Look Back With Little: Cheap and cheerful

The scene at Banbury's first Sunday market
The scene at Banbury's first Sunday market

In 1971 two local men, Bruce Thompson and Robert Joines, campaigned for the launch of a Sunday market. It was their belief that Banbury’s shops were ‘way behind those of nearby towns’.

Location did not appear to be a problem. Robert stressed council ownership of appropriate land and other suggestions were Bretch Hill and the cattle market.

Bruce and Robert went on to raise a petition in favour of the market and this was presented to the borough council.

Deputy Town Clerk Frank Moran then reminded them that the existing Thursday and Saturday markets happened respectively by a 12th century charter and Parliamentary assent.

However, he conceded that a Sunday Fairs Act legalised the holding of markets on that day.

In marked contrast the president of the Banbury Chamber of Commerce raised objections and was concerned about the possible effect of competition to which existing shop owners could not respond (larger shops could not open legally on a Sunday until August 1994).

By December 2, 1971, it became clear that plans were going ahead on Banbury United’s car park.

Organisers had been identified and they were Nationwide Marketeers (the Greyson Group of companies).

In addition, a market superintendent Alec Smith was named.

He was licensee of the Bowling Green public house. One of his first actions was to canvass stall holders of the Thursday market. In a statement to the Banbury Guardian Alec commented ‘we aim to make United’s car park a second Petticoat Lane’.

Alec Smith and the other organisers then put up the inducement of a £2 a week rent and opened negotiations regarding a hoped-for purchase of railway owned land which would offer more space for stalls.

On Sunday, December 12, the first market took shape and in the following Thursday’s Banbury Guardian a reporter was able to use the caption: ‘It’s market madness! And everyone is happy’.

The article began with the astonishing news that ‘over 24,000 people poured into Banbury from all directions’.

A jubilant Alec Smith pronounced that the event was ‘just beyond our wildest dreams’.

Two aspects that must have pleased him were firstly that several Banbury shopkeepers reacted by enquiring about stalls and secondly that an elderly couple from Chacombe said that they had saved £8 on Christmas presents by shopping at the Sunday Market.

Not everyone welcomed it. A Mr Hogben of Banbury wrote a letter to the Guardian in which he expressed concern about the number of empty shops and the location of the Sunday Market, which he maintained was too fringe to benefit the council.

His conclusion was that two markets a week were sufficient for a town the size of Banbury.

Criticism of the new market also came from the Revd Ian Beacham, Vicar of Banbury, who wrote in the parish magazine that facilities for leisure and recreation were what the community at large needed on a Sunday rather than a market.

In the same context Alec Smith emphasised that between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of all traders hailed from the Banbury area, the number of stalls was growing by the week and the market catered for people who wanted to buy things cheaply. As if to emphasise the last point, one trader placed an advertisement in the Banbury Guardian with an offer of men’s shirts for £1 each.

Perhaps the significant opposition came from the borough council.

A major concern was vehicle access, especially in respect of the emergency services.

Its recommendation to the area planning committee was not to permit Banbury United FC car park to become a permanent site.

They were greatly strengthened by the terms of the Town and Country Planning General Development Order which allowed the site to be used but for no more than 28 days a year.

On May 4, 1972, came the news that the Sunday Market had closed down for legal reasons.

Cheapness and free parking had been the trump card but in the final analysis even these were not enough to 
save it.