A few years ago, I went to a talk on the Industrial Exhibition of Aylesbury Vale. I was so fascinated by it that I decided to base my Master’s thesis around it. The chapter included the impact of the Rothschild family on Aylesbury Vale, didn’t make the final cut into my thesis. However, it is such an interesting aspect of Buckinghamshire history, I can’t quite let it fall by the wayside.
The 1851 Great Exhibiton of London, partly bank rolled by the Rothschild Bank, was a great success. What followed was countless Industrial Exhibitons across the country. All the major industrial cities held Exhibitions, mainly showcasing the industry and innovations that were a part of them. The Aylesbury Vale one was not much different, except in one regard, it showcased the talents of the home workers of the Vale. Though industry did feature, so did lace making, straw plaiting, carpentry, to name a few. It took weeks of research to build a picture of the Exhibition, looking at newspapers from across the country, as very little is known about it.
As I was researching, I got the sense of what the intention was behind it. The competition for lace making had moved up a gear by the introduction of machinery in places such as Nottingham. Straw plaiting from abroad was finer and more cost effective, Bucks was in the process of losing two of its main cottage industries. For a time, after the Exhibition, the two industries picked up and managed to survive after other areas had stopped. There was also the issue of Aylesbury, a large town with very little industry. It was only about two years after the Exhibtion that industries moved into Aylesbury, creating more jobs and opportunities for those from the town, and surrounding villages.
How much of this was down to the Exhibition is hard to say. Aylesbury Vale had not been seen as industry worthy before, though Hazell, Watson and Viney had moved out of London prior to the Exhibiton, and into Aylesbury. None of the cottage industries had taken off into factories, as they had done in other parts of the country. With excellent connections to London and Birmingham, it is hard to see why Aylesbury was left until the latter part of the nineteenth century to become an industrial area. It could be argued, that the Exhibition, making the front page of national papers, may have encouraged people to look at Aylesbury Vale with a different view. One thing that is sure, once industry moved in, Aylesbury would never be the same again.