Victorian urbanisation

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A map of Banbury from about 1838 reveals how little the core street plan has changed since even mediaeval times. It also offers a hint of road development for the area bounded by Bridge Street, the Oxford Canal, Broad Street and Fish Street (George Street).

The story of the early Victorian town is very much one of an urban area on the move.

Although there is a hint of this in George Herbert’s Shoemaker’s Window, stronger evidence has to rely on documents such as an auction schedule for 1841.

In that year valuable freehold and leasehold estates located in both Banbury and Neithrop came under the hammer at the Red Lion Hotel.

Interestingly copies of the particulars along with plans for the various lots and intended roads were available from Banbury’s principal inns as well as the auctioneers Jarvis and Rowell (they had a presence in both Parsons Street and the High Street) and solicitors Walford and Beesley (High Street).

The range of property (both residential and commercial) and infrastructural services emphasised the growing importance of the canal to Banbury, poised as it was on the verge of an industrial boom, especially on the Cherwell flood plain lands.

A principal occupant of the buildings comprising lots 1 and 2 was a coach maker by the name of James Skinner.

His annual tenancy cost him £60 and permitted him access to a structure part brick and part slate that had been built for, and used as, a carriers’ warehouse.

Its canalside location demanded extensive stabling linked to horse drawn boats, landing and store lofts for storage of goods and a counting house.

The compilers of the auction details built in the possibility that any successor to Skinner might want to convert commercial buildings into dwellings.

That Bridge Street was changing is clear from the inclusion in lot 1 of a recently erected house which cost the responsible person a considerable sum of money.

The combination of brick and slate was evidence of the town’s move away from the vernacular marlstone. Consisting of two parlours, four bedrooms, substantial cellarage and a brewhouse together with large adjoining gardens suggests a scale of development in marked contrast to the terrace houses which by the 1850s came to line Cherwell Streets. Lot 3 anticipates what was to become one of Banbury’s most successful enterprises.

Adjoining the bridge linking Banbury with Grimsbury was a plot of land the use of which was known as Horsey’s timber yard.

Samuel Horsey had acquired this for a period of 13 years but the lease was due to expire at Christmas 1841.

Annually he was paying the same as Skinner.

At this point it is worth turning to the 1843 issues of the Banbury Guardian. On July 6th of that year Herrick Dalby took a small box in the paper in order to tell potential customers that he had commenced his timber and slate merchants business where Horsey had previously been successful.

An important adjunct of these developments was the creation of private wharfs and improvements to the road infrastructure notably by the construction of what began as Lower Road (later Lower Cherwell Street) and the use of Parson’s Meadow to give access to the town centre.

These happenings in the canal zone were matched by sporadic but significant changes and additions elsewhere.

In North Bar a house occupied by a Mr Wilson was given a back entrance to a yard, part of the Buck and Bell.

More important was the break-up of the Calthorpe Manor estate in 1833 which led to further urbanisation to the south of the town.

An auction of this land at the White Lion included attractive plots with frontage on to St John’s Street and led to the building of Calthorpe Road, Dashwood Road and Crouch Street.

By 1841 the conditions favourable to industrialisation were already in place.

l I am grateful to Mrs Wyatt of King’s Sutton for the auction papers.