Banbury

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Banbury (/ˈbænbəri/) is a market town and civil parish on the River Cherwell in the Cherwell District of Oxfordshire. It is 64 miles (103 km) northwest of London, 38 miles (61 km) southeast of Birmingham, 27 miles (43 km) south of Coventry and 21 miles (34 km) north northwest of the county town of Oxford. The urban area, including surrounding parishes, had a population of 43,867 at the 2001 census, though this figure has increased in recent years to approximately 45,000. The remains of Deddington Castle, in the care of English Heritage are 6 miles south, by road.

Banbury is a significant commercial and retail centre for the surrounding area, which is predominantly rural. Banbury’s main industries are car components, electrical goods, plastics, food processing, and printing. Banbury is home to the world’s largest coffee-processing facility (Kraft Foods), built in 1964. The town is famed for Banbury cakes – similar to Eccles cakes but oval in shape. Since July 2000 Banbury has hosted a unique gathering of traditional mock animals, from around the UK, at the annual Banbury Hobby Horse Festival.

The surrounding area is known informally as Banburyshire and covers the north half of the Cherwell district and neighbouring areas. As Banbury lies near the Oxfordshire border, “Banburyshire” includes parts of Northamptonshire and Warwickshire.

The name Banbury derives from “Banna”, a Saxon chieftain said to have built a stockade there in the 6th century, and “burgh” meaning settlement. The Saxon spelling was Banesbyrig. The name appears as “Banesberie” in Domesday Book. Another known spelling was ‘Banesebury’ in Medieval times.

During excavations for the construction of an office building in Hennef Way in 2002, the remains of a British Iron Age settlement with circular buildings dating back to 200 BC were found. The site contained around 150 pieces of pottery and stone. Later there was a Roman villa at nearby Wykham Park.

The area was settled by the Saxons around the late 5th century AD. In about 556 Banbury was the scene of a battle between the local Anglo-Saxons of Cynric and Ceawlin, and the local Romano-British. It was a local centre for Anglo-Saxon settlement by the mid 6th century. Banbury developed in the Anglo-Saxon period  under Danish influence, starting in the late 6th century AD. It was assessed at 50 hides in the Domesday survey and was then held by the bishop of Lincoln.

The Saxons built Banbury on the west bank of the River Cherwell. On the opposite bank they built Grimsbury, which was part of Northamptonshire but was incorporated into Banbury in 1889. Neithrop was one of the oldest areas in Banbury, having first been recorded as a hamlet in the 13th century. It was formally incorporated into the borough of Banbury in 1889.

Banbury stands at the junction of two ancient roads: Salt Way (used as a bridle path to the west and south of the town), its primary use being transportation of salt; and Banbury Lane, which began near Northampton and is closely followed by the modern 22-mile-long road. It continued through what is now Banbury’s High Street and towards the Fosse Way at Stow-on-the-Wold. Banbury’s mediæval prosperity was based on wool.

Banbury Castle was built from 1135 by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, and survived into the Civil War, when it was besieged. Due to its proximity to Oxford, the King’s capital, Banbury was at one stage a Royalist town, but the inhabitants were known to be strongly Puritan. The castle was demolished after the war.

Banbury played an important part in the English Civil War as a base of operations for Oliver Cromwell, who is reputed to have planned the Battle of Edge Hill in the back room (which can still be visited) of a local inn, The Reindeer as it was then known (today’s Ye Olde Reine Deer Inn). The town was pro-Parliamentarian, but the castle was manned by a Royalist garrison who supported King Charles I. In 1645 during the English Civil War, Parliamentary troops were billeted in nearby Hanwell village  for nine weeks and villagers petitioned the Warwickshire Committee of Accounts to pay for feeding them.

The opening of the Oxford Canal from Hawkesbury Junction to Banbury on 30 March 1778 gave the town a cheap and reliable supply of Warwickshire coal. In 1787 the Oxford Canal was extended southwards, finally opening to Oxford on 1 January 1790. The canal’s main boat yard was the original outlay of today’s Tooley’s Boatyard.

Peoples’ Park was set up as a private park in 1890 and opened in 1910, along with the adjacent bowling green.

The land south of the Foscote Private Hospital in Calthorpe and Easington farm were mostly open farmland until the early 1960s as shown by the Ordinance Survey maps of 1964, 1955 and 1947. It had only a few farmsteads, the odd house, an allotment field (now under the Sainsbury’s store), the Municipal Borough of Banbury council’s small reservoir just south of Easington farm and a water spring lay to the south of it. The Ruscote estate, which now has a notable South Asian community, was expanded in the 1950s because of the growth of the town due to the London overspill and further grew in the mid-1960s.

British Railways closed Merton Street station and the Buckingham to Banbury line to passenger traffic at the end of 1960. Merton Street freight depot continued to handle livestock traffic for Banbury’s cattle market until 1966, when this too was discontinued and the railway dismantled. In March 1962 Sir John Betjeman celebrated the line from Culworth Junction in his poem Great Central Railway, Sheffield Victoria to Banbury. British Railways closed this line too in 1966.

