In 1999 the Banbury Guardian embarked on a most significant enterprise. This was to make available a special publication that would take its readers ‘through the years’.
The publication was a celebration of the 20th century locally. It started with a welcome from the editor Paul Napier. In a succinct piece of writing he gave us all food for thought. Especially significant was his assessment of Banbury over 100 years.
At the start of the century it was a small but fairly important town. By 1999 the town had evolved into one of the most prosperous places with motorway links and established big name businesses.
Then, following Paul’s punchline, he added ‘yet there is still something about our town which is somehow different to any other’.
He ventured an explanation by referring to its Banburyness stemming especially from ‘old rural wealth to which had now been added new, hi-tech prosperity’.
This introduction provided the right kind of introduction for a later article entitled Boomtime for Banbury businesses. The 20th century was characterised by a growing number of cars and buses.
An important consequence was Banbury became the shopping centre for a large district with its key characteristic provided by the predominance of small family businesses. Familiar names became linked to specific streets: in Bridge Street were Trolleys with their pork pies; Allsopps, who sold prams, toys and children’s items; and AJ Butler known for fruit and vegetables. Adjacent to the town hall was Jack Leach whose speciality was rock but who also sold cigarettes and tobacco.
Within this pattern of retail life it was possible for school leavers to commence a career. Typical was EW Hobbs who at 15 began a seven-year apprenticeship with Hoods, the ironmongers. He earned 5s a week delivering goods in a hand cart and also taking items to the nearby carriers carts on Thursdays and Saturdays.
The Market Place was seen by many as the centre of the town. Here several traders were destined to grow in importance. About 1920 Wyncolls came from Birmingham to Banbury and had a stall selling bananas outside the ABC Cinema.
Some family businesses used the opportunity provided by Through the Years to demonstrate the significance of personal service. Blinkhorns reminded readers that over the 117 years they had been at 5 South Bar they had followed a path from photographic portraits, to movie films and by 1999 turning to digital imaging.
By the second half of the 20th century Banburyness was starting to be challenged. The built up town was on the move as indicated by the caption ‘EastEnders boost the population’. A key to this happening was Banbury Borough Council’s signing of an agreement with Greater London Council in 1952. This placed the town in the ranks of expanding urban places. Bretch Hill estate took shape and local news agents ordered copies of London evening newspapers.
In the 1950s and 1960s there was private estate development to the south and west of the town especially by builder Timms. Just beyond Beargarden Road, GT Crouch built their Park Farm Estate. An innovatory aspect was the opening of the show house by a couple who were already residents. Watched by the mayor, councillor Friswell, they turned the key of a Cunningham-type house. Success of the development was linked to the proposed western bypass.
The year 1998 brought a curious mixture of gloom and great hope for the future. Banbury stockyard closed and Ray Malcolm called time on his bakery business. However SH Jones celebrated 150 years of selling fine wines and Tudor Hall School 50 years at Wykham Park.
Concluding statements predicted a bright future for the town. The millennium was going to be celebrated with the ‘Full Monty’ and William Raynor, business editor of the Times forecast that ‘the Cockhorse town would gallop on’.