Look Back With Little: An enterprising saga

Look Back With Little
Look Back With Little

In Banbury Past through Artists’ Eyes, published by the Banbury Historical Society on the occasion of its Fifteenth Anniversary, a watercolour, a pen and wash drawing and a drawing each offer accurate impressions of the south-west corner of the Market Place at three moments in time.

Two of these are especially valuable as pictorial evidence of the early 19th century town.

Included in all these is a building whose importance is out of all proportion to its small size.

Earlier this summer, members of my Wednesday afternoon local history group were enabled to visit the property and explore the levels above the ground floor where an insurance business is active.

In the first place, selection of this building had been inspired by the appearance of writing on pillars close to the entrance.

Three sets of inscriptions had been revealed by workmen preparing 12 Market Place for a change of use after its time as a bagel shop and even earlier an estate agent and chain shoe shop.

Two of these inscriptions on either side of the front door are clearly visible.

One draws attention to the availability of horse and cattle medicines, which would be much in demand in a market town like Banbury.

The other sign reads ‘Genuine Tea Warehouse’.

With information on owners from George Herbert’s ‘Shoemaker’s Window’ these can be cross referenced in Rusher’s Directories.

Herbert states that 12 Market Place was occupied successively by Philip Hardwick, Richard Falkner and Hubert Bartlett, all chemists and druggists.

Hardwick (1832-53) was also a tea dealer (1851-53). Falkner carried on the tea business for a further year but thereafter is listed only in the latter role.

Just occasionally he appears to have turned to the treatment of livestock which formed an important and integral part of the Thursday and Saturday markets.

This probably explains the reference to animal medicine being available.

Bartlett seems to have dropped the tea business.

Interestingly he was a prominent Councillor and Alderman in the 1890s and was Mayor of Banbury in 1900.

In the context of the Market Place scene, No. 12 is modest and very much in the shadow of the adjacent and so-called Bishop’s Palace, home to Lincoln Chambers.

Jennifer Sherwood and Nicholaus Pevsner in the ‘Buildings of Oxfordshire’, seem almost drawn to it.

They record that the building was part of the 17th century town and had a stucco surface over a timbered framed construction.

A single gable faces the Market Place but there are two more at the side which overlook the Tchure, which formed a connection with the Red Lion part of the High Street.

Windows at the front and along the side combined to offer impressions of the area on both market days and in the intervening periods of time.

Back in 1921 pictures taken by Francis Frith photographers revealed that No. 12 was an ideal location for observing the Butchers’ shambles, the market huddle at the south western end and not least Corn Hill with its wealth of architecturally interesting buildings and concentration of public houses, notably the Cock and Greyhound, the Plough and the Vine.

During the first half of the century occupants at No. 12 would also have experienced civic life at the third Town Hall (built 1801).

The election year of 1820 included goings-on at the Hall which led to great rowdiness.

This was the year when a Vicar of Banbury sought safety in the rafters in order to escape the wrath of a crowd.

With its well-placed windows 12 Market Place would also have been the place to be to experience the uniquely different atmosphere of non-Market Days.

In the early twenties, eyes would have been on the horse drawn delivery carts and also the common sight of milk being emptied into churns.

l I am grateful to Ifty Ahmed whose Coversure insurance services business does much to enhance the character of such an important building.