Aylsham has been described as a “ruddy-cheeked market town” and one of ten standout locations in the east of England.
Nestled in the gentle Norfolk countryside beside the River Bure, it is close to the cathedral city of Norwich, the famous Norfolk Broads and the stunning North Norfolk coast, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Aylsham is an historic town – founded around 500 AD by an Anglo-Saxon thegn called Aegel – which has grown from a population of 5,500 in 2001 (2001 Census) to 8,200 today (2020).
For many years the town was sustained by the surrounding local agricultural activity, but by 2004 the loss of the town’s livestock market, the opening of an out-of-centre supermarket and the planned residential growth were all causes of concern for the town’s residents and businesses.
The community embraced the need for change and with the support of the Town Council and other local organisations, Aylsham became a Cittàslow town.
Today, it is also the oldest established Cittàslow town in the UK – the second in the country to receive such status in 2004, after Ludlow in Shropshire, which has subsequently ceased membership.
The “ruddy-cheeked” accolade was made in the 2019 Sunday Times Best Places to Live guide which also declared that “for muddy-wellied England at its finest, there’s no better stomping ground than Aylsham, a ruddy-cheeked market town that doesn’t stray far from it’s flat-cap farming roots.”
The real charm of Aylsham is in its beautiful architecture, strong sense of heritage, bustling town centre and real community ethos. Aylsham thinks of itself as Norfolk’s proper market town. The market place, which is owned by the National Trust, is the heart of the town. It hosts two weekly markets, monthly farmer’s markets and community events throughout the year.
It is this heritage that has sustained Aylsham as a Cittàslow town. But Cittàslow does not mean a staid, unchanging town but one that will move forward and modernise.
Aylsham is again facing many challenges from large-scale development, transport network constraints, future changes to the economy, the High Street, and the associated pressures on services and infrastructure.
So now is a good time to look at the wider goals of the Cittaslow movement. The Aylsham Cittaslow Committee have prepared a discussion document on the future of the town which considers environmental, infrastructure and transport objectives. The hope is to bring together the community, local businesses and local authorities to seek ways to improve our quality of life.
In 2008, Aylsham, through Cittaslow, pioneered the plastic bag-free revolution in the UK leading the way in trying to change shopping habits.
Other environmental initiatives include a regular litter-picking programme, clearing public walkways and cycle routes, and encouraging people to grow their own, expanding their knowledge of seasonality, and local food.
It boosts the local economy by sponsoring the monthly farmers’ markets and weekly general markets and, alongside Slow Food, the three-day October Food Festival, which attracts a wide range of interest from near and far.
In community terms, it acts as an umbrella organisation to bring other clubs and societies together.
So, whether it is its award-winning butchers and bakers, a pub where Nelson stayed, a National Trust market place, community organisations for just about every interest, or any of the other things that go to make it unique, Aylsham can claim to be a great place to live and “where living is good”.