The new year brought an unwelcome update in the annals of Aylesbury, the market town slap-bang in the middle of Buckinghamshire.
In the 17th and 18th century, the town was famous for its production of highly desired lace. It was once notable for housing the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery, the £47 million Waterside Theatre and as the ‘spiritual cradle’ of the Paralympic Games. But now according to the newly updated iLiveHere poll – a yearly ranking of the very viral 50 Worst Towns To Live list – you might know Aylesbury best as being the very worst town to live in England.
The new number one scooped first place with 25 per cent more votes than second placed Huddersfield. “What can I say?” writes one wag on the poll’s homepage. “The fact that Stanley Kubrick saw fit to film some of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ here was horribly prescient…”
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I have a complicated relationship with the iLiveHere list. My birthplace, Doncaster, has long been a perennial fixture of the Top 50. Sunderland, the city in which I attended university – and was home for some years after – regularly features. Both locales are tough places to live – and ones sometimes difficult to love.
In Doncaster, me and my friends would refer to our town as ‘The Donx’, aware that our home was just as famous for being the most violent town in South Yorkshire as it was for horseracing. In Sunderland we would joke that there were more pasty shops per head than anywhere else in the country. Which is a fact we made up, though if someone was to tell me it was true, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.
And so for years, perversely, I enjoyed the yearly publication of the iLiveHere list. Much of this was about saving face. If where I lived wasn’t going to be famous for something good, at least I could celebrate it being famous for something. In both Doncaster and Sunderland I was keenly aware of the brutal decline of the industries that supported the area. In Doncaster, coal. In Sunderland, shipbuilding. But now we had a new industry; misery and deprivation. And we excelled in production. When The Idler’s ‘Crap Towns: the 50 Worst Place to Live in the UK’ was published in 2003, a book that arguably kickstarted the trend of ranking the UK’s most beleaguered towns, it was a Christmas stocking filler that was met with mirth, not shame.