powered by FreeFind





Banbury in 1835

BANBURY, an ancient borough and market-town, situated on the west side of the river Cherwell, near the northern extremity of the county of Oxford. The limits of the old borough are not co-extensive with those of the parish, which comprises also the township of Neithrop, with its hamlets of Calthorp, Wickham, Hardwick, and Easington, all situated in the hundred of Banbury and county of Oxford ; and the hamlets of Grimsbury and Nethercot on the east side of the Cherwell, in Sutton hundred and in the county of Northampton. All these members of the parish have been added to the parliamentary borough by the Reform Boundary Act. Banbury is sixty-four miles N.W. of London, and twenty-two miles N. of Oxford. The Saxon name of the place, according to Camden, was Banesbyrig it stands in Domesday-book Banesberie. The name has led to the supposition that the great battle between the West Saxon king Cynric and the Britons, A.D. 556, was fought at Banbury ; but Barbury, in Wiltshire, also lays claim to being the site of the same event. Roman coins were frequently found at Banbury before the time of Camden ; and a Roman altar, discovered long ago, was preserved under an arch in the street, near the present Old George Inn, thence called in old writings the George and Altar Stone Inn. This building was standing within the memory of a few persons now living, and is described as a piece of stone-work eight feet long, supporting an arch about ten feet high, within which arch was placed the Roman relic. These circumstances led Dr. Stukeley and others to place the Roman station, Brinavae, at Banbury but that station was on the Portway, which led from Aelia Castra (Alcester, near Bicester) to Isannavaria (Burnt Walls, near Daventry) ; and the line of this road has been recently clearly traced by Mr. Baker about three miles to the eastward of Banbury. Brinavae is therefore placed with great probability at Black Grounds, near Chipping Wardon, six miles distant. Roman remains have, however, been discovered, not only at Banbury, but at several places in the vicinity.

In the year 1125, or soon after, this town was strengthened with a castle, erected by Alexander, the famous Bishop of Lincoln, to whom the manor belonged. In 1139 this prelate, being taken prisoner by King Stephen at Oxford, was compelled to resign Banbury and some other fortresses, but it was shortly afterwards restored to the see, and is frequently mentioned as the occasional residence of the bishops. In the year 1469, a battle was fought at Danesmore, near Banbury, between the forces of Edward IV, under the Earl of Pembroke, and a great body of insurgents from the north of England, whose rebellion had been fomented by the king-making Earl of Warwick. After the battle, a quarrel took place at Banbury between the Earl of Pembroke and another nobleman, Lord Stafford, who held a high command in the royal army ; in consequence of which the latter lord quitted the town with his numerous archers, and the Earl of Pembroke, weakened in his resources, was defeated the next day with immense loss, and he and his brother, with ten other gentlemen, being taken prisoners, were beheaded at Banbury. In the first year of Edward VI, Bishop Holbech resigned the manor, &c., of Banbury to the crown. Queen Elizabeth granted the castle to the Saye and Sele family, who resided at their neighbouring castellated mansion at Broughton. In the same reign, Banbury Cross, so celebrated in nursery rhymes, was destroyed by the puritans, who then formed a predominant party at Banbury. The zeal of the inhabitants in the cause of the commonwealth has been often mentioned ; but although the castle was defended by 800 infantry and a troop of horse, it. surrendered a few days after the battle of Edgehill, in 1642. Being garrisoned by the king, it afterwards stood several attacks, including two desperate sieges in 1644 and 1646. On the former occasion it resisted every attack for fourteen weeks, when at length it was opportunely relieved by the Earl of Northampton, but not before the garrison had been reduced to the necessity of eating their horses, of which only two remained. On the other occasion the castle was besieged by the famous Colonel Whalley for ten weeks, and only capitulated on honourable conditions after Charles I had surrendered himself to the Scottish army. For this service Colonel Whalley was rewarded by the parliament. Not many years after this the castle was taken down by the parliament, to prevent its again becoming a strong hold for the royalists in a puritan district. Nothing now remains of it except the name, and small portions of the moat and of one of the walls, upon which last a cottage has been erected. The rest of the site is occupied as garden ground.

Banbury was a borough by prescription ; but in the first year of Queen Mary a charter was conferred, as a reward for the services of the inhabitants against John, Duke of Northumberland, who maintained the claims of Lady Jane Grey. James I confirmed and extended the charter ; and a new one was granted by George I, which vested the municipal government in a high steward, recorder, twelve aldermen, six capital burgesses, and thirty assistants, with other officers. All vacancies were to be filled up by the twelve aldermen and six capital burgesses in common council assembled, except in the case of the mayor, in the election of whom the votes of the assistants were also to be taken. There is no evidence of the return of a member of parliament previous to the date of the first charter ; but since that time one member has been returned. For a long time, if not during the whole of this period, the member appears to have been returned by the select body of the corporation, namely, the mayor, the twelve aldermen, and the six capital burgesses only. The names of Sir Francis Walsingham, Nathaniel Fiennes, and Lord North, appear on the list of members for Banbury. The influence of the North family, who resided in the immediate neighbourhood of Banbury, long prevailed at elections ; but by the extension of the franchise under the Reform Act that influence, which practically amounted to a nomination, was abolished. The number of electors on the register completed in 1834 is 370.

