Look Back With Little: Town poised for change

The new face of civic pride but would it have worked?
The new face of civic pride but would it have worked?

Banbury poised for change may well be a good description of the town in the early 1960s. Change was in the air at several locations, notably Bridge Street, North Bar and Calthorpe Street.

Hints of this were revealed to members of the audience who attended a local farmers’ club version of the Brains Trust. This was held in Cropredy on February 25, 1960.

The panel members included Tom Williams, well-respected Chairman of Banbury Rural District Council and Councillor Jack Friswell of the Borough Authority.

The most significant question of the evening was as follows: ‘In a thriving town like Banbury is agriculture the most important industry?’

Tom responded by commenting that he personally held to this belief but doubted if the people of Banbury followed suit.

He went on to say that his main concern regarding the level of industrial development was ‘the danger of the town becoming too big and ultimately divorced from the countryside’.

Councillor Jack Friswell took the line that over the ensuing 25 years there must be a transition from agriculture to industry. In the meantime ‘agriculture was safe in the hands of Midland Marts’.

The prospect of change in Bridge Street and North Bar was linked to the town council’s perceived need for new municipal offices. At the centre of the debate about this was the hundred year old Town Hall, which when it opened in Queen Victoria’s reign was heralded as evidence of an exciting era.

In 1963 a new agent for change emerged in the shape of the Citizens Association for the Redevelopment of Banbury. Their response to the council’s intention to build in North Bar became front page news in the Banbury Guardian. They favoured a building in Bridge Street, the appearance of which can be appreciated from today’s illustration.

In a letter to the Town Clerk F.G. Boys, the Association argued that new municipal offices should be as near as possible to the bus station which had been carved out of former canal wharfage.

Those arriving by both town and village services would then be close to not only the borough offices but also a covered shopping way, possibly in the form of arcade.

So far as North Bar was concerned 17 premises would remain undisturbed.

These included Speedwell Metal Polishers, Banbury School of dancing, Normeir Tyre Company, the Cock Horse café, Bolton’s warehouse and Drayton Dairy offices.

Despite the cheapness of the project we now know that major change had to wait.

At the western end of the town centre passions were aroused in a far bigger way by the borough council’s pronouncements about wanting to demolish houses in Calthorpe Street whose residents had become renowned for the strength of community spirit.

This had been revealed on numerous occasions such as the street parties that accompanied the Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935 and Victory celebrations in 1945.

Residents were up in arms as indicated by a lady who had spent her life savings on her house only for it to be on the condemned list.

In a press interview she remarked that she would rather go into an old people’s home than to a house on the council’s Neithrop Estate that had been developed in association with overspill movements. Interestingly the council’s thoughts about Calthorpe Street were not spur of the moment. The search for an overview of ‘Banbury poised for change’ will take local historians to events such as the Chamber of Commerce annual dinner for 1963.

It was here that Alderman Gwen Bustin referred to an ‘exciting era for the town’.

Despite delay in producing a map, there was prospect of London overspill labour for new factories on the 72 acres industrial estate.

She hoped that at least some of those who trekked to Oxford, Coventry and Birmingham for jobs would consider staying in Banbury.

New connections meant that the town was on the move even if its retail and administrative heart remained largely unchanged.