In many ways the year 1660 was a watershed in our national history. After the Civil War and the Restoration of Charles II the political scene was never the same again. Many of our national institutions began to take shape from about that time. Architecture branched out in new directions and, from the standpoint of historical research, events thereafter were more continuously and systematically documented. If a date has to be chosen as a starting point for a short history of the town, 1660 is as good as any. The origins of the town’s history lie a long way further back. It needs to be remembered that by 1660 the town already had several centuries of life behind it.
Even by the beginning of the seventeenth century, the area that we call the ‘Old Town’ already had something like the appearance that we now know. The Parish Church was there at the highest point on a spacious plateau. Nearby was the ‘Old Rectory’, though then it was the actual Rectory, looking much the same as it does now. Also close to the church was Capel House, one of our many timber-framed buildings.
The four ‘Ends’ [the local expression for “leading to”] had their present shape as arms stretching out from the central crossroads. The Ends broaden out as they reach the centre, to provide space for the weekly market and, in those days, the twice-yearly fairs. The Saracen’s Head and the White Hart already stood at two of the corners. In Aylesbury End, where there is now an area of grass and the horse trough, stood an open-sided but covered market hall. From as early as 1768 it was being described as so old as to be no longer worth repairing, and it was no doubt the ‘market house’ listed among the property acquired by Anne Waller, the mother of Edmund, the poet, in 1624.
Development extended right along the four Ends. Stretching along London End came the Crown, close to the Saracen’s Head and possibly even older. On the north side, opposite, was the King’s Head. Then, where Knight’s shop now stands, was the Chequers. East of the Chequers was a building, then mainly a farm but also serving as an inn, The Bull – thereby marking out the length of London End in the direction of the entrance to ‘Whiltones’, i.e. ‘Wilton Park’. The George in Wycombe End, and The Hare [later called The Old Hare and now Zizzi] in Aylesbury End, were already serving thirsty visitors. Shepherd’s Lane had an inn of its own, The Paschal Lamb. Windsor End was also furnished with its inn, The Chopping Knife, and it was a move ahead of the rest of the town in having its ‘Brick House’. [i.e. a toilet].
In 1660, however, most of the houses surviving from the Tudor period would have been of similar construction: timber box frames infilled with wattle and daub, and probably roofed with peg tiles. Many of these ancient structures are, in fact, still there, behind the present facades. The original walls suffered decay, particularly at ground level, and were often refaced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by brickwork. A typical section of ‘wattle-and-daub’ had been preserved on the right-hand side of the entrance gateway into the yard of The George until the end of the 20th century.
Like the inns, many of the farms were already well-established in the mid seventeenth century. Most of the buildings in the town, and the farms and farmlands round about, were part of, or linked with, the Manor of Hall Barn, though the present house did not exist then. It is relevant to mention here that apart from the buildings already mentioned, most of the buildings in the town at that time were very modest dwellings, letting at one or two pence a week. Such rentals can, in fact, be traced unchanged right through the 17th century. Only where a house was enlarged, divided, or put to use as an alehouse was the rent increased.