Local historians who need to study Banbury during the 19th century have at their disposal a truly wonderful resource. It is called Rusher’s Lists and Directories.
These lists embrace the key officials of the town, details of various fairs, information about stagecoaches and their routes and, above all, identification of village carriers who came to Banbury. Inclusion of the last of these is especially important as the town was their metropolis.
By contrast the focus of the directories was people involved in trades. Amazingly there were 32 bakers and 20 butchers in 1835.
The successive publications were attributed to different members of the Rusher family. The first of these was William who set up a late 18th century business in the Market Place. He sold such diverse things as books, stationery, hats for men and boys, gold rings and buckles. In the first of his directories published in 1895, William not only identified walks of life but made a definitive statement in favour of the market.
At its recent AGM, the Banbury Historical Society launched volume 34 of its series of record volumes. This is described as an ‘Alphabetical Digest of Rusher’s Directory of Trades and Occupations 1832-1906’ and comes with an accompanying disc of the directories. In his preface to the book the editor Jeremy Gibson has defined this latest volume as ‘a partial finding aid’. His determination to produce this was very much fuelled by his inheritance of a bound copy of the original Lists and Directories that was given to his great-grandfather, the printer Henry Stone. Thankfully the Banbury Study Centre has a set which can be viewed on application to the duty librarian but the disc form will open them up to a worldwide readership.
Pioneer work towards this latest volume was done by Mary Stanton, for many years a museum assistant. She evolved a card index system which revealed amongst other things how Rusher varied trade groupings. For instance bricklayers and builders before 1840 became builders after that date.
There can be no denying that volume 34 is one of the most important research tools produced by the society. In the 19th century Banbury people often pursued more than one trade and were quite capable of changing trades at intervals of time.
In the production of this records volume, Jeremy was greatly assisted by Catherine Pritchard who did an immense amount of transferring the card indexes into a computer form.
The merits of the records should not be disguised by a modest confession by Jeremy Gibson to the effect that readers should ‘never accept anything as unquestionably accurate in the original directory, let alone in the digest to the directory’.
Anyone who dips into this work will have the enormous advantage of an introduction to its use compiled by Dr Barrie Trinder.
His overall impression is that the reader is given a vision of how Banbury changed during the 19th century with cycles of prosperity and depression.
He then goes on to identify the senses in which it is a good source of information and highlights especially retailing and education.
In respect of the former Barrie reveals interesting facts such as that Banbury had higher than normal employment levels in shops. These were only exceeded by the likes of Oxford as the county town.
On the question of education he concludes that as well as many private schools such as the Banbury Academy in the Horse Fair there were numerous single enterprises especially in Monument Street (off South Bar).
Last but by no means least are Barrie’s observations on house building and sources of bricks.
With so much present-day interest in and concern regarding housing, it is worth noting that local brickyards around the edges of the built-up area served the builders of 800 properties between 1851 and 1881.
l The book, which comes with a disc of the directories between 1832 and 1906, is available price £15 + p&p from the Banbury Historical Society, c/o Banbury Museum, Spiceball Park Road, Banbury OX16 2PQ