Ringing in the Jubilee

The Mayor leaving the ceremony
The Mayor leaving the ceremony

Our knowledge of Banbury past owes much to William Potts editor of the Banbury Guardian newspaper in 1892.

Five years after he succeeded his father John in this post William put together a booklet in the form of a souvenir of the Banbury Commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. In essence it is the story of important changes in St Mary’s belfry.

Potts was secretary and treasurer of a large committee formed to oversee the work in connection with a new clock, bells and chimes.

Its composition was dominated by people who were the local movers and shakers during the twilight of Victoria’s reign.

William wanted his booklet to be a memento by which they could look back on the transition from the years of the former Parish Church to the era of the new St Mary’s.

By way of introduction he reminded readers that the medieval church bells had a dual role and were used for civil as well as religious purposes.

The old church was demolished in 1790 and its replacement opened for services in 1797 but lacked a tower and portico, which were completed in 1822.

Of the peal of six bells four (the third, fifth, sixth and tenor) were re-hung with two new ones (the first and second) added.

The fourth (replaced in 1897) and seventh bells were recast in 1841 and 1852 respectively. As to the clock chimes no change took place until 1897.

Dawn on Jubilee Day was clearly a very exciting if anxious time.

The intricate machinery of the belfry posed many installation problems for the Gillett and Johnston workmen under their foreman Mr Gosling.

Neither he nor Potts forgot the time spent under a dim lamp in the belfry or pacing the churchyard in the cold, grey dawn listening to the trials of the different tunes.

Despite all the nervous moments the ceremony commenced as planned at 11.45am and was given a sense of occasion by the Banbury troop of the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars who escorted the Mayor and Corporation.

A religious service was led by the Vicar, the Revd Canon Porter, and was followed immediately by the handing of a pair of silver scissors by William Potts to the Mayor Alderman Lake.

With these the Mayor cut a ribbon which triggered the belfry clock, which promptly played the hour chime and struck twelve o’clock.

Not to be outdone the Vicar used another pair of scissors and the tunes of the No 1 barrel: Hanover, Believe me if all these endearing young charms, Thuringian Volkslied, She wore a Wreath of Roses, God Bless the Prince of Wales, Crown him with many Crowns, and the Blue Bells of Scotland were heard for the first time.

If the churchyard was full of invited guests, it has to be said that thousands of people gathered in the Horse Fair doubtless excited by the prospect of hearing the new chimes.

The Jubilee Day event should not be allowed to disguise how much more work was necessary to revise and connect the tunes.

The Musical Committee had to come to terms with the scale of the task and it was not until August 28 that the chimes were declared satisfactory and it was on Sunday 29th that daily performances commenced.

Appropriately the whole event was given permanent recognition by a brass plate fixed in the vestibule under the tower recording the work done in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee.

Today’s illustration shows the level of interest generated by locating the service in the churchyard.

It must not have escaped the attention of the organisers that a procession had been timed for 10am which finished in the vicinity of the Cross.

Four months later a dinner was held at the White Lion Hotel.

The purpose of this was to symbolise what had been achieved by the Committee. In financial terms they had paid all the bills and were left with 1s 0¾d.

l I am very grateful to George Fletcher for the loan of Potts’ booklet.