Look Back With Little: Banbury Co-operative

A jumble sale 'Gem'
A jumble sale 'Gem'

The Banbury Co-operative Industrial Society was born in 1886.

Its first initiative was to establish a shop in Bridge Street. This sold groceries and provisions and was much used by families from the Cherwell industrial quarter of the town. Wives from this area welcomed a form of retailing more in tune with their working class needs and attitudes.

Co-operative Society trade grew rapidly and just 2½ years later the move to Broad Street took place. Co-opville was born and became a town within a town. Between 1878 and 1894 various departments took shape under the guidance of Frederick Lamb who was both secretary and manager.

Major premises were opened in 1908 on the corner of Broad Street and George Street. This magnificent edifice encouraged William Lickorish, who by 1916 was managing director, to sum up the spirit of enthusiasm in town and country for the Co-operative Movement.

In 1934 came a further major change in the face of Broad Street, the local Society opened its arcade building. This was the first of its kind for Banbury and was a miniature Selfridges for a small market town.

By this time there were driving forces within the movement which were of a more cultural kind under the auspices of the Co-op Educational Committee. At the heart of these were music festivals which began in 1931. A chance discovery of the programme and entry arrangements for 1940 has encouraged me to concentrate on competitions held in both 1939 and the following year.

The Banbury Advertiser had no hesitation in labelling the festival ‘Banbury’s premier musical event’. An increase in entries for the 1939 competition substantiated this comment and was due in no small measure to the efforts of the Education Department members and especially W.J. Trinder whose Christ Church singers won the Senior Choral Shield. To obvious delight, the junior equivalent went to the Leamington Co-operative choir. Best vocalist was Wilfred Burson and best instrumentalist Lily Rose of Banbury.

Traditionally the last evening of the festival was given over to concert pieces and summing up speeches. In 1939 William Lickorish proudly announced a tripling of membership both nationally and locally. As for the music festival this had ‘an inspirational effect on the life of the town’.

Although some town cultural events for 1940 were cancelled not so the Banbury Co-operative Society’s Music Festival which was held in Banbury Town Hall on Friday and Saturday 24th and 25th May. In 1940 and for the period of the war the number of classes was curtailed. Efforts were made to include evacuees, those from Co-operative homes or in the care of co-operators were treated as members. A further increase in the number of entries justified this decision. In the junior choir class Banbury got first place with Leamington second. Interestingly Springfield Avenue Choir under Mrs M. R. Raby secured third position. I wonder if there was any overlap of the last named with St Hugh’s Church Choir.

The outcome of the senior choir competition was equally interesting. First place went to Mr Chidzey’s Banbury Co-op Choir and runners up were Charlton Village Choral Society.

If justification for holding the Festival at such a critical time was needed it came from William Lickorish who remarked that the inspiration of good music was very necessary for morale (as opposed to jazz and wild-type war songs).

The Educational Committee must have been delighted with the large audiences and especially ‘the crowded house’ on Saturday evening.

During both years’ festivals the minds of those on the Educational Committee might well have gone back to the 10th March 1934 when the opening of their Arcade was celebrated with an official tea and then a grand concert given by the Banbury Co-operative Choir and string orchestra. In more senses than one ‘a long-cherished dream had at last been realised’. The music festivals prolonged this dream.

l I am grateful to Geoff and Jean Todd for kind loan of the 1940 Festival programme.