The main station, now called simply Banbury, is now served by trains running between London Paddington and Birmingham via Reading, Oxford and Leamington Spa, and from London Marylebone via High Wycombe and Bicester, the fastest non-stop train taking 68 minutes to London Marylebone (and 62 minutes for the return journey).

Banbury used to be home to Western Europe’s largest cattle market, situated on Merton Street in Grimsbury. For many decades, cattle and other farm animals were driven there on the hoof from as far as Scotland to be sold to feed the growing population of London and other towns. Since its closure in June 1998 a new housing development has been built on its site which includes Dashwood Primary School. The estate, which lies between Banbury and Hanwell, was built in between 2005–06, on the grounds of the former Hanwell Farm.

The Domesday Book in 1086 listed three mills, with a total fiscal value of 45 shillings, on the Bishop of Lincoln’s demesne lands, and a fourth which was leased to Robert son of Waukelin by the Bishop. Among Banbury’s four Medieval mills was probably a forerunner of Banbury Mill, first referred to by this name in 1695. In the year 1279, Laurence of Hardwick was also paying 3 marks (equivalent to 40 shillings) in annual rent to the Bishop for a mill in the then Hardwick hamlet.

The forerunners of Butchers Row were probably long standing butchers’ stalls which were known to be in situ by 1438.

The Northern Aluminium Co. Ltd. or Alcan Industries Ltd. pig and rolled Aluminium factory was opened in 1931 on land acquired in 1929 on the east of the Southam road, in the then hamlet of Hardwick. The various Alcan facilities on the 53-acre site closed and demolished between 2004 and 2009.

Another major employer is General Foods Ltd, now Kraft Foods, which produces convenience foods, including custard and instant coffee. The company moved to Banbury from Birmingham in 1965.

In the central area were built many large shops, a bus station, and a large car park north of Castle Street; and, in 1977, the Castle shopping centre (the centre was later combined into the Castle Quay centre).

The former Hunt Edmunds brewery premises became Crest Hotels headquarters, but closed in the late 1970s and was abandoned in the late 1980s, while the Crown Hotel and the Foremost Tyres/Excel Exhausts shops found new owners after they closed in 1976 due to falling sales. Hella Manufacturing, a vehicle Electronics firm, closed its factory on the Southam Road in the mid 2000s. The ironmonger, Hoods, opened in the mid 1960s and closed circa 2007, with the shop becoming part of the then enlarged Marks and Spencer shop.

Kraft Foods in the Ruscote ward of Banbury, Oxfordshire, England is a large food and coffee producing factory in the north of the town.

It was built in 1964 and was partly due to the London overspill. Kraft Foods Banbury is the Kraft centre of manufacturing with the Kraft UK headquarters located at Cheltenham.

The factory is still sometimes known as General Foods after the American company which originally owned the building, before ‘GF’ as it is commonly known was taken over by Kraft.

Banbury was once home to Western Europe’s largest cattle market, on Merton Street in Grimsbury. The market was a key feature of Victorian life in the town and county. It was formally closed in June 1998, after being abandoned several years earlier and was replaced with a new housing development and Dashwood Primary School.

The Oxford Canal is a popular place for pleasure trips and tourist activity. The canal’s main boat yard is now the listed site Tooley’s Boatyard.

Banbury has rail services run by Chiltern Railways to Warwick and Birmingham, both running to London Marylebone via the non-electrified Chiltern Main Line. It also has services run by First Great Western to Oxford, Reading and London Paddington. Services to other parts of the country are provided by CrossCountry via Birmingham New Street, to Cardiff, Bristol, Southampton, Gloucester, Leicester, Stansted, as well as direct services to other cities across England and Scotland.

Hennef Way (A422) was upgraded to a dual carriageway easing traffic on the heavily congested road and providing better links to north Banbury and the town centre from the M40.

In 2005 Oxfordshire County Council proposed building a ring road around Banbury, connecting the M40 to the Oxford Road at Bodicote, to ease town centre traffic. However this is not expected to be built until 2016 at the earliest.

At one time Banbury had many crosses (The High Cross, The Bread Cross and The White Cross), but these were destroyed by Puritans on 26 July 1600. Banbury remained without a cross for more than 250 years until the current Banbury Cross was erected in 1859 at the centre of the town to commemorate the marriage of Victoria, Princess Royal (eldest child of Queen Victoria) to Prince Frederick of Prussia. The current Banbury Cross is a stone, spire-shaped monument decorated in Gothic form. Statues of Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V were added in 1914 to commemorate the coronation of George V. The cross is fifty-two feet six inches (16 metres) high, and topped by a gilt cross.

