A portrait of townsfolk

Leo in his gate man days at the alley NNL-140619-105312001
Leo in his gate man days at the alley NNL-140619-105312001

It was Margaret Stacey in her sociological studies of Banbury who first made me aware of the extent to which an understanding of its people was critical in any analysis of the town’s portrait.

With this in mind I accepted a most welcome invitation to meet Banburian Mabel Taylor.

Born in 1923, Mabel’s earliest years were spent in the Boxhedge part of the Neithrop Township but more especially in Townsend.

Her parents occupied one of five houses which were considered unfit for occupation and so the family was moved to Abbey Road, part of an area of council housing the spine of which was the Cromwell Road loop linked to Warwick Road.

This cul-de-sac developed its own characteristics that included the childhood memory of division into ends known locally as Bull Ring and Bunny Run.

I would be pleased to hear from anyone who can shed light on these strange names.

Mabel attended St Mary’s School in the Southam Road otherwise known as the Blue Coat Charity School.

Her memories of life there were also influenced by the fact that her father Leo was caretaker.

Like most children at the time her schooling ended at 14 but was not followed by permanent employment which was difficult to come by.

Two weeks’ work with the Banbury Advertiser in Gatteridge Street revealed much about the world of advertising and newspapers and included her first experience of going up a ladder.

Mabel’s second work place was Bartletts fruit shop in Parsons Street.

Although once again this was only a short term experience it introduced Mabel to the competitive retail world.

The near presence of Wyncolls in North Bar meant that Mr Bartlett worked very much within their shadow.

The next stop on the employment ladder was Colebrooks, whose fish and fruit business had by 1942 moved from its original location on the corner of Church Lane and Parsons Street.

Mabel spent two separate periods of time concerned with fruit sales but she was also very aware of the extent to which people living outside Banbury depended on their fish van, which carried out deliveries.

It was while she was at Colebrooks that the gasworks was bombed.

Mabel spotted the German aircraft flying very low and could see the crew engaged in targeting the railway area.

Colebrooks like many other places of work was but a staging post within her overall career.

Next stop was the Post Office in the Warwick Road known in local circles as Gregory’s. Here she did two mornings of housework but also helped out in the shop at the busy times such as Christmas.

It was at this stage in her life that Mabel appreciated the varied nature and depth of her work experience.

Her father had changed jobs moving from St Mary’s School to join the Northern Aluminium Company as a gateman – see today’s illustration.

Mabel combined looking after him with cooking in the Boots the Chemist canteen located in the Castle Shopping Centre.

During our conversation Mabel had many interesting reflections on Banbury as a market town.

She was acutely aware of the extent to which livestock and livestock movements brought people together within the town.

She remembered especially caravan occupant Jessie Smith who escorted herds of cows along the Warwick Road.

As for the produce market certain stalls evoked powerful memories.

Notable was Salmons with their sweets whose bags of confectionary were an ideal accompaniment of the well-known ‘Tuppenny Rush’ experience in Pepper Alley where there was a rear access to the Grand Cinema.

Today at her Bretch Hill home Mabel can sit and recall the sounds and sights of Banbury that have so influenced her life.

Our conversation added much valuable detail to the Stacey portrait of the town.

It made me realise how much I have missed through not being a Banburian but also just how important it is to record the memories of those who can think back to those formative early years of the last century.