert Ceelv, the medical officer of Aylesbury, is quoted in the Report to the General Board of Health on Aylesbury as saying, “The Asiatic cholera (of 1832) commenced in those parts of the locality which are most exposed to humidity and the production of malaria, such as Duck End, where the principal part of the sewerage of the town terminates and open ditches existed, a large sur­face of stagnant water, and where ducks and other live animals are kept in the dwellings and on the premises of the inhabitants.” In the same report it is stated that, On the premises occupied by Mrs Bowden, Oxford Road., also visited by the cholera, the sewerage from ducks ponds in the back yard passes under the brick floor of the living room, the soil oozing up between the bricks.'

Inside these damp cottages, which had neither adequate ventilation, light, nor sanitation, ducks were reared which must have made already inadequate sur­roundings intolerable.

The Rev. St. John Priest, reporting to the Board of Agriculture in 1810, gives this description of a ducker's cottage:

In one room belonging to this man (the only room he had to live in), were ducks of three growths, on the 14th January 1808, fattening for London market: at one corner about seventeen or eighteen four weeks old; at another corner a brood a fortnight old; and at a third comer a brood a week old. In the bed-room were hens brooding ducks' eggs in boxes, to be bought off at different periods.

It is not difficult to imagine conditions inside this cottage, particularly when it is remembered that it is impossible to house-train ducks and that their webbed feet easily trap food and dirt. Furthermore, the absence of an adequate water supply made it impossible to clean up the squalor. Many people recoiled at these appalling conditions and at stories that the young susceptible ducklings were sometimes kept warm in the cottagers' beds! These extraordinary indoor arrange­ments were a feature peculiar to the Aylesbury duckers and are much commented on. Furthermore, the noise at feeding times must have been deafening.


THE DUCK END OF AYLESBURY