Look Back With Little: Industrial survival

William Truss gave away sacks of potatoes to the poor
William Truss gave away sacks of potatoes to the poor

In the late 1920s and the 1930s industrial survival at Banbury was never easy. However there was general agreement that it was essential for the health of a town in which unemployment was so severe that William Truss, the Parsons Street fishmonger, gave away bags of potatoes at the door of his shop.

The early 1930s closure of Samuelson’s Britannia Works, renowned for its agricultural equipment and machinery, threatened a bleak future for Banbury.

However negotiations between the Northern Aluminium Company and the Borough Council resulted in a sheet mill employing some 200 people and producing up to 200 tons a month.

Its effect on the unemployment register locally was immediate. In December 1931 1,254 people were listed but by a year later this figure had dropped to 981.

Despite this evidence of economic improvement Banbury’s mayor William Thomas Palmer decided it was necessary to call a meeting of townspeople, which was held in the old council chamber of the Town Hall on Thursday, February 18, 1932. The sole agenda item was to identify ways and means of achieving development within the borough.

Impetus for this gathering stemmed from what was then called the Chamber of Trade.

It was their hope that people attending should be representative of the many interests holding the borough together.

Interestingly this was not the first time that there was concern about the town’s ability to survive during troubled economic times. Way back in 1907 a Borough Development Committee had been set up.

Unfortunately this only survived for a few years.

One of its members had been Banbury Guardian editor William Potts who confirmed that he was ‘a survivor of the old contemptibles who fell asleep’.

The main objective of the 1932 meeting was once again to set up a Development Association. During the evening many valuable comments were forthcoming.

The mayor made it known that Banbury had been added to a list of potential recipients of industry being compiled by the London Chamber of Commerce. At the same time the Great Western Railway Company was also approached by those seeking factory and industrial sites. Alderman Chapman explained this in terms of Banbury having more advantages for this kind of development than many towns of comparable size (Banbury had a population of 13,935 at the 1931 Census). A significant contributor to the evening’s discussion was Mr H.A. Beard, the recently-elected president of the Chamber of Commerce.

Amidst much laughter he portrayed an expanding Banbury as stretching from Blacklocks Hill to Broughton Castle.

Its business heartland would focus on Horse Fair together with North and South Bar. He envisaged this as a future retail centre.

In a similar vein the Rev ALE Williams, Vicar of Banbury, who hailed from Yorkshire, recounted stories about Banbury becoming bigger than Coventry.

Currently, however, his greatest concern was about the way the Peoples’ Park had had its charm diminished by advertisement hoarding along one side.

When it came to the town clerk to frame his comments these highlighted the fact that the basis of Banbury’s economy was still agriculture.

As if to reinforce this remark, the current issue of the Banbury Guardian had featured the success of Hugh W Stilgoe in the Adderbury area where he famously bred Oxford Downs sheep supported by three family retainers who between them had clocked up 173 years of service.

Another development of importance to both agriculturalists and town’s people was the establishment of Midlands Marts Limited. It was their initiative that resulted in the enclosed market at Grimsbury adjoining the railways.

Towards the end of the evening it was clear that a new Borough Development Association could embrace anyone in the borough or neighbourhood. In the final analysis most of its ten members were drawn from Banbury Borough Council, the Banbury Chamber of trade and the Banbury Industrial Co-operative Society.

Before closing the meeting the Mayor urged them to talk optimistically of Banbury as many people elsewhere had remarked to him ‘what a lovely little town you have got’.