Banbury has long been noted as a thriving place of trade, and was so recorded by Leland in the reign of Henry VIII. This is chiefly owing to its being the centre of that district of rich red land which Arthur Young describes as the glory of the county of Oxford, and as some of the most fertile in the kingdom. The line of the Oxford canal running by Banbury, and communicating through other canals with all parts of the kingdom, has been the means of continuing and improving the trade of the town. The neighbourhood is very thickly covered with villages. There is a considerable manufacture of plush, shag, and girth and other webbing carried on at Banbury, which employs within the parish 125 men, besides women and children, in some branches of the manufacture ; and many others are engaged in the same manufacture in some of the adjacent villages. A manufacture of linen-weaving formerly carried on at Banbury has been abandoned. The weekly market, which is on Thursday, is considered to be the best within many miles round. There are nine chartered fairs and two annual great markets. Banbury cakes have been celebrated from before the time of Fuller, and are still in high repute ; but the Banbury cheese, which Shakespeare mentions, is no longer made.

Banbury is situated in a valley almost entirely surrounded with rising ground ; most of the streets are very wide and airy. Several of the principal streets run in a line from north to south, and another line, running from west to east crosses the former one. There were formerly bars or gates at the terminations. This was the description given of the streets by Leland. In 1628 more than one-third of the town was destroyed by fire. Banbury, long proverbial for its dirt, has been made perfectly clean under the operation of an act passed in 1825, for paving, lighting, &c. The footpaths are well paved with Yorkshire flagstones ; and the town is amply lighted by the recently erected gas-works. The town-hall is a mean and insufficient modern building ; the town gaol, on the contrary, is an old and rather a handsome one, in which a tread-wheel has been recently erected. The old church, dedicated to St. Mary, and said to have been erected by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, was taken down by Act of Parliament in 1790, and the ancient monuments wholly destroyed. But the parish has had to bear a heavy charge for the erection of a new building. In addition to the sums arising from the sale of the church lands and houses, and the materials of the old fabric, together with two large subscriptions, an annual rate amounting to £550, 3 shillings, has been made since 1790 ; and a large proportion of the debt being still unliquidated, the same rate is likely to remain for some time. The present church is spacious, the part used for divine service being 90 feet square within, and capable of accommodating 2,300 persons. There are in Banbury meeting-houses belonging to the Presbyterians, Friends, Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, and Calvinists. Formerly an hospital, dedicated to St. John, stood near the southern entrance to the town ; the remains of this building were long used as a barn, but have lately been converted into a private residence. Another hospital, dedicated to St. Leonard, stood on the east side of the Cherwell, in the hamlet of Nethercot ; and there was in Banbury a religious foundation, called St. Mary’s, the particulars concerning which are not well known. In a field adjacent to the southern entrance to the town is an earthen work, or amphitheatre, called the Bear Garden, where the ancient English sports were practised.

Banbury Blue Coat School was established in 1705, for boys and girls. In 1817 it was incorporated with the newly-established national schools for boys and girls ; but the funds are kept separately, and are partly applied to clothing the children elected on the Blue Coat foundation, namely, sixteen boys and twelve girls. Including these, the national schools at Banbury now educate about 120 boys and 75 girls, besides occasional scholars on Sundays. The Dissenters have several large and efficient Sunday and evening schools at their respective chapels ; and altogether the different schools afford instruction to nearly 800 children. There are besides in the town two excellent charitable societies, a savings’ bank, a subscription library, and other useful and benevolent institutions. The excellent old grammar-school kept in a building adjoining the churchyard was suffered to fall into disuse a long time ago. The building remains, and is in the hands of the corporation, who let it for £4 a-year, and apply that amount towards the support of the national schools. Of land. or other endowment from which funds were supplied for the support of the school, no traces are now to be found.

The population of the old borough has gone on increasing in the following manner:- in 1801, 2,755 ; in 1811, 2,841 ; in 1821, 3,396 ; and in 1831, 3,737. But these numbers do not give the population of the connected town, which includes most of the houses contained in the hamlets. The population of the parish was, in 1821, 5,673 ; and in 1831, 6,422

The criminal jurisdiction of the borough extends to capital offences, but no instance of an execution has occurred since 1747. The magistrates hold a petty session every Monday ; and general sessions, at which the recorder or his deputy must preside, are held twice in every year. The corporation have also the privilege of holding a court of record, in which all manner of pleas, wherein the debt or damage does not exceed £40, may be determined. Although the old borough, and all the hamlets, jointly support the church, there are three separate districts for the maintenance of the poor viz., the borough of Banbury; the township and hamlets of Neithrop, &c., in Oxfordshire ; and the two Northamptonshire hamlets, which are connected for this purpose with the adjoining parish of Warkworth. The road rates are similarly collected. The poor-rates of the borough are extremely heavy, the expenditure on account of the poor averaging for the five years ending in March, 1833, upwards of £3,400 per annum, in a gross population of less 6,500. The church and paving-rates are also a serious weight ; and these with the high rents neutralize, in a great measure, the advantages derived from the trade of Banbury. The living is a discharged vicarage, in the patronage of the Bishop of Oxford ; but the endowment is so poor that a subscription has been made to increase it. The ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the parish is a peculiar one, belonging to the cathedral of Lincoln.

Although Banbury has witnessed so many important events connected with our English annals, no local or county writer has yet taken the pains to publish its history.