Here’s a town that’s an idyllic cocktail, of stunning Cotswold soothing stoniness, and yet reviled by much of Oxfordshire as its ‘chav’ town. It fuses its two images with attention to detail embodied by its shopping centre –


It even has a canal, with a lock and everything, that goes through the middle of the pedestrianised shopping centre.



Travelling at one mile an hour on a pretty green canal boat past WH Smiths in Banbury is such a splendidly pointless activity that everyone should be made to it once, like a pilgrimage.

But it’s also famous for its role in a nursery rhyme, on account of Banbury Cross not quite rhyming with riding a white horse.

But Banbury is much more than this, which is why it doesn’t make a scene about its place in the rhyme. Apart from this statue in the middle of the town



And tiny references to it in the museum, such as here


And here


They hardly mention it.

But Banbury has much more to offer than this. For example there’s the beautiful scent, mentioned recently on the BBC news website –

“A bad smell in Banbury will be discussed at a public meeting this week after residents kicked up a stink. Pam Driscoll, who lives nearby, described it like a ‘tomcat had sprayed’ saying: ‘It really reeks. It makes your throat sore; it makes your eyes water’.

Not everyone agrees, and on a forum called ‘Trucknet’ for lorry drivers, one of them wrote “My favourite smells on the road are the Weetabix factory on the A14, and a smell from Banbury that I’m not sure what it is.”

But Banbury has a rebellious tradition, in the heart of sixteenth century rebellion, when small farmers and tradesmen rejected the religion that justified a natural hierarchy, for a Puritan one that insisted we are all equal before GOD.

Out of context this can sometimes appear to be slightly mental, such as when Banbury’s Puritan preacher was in full preaching flow as a fire began to destroy the town, and proclaimed “The fire rides in triumph due to God’s displeasure for our sinners.”

In his defence, by sinners he meant the nobility rather than gays, as suggested by a certain UKIP councillor, though while he may be excused from homophobia it would be hard to back him up on grounds of rational thought.

Banbury was so gripped by Puritanism a poem of the time went “To Banbury came I, O prophane one, where I saw a Puritan hanging a cat on a Monday, for killing a mouse on a Sunday.”

However smug the Puritans were, and if they had a flaw it is that they could be a little Puritan at times, there’s no doubting their selfless commitment. Oliver Cromwell once boasted (I think at the battle of Cropredy Bridge, just next to Banbury, though I’m not sure)  “Our army has the virtues of prayer, godliness, integrity, solemnity and honesty, whereas the King’s army can offer only vice, drinking and wenching.”

Surely at least a few Puritan soldiers must have heard that speech and gone “Really? Do you mind all that much if I swap sides, just for a weekend.”

Something must remain of these fiery times. There’s the Cromwell pub, a huge stone hostelry in the centre of town, though remembering him with a pub suggests maybe they haven’t grasped all the Puritan’s policies. And the football team is known as the Puritans. Presumably when they’re in a huddle at the start of the game the captain reminds them “Remember, our side has the virtues of prayer and godliness, whereas Aylsebury Rovers can offer only vice, drinking and wenching.”

But not in Banbury, which is now relegated in the league of politically important towns behind Chipping Norton, home to such nationally important statespeople as David Cameron, Rebekah Brooks and Jeremy Clarkson.

But the Cotswolds is never one-dimensional, so author Dominic Sandbrook, who lives in Chipping Norton, wrote in reply to someone who suggested it was power-hungry, amoral and louche,

“You want louche? Try Stow-on-the-Wold. Amoral? Then go to Bourton-on-the-Water. Power-hungry? You don’t know power-hungry until you’ve been to Moreton-on-the-Marsh.”

3 Replies to “BANBURY”

  1. I have live in Banbury on and off for the majority of the last 22 years, it has long had a policy of destroying it’s history and venerating where the rubble once stood while building eyesores which linger long enough to qualify as history which then gets venerated. There are some beautiful parts but ask what happened to the original Banbury Cake shop (not the paper which itself has some headlines that surprisingly pass as journalism here such as ‘Drag Queen Bomb Hoax’). As for the chav nature of the youths here, they are surprisingly literate given that they have no idea about geography, in one public park the graffiti reads ‘we are Essex’. All in all there are good things about Banbury, the college, the Horton hospital and where you can find them, the gems of old architecture hidden away. All in all Banbury is not at all surprising when you realise that along with Bicester the two towns act as an overflow for Oxford’s problems which seam to juggle each other’s drug addicts and other antisocial issues, throw them in with the vulnerable and when they all disappear from one town’s topography, it is treated as a success story while the same problems suddenly appear elsewhere in the next town say, which is never mentioned. In fact that, along with the local mindset of refusal to accept anyone who doesn’t fit the local idea of ‘normal’ istreated badly by the locals who at least have a strong sense of sticking together. I’m sometimes surprised Ive made any friends here at all

  2. So much you skipped over there!

    You missed ‘The Banbury Mutiny’ — when Levellers from all over England met, and declared war on the unjust military government, on May 8th 1649.

    Or the ‘Swing Riots’ of the 1830s, when the dragoons from Coventry tried to re-create the Peterloo Massacre at the town’s fair but failed (Banburians were a bit quicker on their toes and ran into the nearby woods).

    The smell the truck drivers like comes from the chicken food factory, where they boil-up food and brewery waste to make pellets — Europe’s largest coffee factory makes a nasty niff too.


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