Banbury on the move

editorial image

On Friday, June 16, 1972, the Times newspaper published a special report on Banbury. It was an appropriate time for this kind of supplement as in a number of significant ways the town was on the move.

This was especially evident within advertisements placed by the Borough Council, consultants to the town authority and Automotive Products, whose spares factory was well established on the Beaumont Industrial Estate.

Officers and councillors used the report as an opportunity to show how Banbury’s role within the area and country was more diverse than suggested by those well -known hallmarks, cross and rhyme, cake and cockhorse.

Their claim was that in reality Banbury was four towns in one. This widely acknowledged ancient market town at the junction of five main roads had developed into a growing centre of industry and commerce. Since at least the 1920s it had been an ideal touring headquarters poised at the gateway to the Cotswolds and Shakespeare country. Last but not least there was a realisation that having the countryside on your doorstop was a good reason as any for acclaiming the Banbury locality as a pleasant residential area.

Whilst central area redevelopment was being actively plotted by consultant surveyors Hillier Parker May and Rowden, suburban Banbury was enjoying an industrial boom well represented by Automotive Products spares factory, which was the largest in Europe. Here 1,600 people achieved an annual output of 52,500,000 clutches, suspension joints, steering joints and brake systems components.

The stage was set for Times reporters to pinpoint success stories that gave wider expression to the Banbury story. Chief among these was Keith Robertson who turned the spotlight on Midland Marts livestock market. His discovery that there were sales on most days persuaded him to liken Banbury to Chicago, the renowned centre of America’s huge mid-west cattle trade. It seems that even in the early 1970s this town was bucking the trend towards market closure especially the smaller enterprises.

A prime reason for the success story locally was the buoyancy of prices – calves achieving £50 each and beef animals marked up at £16 a cwt.

Quite apart from the adopted slogan ‘The stockyard of Europe’ the market in general was attractive to the European buyer because of the opportunity to attend several sales over a few days. No wonder that the EEC (Common Market) was seen as Banbury’s golden future.

Another Times writer, Patrick O’Leary looked at how the composition of Banbury’s population had changed with much emphasis on overspill Londoners. Turning to the issue of assimilation he took readers back to the war years and the absorption of evacuees. In his view it was this process that resulted in Banbury being fashioned by what he termed ordinary 

O’Leary’s column also looked at the tourist potential of Banbury. He stressed the town’s suitability as a touring base with ready access to heritage areas.

In a tail piece about shopping the same writer regretted that relevant development was not of the Church Lane variety – speciality shops. Because of their small size he noted that they lacked room to swing a wire basket.

Elsewhere in this special report Peter Sturges claimed that Banbury had lost its market town tag. This dated from the 1950s and was linked to the expanding town status. His views are challenged elsewhere in the supplement and in particular by Barbara Maude, chair of the Oxfordshire branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England. She is one of the four important people identified by Keith Cross. Her analysis of the local scene suggested that Banbury did indeed have a future as a market town. For this reason she was determined to defend the continued existence of the Market Place.

A second choice of a key local person was Michael Blanchard of the Whately Hall Hotel. As managing director he wanted more conferences to boost winter business and to find ways of holding on to tourists rather than allowing them to use Banbury as a take off town.