Whenever Aylesbury is mentioned, people reply, “Oh, ducks!” In the town itself, the Aylesbury Duck has lent its name to many public houses and locations. It is central to the heritage of the town.
In the early 1800s almost everybody who lived at the “Duck End” – where Mill Way now runs – bred Aylesbury Ducks. This pure breed is characterized by its pale pink beak, white plumage and bright yellow feet. The pale pink colour of the beak developed because of the grit that they were fed which is characteristic of the Aylesbury area.
Sometimes similar ducks with yellow beaks are mistakenly named as Aylesbury ducks but these are in fact a commercial cross between the Aylesbury Duck and the Pekin Duck. Beatrice Potter’s foolish but much loved ‘Jemima Puddleduck’ is based on the breed.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries wealthy people in London provided the main market for the duck trade, and so before the train line was built in 1839 breeders walked their ducks the 40 miles to London. They made overnight stops along the way at inns which had large yards built specifically to house the flocks. In the mornings, once the herders were rested, the ducks would be shoed; that is, walked through a cold tarry solution and then sawdust. These ‘shoes’ protected their feet along the rough road to London.
After a severe outbreak of ‘Duck Fever’, fowl farming locally went into decline. Recently, however, farmers have made a determined effort to re-establish the breed, and several restaurants in Aylesbury and around the Buckinghamshire area now serve Aylesbury Duck.
In 2008 Aylesbury Town Council’s first Festival celebrated the Town’s heritage with a ‘duck’ theme. A company called Crawley Creatures designed and made a series of glass fibre duck sculptures (each 1 metre tall). Local schools and organisations were invited to take part in a friendly competition to decorate the ducks.
Aylesbury College, Aylesbury Rugby Club Under 9’s Team, Bedgrove Junior School, National Spinal Injuries Centre Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Oak Green School, Scouts, Wendover C E Junior School and William Harding School all agreed to take part and decorated their ducks in very individual designs.