Look Back With Little: Banbury’s little London

Bretch Hill: A new way of life for Londoners
Bretch Hill: A new way of life for Londoners

Following the Town Development Act of 1952, the Borough Council of this town signed an ‘overspill’ agreement with the then London County Council.

Banbury joined the ranks of Britain’s expanding towns, which included such distant places as Burnley in Lancashire, Bodmin in Cornwall and Kings Lynn on the Wash.

In comparison with these our town might be said to have a more favourable middle England location.

Houses for Londoners were especially those on the Bretch Hill Estate but even with this specific area there were local concentrations of people from the capital city.

One in particular was called Little London and revolved around a pattern of streets that included Prescott Avenue. Here and across Bretch Hill in general, houses for Londoners were linked to the relocation of industries on to the Beaumont Industrial Estate. This was a continuation of an earlier settling of Northern Aluminium Company employees along the likes of Ruscote Avenue.

In 1963 the Banbury Guardian decided to conduct a special survey of Banbury’s newcomers and establish their reactions to being part of the overspill scheme.

Dozens of those interviewed dubbed the town ‘lonely and lifeless’. As a consequence many claimed they wanted to go back to London.

Interestingly some interviewees alleged that at the time of preparing to come to Banbury they were told very little about the town and how conditions compared with say Hackney. An exception was a lady who had been on the London County Council housing list for some time, lived in rooms and so was grateful for the opportunity to occupy a new house in Little London.

Within the ranks of people surveyed a common category was families where the wife liked the house but the husband did not warm to Banbury.

Occasional mention was made of a preference for one of the 1948 New Towns: Basildon and Harlow were often cited. Many of those who held this opinion also expressed a desire to live nearer the town centre.

Friends back home were missed by several respondents. This inspired the comment ‘I can’t get settled’.

Their children fared better and benefitted from less smoke, better air conditions and more play space.

The cost of living in Banbury worried some. Food especially was deemed dearer possibly because the major supermarkets had not yet established themselves in the town.

On the positive side education standards were perceived to be higher.

Taking a balance of views overall, it is perhaps unfortunate that editorial of the day came up with the headline ‘Street of shattered dreams’.

A relocated printer had been very active in London. He did judo, played rugby and was in the Royal Navy Reserves. However with time and like another Londoner he did find appropriate niches within the broad field of leisure.

Two years then elapsed after the Banbury Guardian survey before events took an unexpected twist, which might well have put to the test the reactions from relocated Londoners.

It was suddenly announced that Robert Mellish Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Housing and Local Government would be coming to Banbury on May 10. His purpose was to speak in support of Labour candidates in the forthcoming local elections. Part of his responsibilities were for London housing and rehousing and local Labour party agent, Walter Burley, hoped that people would come to the meeting and ask questions about the future London overspill programme for Banbury.

Given comments made during the survey this was felt to be helpful. Regrettably this got caught up in the bitter political debate about prospective population levels. Conservatives favoured a 40,000 target but Labour preferred 70,000, which incorporated a further 20,000 Londoners.

In the final analysis Burley could not promise that Mellish would be drawn on overspill and development issues.

Ironically arrangements fell apart. Mellish had to stay in London for a vital Commons vote.

Burley announced his departure for a higher regional appointment and there was no big evening for the groaners and moaners of two years earlier.