Look Back With Little: Outbreak of war had an impact on all sides of life in Banbury

Brownie Lay who formed the Premier Players to provide music for the first ever blackout dance NNL-171031-155118001
Brownie Lay who formed the Premier Players to provide music for the first ever blackout dance NNL-171031-155118001

In October and November, 1939, an interesting aspect of World War II was the impact it had on every facet of life in Banbury right from the commencement of hostilities.

These dominated the contents of the Banbury Guardian and Banbury Advertiser.

Under the heading ‘Nation’s Work goes on!’, the Advertiser of October 12, commented ‘most of us are discovering the routine of our lives to be subject to drastic realignment’.

Especially evident was the way the shops reacted to the needs of people and the prospect of shortages.

Retailers of foodstuffs however small were required to apply to the local Food Office for a licence to trade.

Those who delivered to villages needed to register in more than one area especially if they sold from their vans.

Individuals who wanted to kill a pig in order to cure bacon or households who kept a few chicken were also covered by the order.

Gardeners were offered advice on turning over flower beds to the production of vegetables.

All shopkeepers were expected to adhere to fixed trading hours. Under the 1928 Hours of Closing Act Banbury Borough Council was empowered to make necessary amendments.

As a result closing time was fixed at 7pm for Monday to Friday and 8pm on Saturdays.

No fewer than 83 retailers petitioned for these times. By 12th October closing hours had been further amended to three nights at 6pm and two at 7pm to save on lighting.

An aspect of Banbury that if anything had enhanced the importance of the livestock market set up by Midland Marts way back in 1925 was that the town was a very important centre of operations within the government’s south eastern area for the control of collection and distribution of fat stock for slaughter.

The activities of farmers in the Banbury area were highlighted in regular weekly columns in the local papers and especially through the Advertiser editor’s postbag.

Not surprisingly the use of horses on the land was encouraged to ease fuel shortages but their use for hunting with dogs was severely restricted.

In a letter from M Chapman of the Oxford Society for the abolition of Cruel Sports it was expected that the majority of farmers would cease to preserve the lives of foxes.

Uncertainty about the duration of the war and the severity of its impact resulted in several organisations deciding to suspend annual dinners for members.

A lead in this respect was given by the Neithrop Felons who should have been celebrating their 121st gathering.

Their decision was copied by the Star Cyclists whose committee replaced a dinner with a smoking concert at the Dog and Gun in North Bar.

Furthermore they agreed to suspend the Warwick and back record ride until the war was over.

Overall their policy was to promote such events ‘as maybe desired without interfering with the National War Effort’.

In recognition of the number of troops stationed locally, Banbury was seen as an appropriate location for their entertainment.

Typical was a concert at Banbury County School featuring well-known artistes of the day including Beatrice Lille and Douglas Bing.

The Whately Hall Hotel was a centre of entertainment for officers only.

Local cinemas were closed for a week following the declaration of war.

They reopened with earlier hours starting at 1.30pm and finishing at 9.30pm and on the understanding that they could evacuate the ance in as little as three minutes.

Pedestrians were urged to keep to pavements for homeward journeys and to respond to air raid warnings by heading for public shelters.

The onset of blackout conditions in Banbury and district at first tended to limit trips after dark.

However on Saturday, October 14, the Town Hall was the venue for the appearance of a new dance band.

Inspired by drummer Brownie Lay the Premier Players provided the music for the first ever ‘blackout’ dance.

This was followed shortly afterwards by an equally well attended dance at Christ Church Hall.

Both events reflected the prevailing spirit in the run-up to Christmas 1939.