The Aylesbury Duck
The Aylesbury Duck, information about the history of the famous breed of duck.
The Story of the Aylesbury Duck
Wherever the name "Aylesbury" is mentioned the usual comment is "where the ducks come from", well many years ago that may have been true but you would be hard pressed to find an Aylesbury Duck in the town today. So how did the famous duck become so synonomous with the name of the town and why are there no longer any to be found?
Well the story of the Aylesbury Duck goes back to the beginning of the 18th century when a select breed of duck evolved in the town to supply the lucrative London trade, the London dealers in particular favoured birds with a white plumage and so this special large white variety was encouraged and developed.
The most popular area of Aylesbury where the ducks were reared became known as "Duck End", a poor part of town where the inhabitants lived in unsanitary conditions, the ducks were often reared inside the cottages, especially during cold weather, making conditions even worse.
History tells us that the Aylesbury Ducks were walked from the town into London by drovers, a not inconsiderable feat for the times, as this was a distance of 40 miles or so. The birds feet were protected by a tar and sawdust concoction to help prevent damage on the journey. The drovers would have stopped at inns along the way, with the birds being kept overnight in large pens, specifically provided for this purpose.
The Aylesbury ducks were not only raised in Aylesbury town itself but also in surrounding villages, Weston Turville, for example, had a large number of duck breeders.
London provided the primary demand for the Aylesbury Duck throughout the 19th century and by the middle of the century the railway took over as the main means of transportation. The ducks were also sold at local markets as growing wealth made for a wider market.
By the mid-nineteenth century the number of ducks produced began to decline and an outbreak of "Duck Fever" accellerated this decline. The pure breed of Aylesbury Duck was also affected by the introduction of the Pekin Duck from China in 1873, a breed of domesticated duck that derived from the Mallard, bred specifically for eggs and meat. The Pekin Duck also became the most popular domesticated breed in the USA after just 9 birds were introduced (also in 1873). Duck rearing in Aylesbury had virtually disappeared by the 1940's.