ON TUESDAY, November 13 ‘The Felons’ met at the Freemason’s Hall in Marlborough Road for the 194th Annual General Meeting and Annual Dinner. This must be one of the most eagerly awaited events in the local social calendar.
The Neithrop Association for the Protection of Persons and Property, as the Felons are more properly known, is one of the few remaining organisations of its kind in the country. When it was established way back in November 1819 the main purpose was a concern for the security of the property of its members within a distance of 20 miles of the Neithrop Township on the western side of Banbury. So far as the owners were concerned location did not matter. In brief, the existence of this body was about beating crime and to this effect a scale of rewards was agreed. These were payable to people who either apprehended offenders or gave information leading to convictions.
The power and authority of the Felons was once widely recognised. More recently and for some years the secretary has been pleased to announce that no cases of misdemeanour have been reported. In the wake of the now traditional menu of oxtail soup, roast beef and apple pie with custard, there has been a significant refocusing upon the town and trade of Banbury. This year the speakers linked to this toast were Town Mayor Tony Illot and Martin Phillips whose Swan Foundry Company is one of a relatively small number of local manufacturing firms. Both men were in no doubt as to the need for buoyancy in Banbury’s trade. Martin, in particular, reminded Felons of those occasions when the arrival of a business has been heralded as a vital injection of new life and activity into the established fabric of the town.
One such event happened on November 2, 1982, 30 years ago this month, when Marks and Spencer opened its Bridge Street doors for the first time. Most noteworthy of the many comments and reactions at the time was the observation that the start of trading was ‘like the first day of the sales’. In terms of employment the 156 new jobs offered a tremendous boost to other traders. Very significant was the remark by Felon Councillor Fred Blackwell that the store’s arrival rectified a mistake made 13 years earlier when Banbury Borough Council failed to persuade the business to open in the centre of the town. Coincidentally the town mayor of the day Martin Carter commented ‘now we have Marks it will bring people into the town’. With the rapid approach of the festive season this had more than a ring of truth. M & S highlighted this in a Banbury Guardian advertisement that stated ‘A whole new world of Christmas shopping awaits you at your new Marks and Spencer’.
At 8.55am on November 2, 1982, manager Blair Nicholson braced himself for the rush. First through the door was Mrs Josephina Guisappina of Broughton Road in Banbury. She had waited for one and a half hours in the rain in order to head the queue. Just behind her was Mrs Alice Collett of Chacombe who was seeking potatoes for her son. However the most remarkable story surrounded a lady called Cherry Loveday who had been involved in a round trip from Darlington, a total distance of 350 miles. She was searching for a skirt of a specific size, which had eluded all her efforts in the North of England. The Banbury store had just what she was looking for.