The English nursery rhyme “Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross” refers to one of the crosses destroyed by Puritans in 1600. In April 2005, The Princess Royal unveiled a large bronze statue depicting the Fine Lady upon a White Horse of the nursery rhyme. It stands on the corner of West Bar and South Bar, just yards from the present Banbury Cross.

Banbury has a museum in the town centre near Spiceball Park, replacing the old museum near Banbury Cross. It is accessible over a bridge from the Castle Quay Shopping Centre or via Spiceball Park Road. Admission to the museum is free. The town’s tourist information centre is located in the museum entrance in the Castle Quay Shopping Centre.

Tooley’s Boatyard was built in 1790 and is a historic site with a 200 year old blacksmiths’ shop.

The Spiceball Park is the largest park in Banbury. It lies east of the Oxford Canal, mainly west of the River Cherwell, North of Castle Quay and South of Hennef Way. It includes three large fields, a children’s play area and a skateboard park. Across the road from the main park there is the sports centre, which includes a swimming pool, courts, café and gym facilities.

The sports centre began to be re-developed in late 2009, for a new centre and café, which was completed by mid 2010.

Neithrop is home to the People’s Park which opened in 1910, and has a bird house, tennis courts, a large field and a children’s play area. The park is often used in the summer to hold small festivals. The park is also one of the town’s biggest in terms of the area covered and one of the few major ones not to be built on a steep hill. Easington Recreation Ground is another principal park and recreational area.

Owing to the surrounding area’s notable links with world motorsport, the town is home to many well known organisations within the industry. Prodrive, one of the world’s largest motorsport and automotive technology specialists, are based in the town, as are a host of race teams involved in competition across many different disciplines and countries.

Within Formula One, two teams have had their base of operations in Banbury, the former Simtek team which competed in the 1994 and 1995 F1 World Championships was based on the Wildmere Industrial Estate, whilst the current Virgin Racing team has its manufacturing and production facility sited on Thorpe Way Industrial Estate, utilising the building formerly owned by Ascari Cars, a luxury sports car manufacturer. Both Simtek and Virgin Racing have been brought to Banbury by Nick Wirth, who owned the Simtek team and was the former Technical Director at Virgin. Having bought the Formula 1 arm of Wirth’s company, Virgin Racing intend to remain in Banbury for the foreseeable future until a brand new, larger facility is built in the area.

In January 1554 Banbury was granted royal charter that established legally the town as a borough to be thus governed by the aldermen of the town.

Banbury was one of the boroughs reformed by the Municipal Reform Act 1835. It retained a borough council until 1974, when under the Local Government Act 1972 it became part of Cherwell District Council, an unparished area with Charter Trustees. A civil parish with a town council was set up in 2000.

Banbury is located in the Cherwell Valley, and consequently there are many hills in and around the town. Apart from the town centre much of Banbury is on a slope and each entrance into the town is downhill. Estates such as Bretch Hill and Hardwick are built on top of a hill and much of the town can be seen from both. Other notable hills include the suburban, Crouch Hill and the more central Pinn Hill, and Strawberry Hill on the outskirts of Easington. Mine Hill and Rye Hill lie along with many others to the north east, south east and west of the town.

Banbury is located at the bank of the River Cherwell which sweeps through the town, going just east of the town centre with Grimsbury being the only estate east of the river.

The town is at the northern extreme of the UK’s South East England region, just two miles from the Midlands border.

Heavy clay and Ironstone deposits surround Banbury.

In the year 1377 a pardon was given to a Welshman, who was wanted for killing another Welshman, after the accused person had taken sanctuary in Banbury church.

The Neithrop district of Banbury was the scene of rioting in 1589 after the Neithrop’s maypole was destroyed by Puritans.

Reverend William Whateley (1583–1639), whose father was several times bailiff or mayor of Banbury, was a notable Banbury vicar and was instituted in 1610, but had already been a ‘lecturer’ there for some years. In 1626 Whateley refused communion to his own brother, who had been presented for religious incompetence. A report by the church wardens in 1619 said he was a well liked and tolerant priest. The Quakers’ meeting hall by the town centre lane called ‘The Leys’ was built in 1751.

Banbury is twinned with Ermont, France; and Hennef, Germany

Twinning in Banbury began on 26 October 1978, at a public meeting held at the Post-Graduate Education Centre, and called on the initiative of the late Councillor Ron Smith, the then Town Mayor of Banbury. Initial visits between Banbury and Ermont in 1979, and for a long time after there was a period of informal relationship before a formal agreement was signed in 1982. Contact was first made with Hennef about a possible agreement in October 1980 and within a year the formal agreement was signed.

As a consequence of this, two roads in Banbury (Hennef Way and Ermont Way) have been named after the two towns. Likewise a former Railway station square in Hennef has been named Banburyplatz.

Companies based in Banbury include:

  • Kraft Foods Banbury
  • Westminster group plc
  • Banbury Sound 107.6FM
  • Banbury Guardian
  • Prodrive
  • Alcan
  • Norbar

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