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
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.”