My column for August 8 focussed exclusively on Sarah Beesley and her informative book entitled ‘My Life’. Today I am concentrating on the two Thomases featured in ‘Victorian Banburyshire’, the latest Banbury Historical records volume edited by Dr Barrie Trinder.
They were Thomas Ward Boss (1825-1903) and Thomas Butler Gunn (1863 diary extracts).
Boss was probably best known in his role as librarian to Banbury’s Mechanics Institute and for his part in securing the building of the present day Banbury Cross (built in 1859). In his ‘Reminiscences’ he recalls a crucial meeting at the Red Lion in the High Street where by a big majority it was decided to go ahead with the work to commemorate the marriage of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter to the Crown Prince of Prussia.
Thomas Ward Boss claimed that old documents revealed the location of the Cross of nursery rhyme fame in its current location and that foundations were easily discovered. Interestingly, more recent research by Paul Harvey in the late 1960s suggests that there was never a cross in this position. Possibly the site mattered less than the association of the town with the rhyme.
Overall the Reminiscences provide an excellent guide to the topographical changes locally. In them he describes the Cherwell Meadows prior to the boom in house and road construction from the late 1840s. Despite its poor physical state Fish Street (now George Street) was the scene of the first Banbury Agricultural Show.
It was here also that James Gardiner perfected his turnip cutters that later kick started the Samuelson business at the Britannia Works.
This was one of the many instances of events being linked to people.
Equally prominent is the Market Place success enjoyed by Italian jeweller, watchmaker and optician John Kalabergo (later brutally murdered by his nephew). Boss was well-acquainted with him and a frequent visitor to his shop. They also attended together a monthly meeting of the Old Charitable Society held at the George and Dragon in the Horse Fair.
Boss was very conscious of changes in the town. Typically he remarks ‘many old landmarks have been removed since I was a boy’. Amongst these is listed a row of poplar trees flanking Green Lane.
He also recalled a Bloxham Road windmill close to the first milestone. He reckoned that Banbury residents of middle age ought to be able to recollect a well of pure spring water and also stones formerly part of the mill.
Change was also evident in the High Street where some 60 new houses had appeared.
As for older properties improvements were evident in the form of new shop windows. The surface of the street was noticeably cleaner. However in his early days behaviour left much to be desired with many drunken brawls and much fighting.
As in the case of Sarah Beesley’s life story, the diary of Thomas Gunn includes memories of events difficult to trace elsewhere. In particular he recalls a massive fire at Bodicote during the time the family lived in South Bar when he was only 14.
His father being a fireman the occasion took on special significance and merited the entry ‘it looked as if all Easington was in flames’.
An interesting aspect of Gunn’s writings is his involvement with newspapers of international status such as the New York Tribune and also the Banbury Guardian, whose editor William Potts accepted items on local churches and villages.
Researchers into family or local history will treasure this latest addition to the Banbury Historical Society’s records volumes. Some may wish to pursue his links with the Chacombe families of Michael and Charlotte Bennett and John and Sarah Heritage, as well as his insights into the character of the village.
Through skilled editing Barrie Trinder has developed a comprehensive index (people as well as places) and supplied footnotes that established valuable links with past Cake and Cockhorse articles as well as books about Banbury and District which can be relied on for accuracy of details.
l Victorian Banburyshire is available from Tourist Information and Books and Ink, price £20 (+ £3 p&p if ordering by post).