Banbury is a market town situated on the River Cherwell in Oxfordshire, England, 64 miles (103 km) northwest of London. It has a growing population of around 50,000 and is mainly famous for the nursery rhyme Ride A Cock Horse and it’s Banbury Cakes.
Banbury is a significant commercial and retail centre for the surrounding area, which is predominantly rural, taking in many villages and surrounding small towns to create the unofficial area of Banburyshire. The town was granted a Royal Charter in January 1554 that legally established the town as a borough, with an official town charter being established by King James I in 1608. In 2008 Banbury held it’s 400th year celebrations with a visit to the town by Queen Elizabeth II.
The town has a good balance of locally based independent retail and trade, popular retail stores and national and international businesses. There are plenty of green spaces, parks and access to the countryside. Services, amenities and transport links are all in easy reach from wherever you are in the town. Overall the town is a welcoming and peaceful place to live with good prospects for employment and with a comfortable standard of living.
The town centre is in the ward of Calthorpe which is surrounded by the areas of Easington, Grimsbury, Neithrop, Poet’s Corner, Bretch Hill, Cherwell Heights, Hardwick, Ruscote and Hanwell Fields. The closest villages are Bloxham, Bodicote, Hanwell, Middleton Cheney, North Newington, Broughton and Drayton.
The Beginnings of a Town
The name Banbury is thought to originate from “Banna” – a Saxon chieftain who possibly resided here in the 6th century. The Saxon spelling was Banesbyrig which later became Banesbebury, or Banesberie as recorded in the Domesday Book.
Banbury is situated close to the junction of two ancient Roman roads; Salt Way which as it’s name suggests was used for the transportation of salt, a prized commodity at the time; and Banbury Lane which winds it’s way towards Northampton alongside it’s modern road counterpart which continues through the High Street and towards Fosse Way at Stow-on-the-Wold.
An Iron Age settlement was unearthed by construction workers east of the town centre in 2002, where 150 pieces of pottery, building stone and the impression of circular buildings were found which dated to around 200 BC. The basic remnants of a Roman villa have also been discovered at the Wykham Mill site near to Salt Way and Crouch Hill in the town’s southwest. Recent scans and investigations have also helped uncover a huge grand Roman villa near Broughton Castle, with an estimated size in comparison with Buckingham Palace.
A succession of Bishops of Lincoln have held the land rights to the majority of the town and it’s surrounding countryside. A link to Lincoln that still had some relevance until recently was with DeMontfort University providing degree courses to Banbury students, their graduation ceremony taking place within the historic walls of Lincoln Cathedral.
In 1135 Banbury Castle was built by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln and survived as a prison until the English Civil War, when it was besieged and destroyed shortly afterwards. The town’s Castle Quay shopping centre now stands upon this medieval site with only remnants of the stones kept in Banbury Museum. In the days of the Civil War, Oxford was the King’s capital with Banbury a Royalist town, with the town’s inhabitants being strongly Puritan in their daily outlook.
Banbury played a strategic role in the English Civil War as a base of operations for Oliver Cromwell, who is thought to have planned the Battle of Edge Hill in the so called Globe Room at the back of the town centre pub, the Reindeer Inn. The town was pro-Parliamentarian, but the castle was manned by a Royalist garrison who supported King Charles I.
Industry & Growth
The town’s industrial output was originally based on wool and textiles that were sold across the British empire. The opening of the Oxford Canal in the 1700s helped transport coal and goods up and down the country from Oxford to Coventry, it’s main boat yard being what is today’s Tooley’s Boatyard which is adjacent to the Castle Quay shopping complex.
Peoples’ Park was set up as a private park in 1890 and opened in 1910 along with the adjacent bowling green which is still used today. A large bandstand stood at the lower part of the park in front of the Rose Garden and next to the aviary, but unfortunately it was removed in the 1990s. There are now tennis courts and multi-use pitches to help keep everyone active.
With the arrival of large national and international businesses in the 1960s, the town has seen a steady growth in wealth, residents and employment. The Birds custard and Kraft/General Foods factories arrived in the north of the town bringing employment to workers as part of the London overspill, with new estates such as Bretch Hill and Hardwick established to meet the demands of the new residents.
Banbury used to be home to one of the largest cattle markets in the world, situated in Grimsbury, just over the river from the town centre. For 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 the towns of the south. It finally closed in June 1998 to make way for new housing developments and industrial retail services.
Today Banbury enjoys a vibrant cafe culture in the town centre with many food and drink vendors, which has replaced a handful of traditional pubs that closed down not long after the smoking ban of 2007 came into effect. Local start-ups are being welcomed into the town to give an alternative experience to the multinationals, with exciting community projects being supported in growing numbers, all of which is a great sign for the future of the town’s local economy.
The area’s traditional motorsport links have been revitalised with a series of Formula 1 teams taking up residence; Simtek, Marussia and now the American owned Team Haas which is situated next to the World Rally Championship engineers Prodrive, taking over the premises of Italian sports car makers Ascari.
The Castle Quay shopping centre is being expanded to make the best of the Oxford Canal area with an emphasis on a cultural experience. A new library, museum, multiplex cinema and restaurants will light up the beating heart of the town centre. In the summer there are plenty of music festivals in the area; The Big Feastival, Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, Nocturne at Blenheim Palace and Cornbury Festival are all only a few miles away from the town.
An increasing business park area with new industrial and office buildings is being established along the M40 corridor next to the new Banbury Gateway shopping complex. This retail park includes Primark, M&S, Next, River Island and others, attracting shoppers from nearby locations such as Oxford, Warwick and Leamington Spa. This area is soon to have a huge county park and conservation area, increasing the green space available for leisure and study.
Some of the larger businesses located (or planning to be) in Banbury: Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Kärcher, Prodrive, Team Haas, Amazon, Lloyds Bank.
Banbury’s education centres are always on the rise with academies, private and trusted independent schools providing a great range of learning opportunities for the area. The Wykham Park campus even has the country’s first Space School where children can learn about the maths and physics involved in space travel, astronomy and real-world applications of new technologies.
The Banburyshire area is also growing more popular with the wealthy and celebrities such as David Beckham and his family, possibly because Banburyshire does have the traditional and picturesque Olde-English vibe yet merged with the business and transport links that keep the area moving forward.