Look Back With Little: Printing firm in print

19th century printer's proof from Cheney & Sons NNL-140522-151904001
19th century printer's proof from Cheney & Sons NNL-140522-151904001

In 1967 the renowned business family of Cheney decided to mark 200 years of printing in Banbury by publishing a book to celebrate this remarkable milestone.

It was entitled ‘Cheneys of Banbury 1767-1967 and was by its very nature the autobiography of the print firm.

The story begins at the Unicorn on the west side of the Market Place.

Here the first John Cheney was both printer and publican.

The former role appears to date from November 1767 and related very much to the needs of the immediate area.

Work was remarkably varied and included summonses, catalogues, turnpike tickets, posters and ballads.

No account of these early days ever failed to raise a laugh about an item called ‘Fun upon Fun or the Stark-Naked West Country Wedding’.

John’s time at the Unicorn ended in 1788 when he moved the printing business to a shop in Red Lion Street (the middle part of the present High Street).

Here he styled himself printer, book seller and stationer.

His new home was easy to find because it was opposite the White Lion Hotel.

Indeed it was often the case that John would stand at the door of his shop and read aloud newspaper accounts of the Napoleonic Wars.

Increasing diversification of activities brought its own problems, especially for the printing side.

The consequence was a poster printed by Thomas Jarvis of Church Lane that announced that on July 8, 1856 all the printing presses and assorted types and materials were to be sold by auction.

The main buyer was George Hitchcox who had been a partner in a rival printing business. At first he wanted to go it alone but then formed a partnership with John Cheney, grandson of the Unicorn landlord. The partnership only lasted until 1863 when George Hitchcox went to America, by which time Cheney printing was happening at 5 Butchers Row.

By 1878 management of the business increasingly devolved on to the shoulders of John’s children, the outcome of his marriage to Elizabeth Gardner.

It was during the time at Butchers Row that Cheneys first produced the notable local railway guide.

Their first effort also included a list of village carriers and monthly publications continued until 1923.

In January 1888 the firm issued a handbill headed Railway Guide office 5 Butchers Row.

This told the town and area that future printed items would bear the name ‘Cheney and Sons’. More importantly came the news that the premises had been greatly enlarged and the latest improved machinery put in.

This raised company expectation that its reputation for high class work would be enhanced.

The advertisements in the Guide contribute significantly to any study of the history of Banbury.

On the front page of the 1885 edition half the available space is devoted to the firm of Smith and Dagley, who were drapers, outfitters and tailors at 76, 79 and 80 High Street.

They took over the premises from William Strange and retained the promise of costumes to order.

In some instances whole pages were given over to publicising the businesses of well-known retailers.

An especially informative example was that of Mrs Betts at 85 High Street and also of the Great Western Railway Station.

She was responsible for a remarkable range of cakes but best known for her Banbury Cakes, which were best sellers at the railway refreshment rooms.

Whilst at Butchers Row Cheneys were able to announce that they had been appointed sole agents in the district for the firm of Hildesheimer and Faulkner, who were in the design business for items such as calendars, show cards and blotting pads.

At election times Cheneys were not averse to political exposure through fliers.

An especially amusing one of 1858 is addressed to the electors of Banbury and refers to two individuals named Cobden and Miall.

It claimed that the former would ‘simply make a convenience of us till the General Election’. As for Mr Miall, Cheneys challenge him to eat his ‘Banbury Cakes’ elsewhere.