Look Back With Little: Improving Banbury

Chestnuts bowlers helped put Banbury on the sporting scene NNL-140529-165900001
Chestnuts bowlers helped put Banbury on the sporting scene NNL-140529-165900001

In the Banbury Advertiser for June 1 1939 the editorial entitled ‘Town Talk’ was all about improving Banbury. The sun shone and temperatures were high that particular Whitsun so thoughts turned to ways of making the most of ‘a lovely country town’ which enjoyed proximity to the countryside.

High on the newspaper’s list was the new outdoor swimming pool that had been opened the previous week.

Its turnstiles clinked merrily for swimmers and spectators. Attendances exceeded 1,000 both on Whit Monday and Sunday, June 4.

This high level of support helped to create ‘that favourable impression we all wish that visitors shall take away with them’.

Interestingly, equally popular was the Suntrap Lido in Grimsbury’s Middleton Road where as many sunbathed as took to the water.

The Advertiser had other ideas for increasing Banbury’s appeal. Its columnists wrote enthusiastically about having hanging baskets of flowers on lamp standards in South Bar, which was perceived as a fine avenue with the potential to impress motorists, especially those bringing visitors.

They went on to quote the National Committee on cycling who favoured the creation of one or more cycle parks as a way of increasing the appeal of this recreational activity which was already firmly established at club level.

Some groups of local wheelers were offshoots of local firms under the direction of athletic organisations such as the Banbury Harriers. In the case of people who wanted to compete against each other there was the Star Cyclists Club which had been formed way back in 1891.

The advantages of membership were summed up in a typical member’s comment of 1936, ‘anyone fond of cycling and good comradeship should give the joys and delights of club cycling a trial’.

An annual run was the highlight of their calendar of events. In 1930 this covered a distance of some 21 miles and followed a course through Middleton Cheney, Farthinghoe, Brackley, Croughton, Aynho and Adderbury. Sadly that event was not blessed with the warm weather so typical of early June 1939.

The level of membership of the Star Cyclists’ Club appears to have been not unrelated to its choice of base, namely the Dog and Gun in North Bar. This was the case during the period A. F. Kilby was landlord.

Given the encouraging Whitsun weather, it was ironic that for the first time in many years there no Harriers Sports. However, as if by way of compensation more than 2,000 people enjoyed a meeting on the Northern Aluminium sports ground in Easington.

This was the fifth of its kind and made notable by several record breaking achievements. For those people who wanted something more than just running and jumping there was a variety of sideshows as well as musical entertainment provided by the Banbury Borough and British Legion bandsmen.

In another part of this sports complex was the Northern Aluminium bowling green that had been laid down in January 1938.

The official opening was held a year later and was marked by a match between a representative company team and the Oxfordshire Bowling Association Executive. Mr Ensby, President of the county body, officiated at the opening and made the interesting comment that bowls had the merit of encouraging friendship among players.

Hallowed by age was the Banbury Chestnuts bowling green, which had originally belonged to the Three Tuns on the site of the later Whately Hall Hotel.

Coincidently with the sporting events already mentioned was one of this club’s two annual and renowned fixtures against Handsworth Wood.

In a close match Chestnuts triumphed over the visitors by 10 shots. In good Banbury tradition refreshments after the match were provided by Wincotts Café, a fitting venue for a club characterised by a high proportion of retailers and business people within the membership.

No wonder so many keen bowlers commented that the Chestnuts had been at the very heart of the market town.

Taking into consideration all the outdoor pursuits in 1939 the Banbury Advertiser was spoilt for choice in framing its remarks about the appeal of the town.