LOOK BACK WITH LITTLE: A vintage business

S. H. Jones wine shop in about 1920- picture from Barry Davis's personal collection
S. H. Jones wine shop in about 1920- picture from Barry Davis's personal collection

In 1996 I raised a glass to Banbury’s long-standing wine merchants 
S H Jones. Fine Wines from odds and ends captioned an article in which I outlined the history of the company from the site on the Horse Fair, which became Church House in 1905.

Fifteen years later came the move to 62 High Street adjacent to the prestigious White Lion Hotel.

Finally 27 High Street was acquired in 1913 because Sydney Herbert Jones deemed it suitable for his fine wines.

Amongst today’s customers there must be many who have noticed the massive chimney breast, sole reminder of the past presence of a baker and confectioner.

The succeeding business prior to the arrival of S H Jones was an antiques dealer who traded under the title ‘Ye odds and ends’.

The year 1998 was a landmark year for the wine merchants who celebrated their 150th anniversary.

On this occasion it was my opportunity and privilege to examine a very fine ledger containing copies of S H‘s letters written between 1909 and 1919 and focussing on what he perceived as an iniquitous tax on wines and spirits.

The year 2016 is once again a time to explain why we should recognise the company’s contribution to the history of Banbury High Street.

The family owners have decided to call time in the town centre.

Ironically this has coincided with public consultation about a future vision for Banbury.

The basis of this is a document in which the compilers have described this town as the power house of a sub-region.

It is difficult to perceive a vision which lacks the presence of a high class wine merchant in a classic building on the High Street: such family-run businesses have in the past personified the local retail success story.

In our book From Banbury Cakes to a Bushel of sweetmeats, Barry Davis and I gave S H Jones a major featuring in our section ‘Suppliers of Liquid Refreshment’.

Unsurprisingly from the late 1930s Sydney Herbert had attracted a wealth of individual companies and club customers.

Banbury Conservative Club, Tadmarton Golf Club, the Northern Aluminium Company and Spencer Corsets were typical of a market that had persisted and performed well in difficult economic times.

When life had settled down after the Second World War, company pride in its building became even more evident in its advertising.

An illustration appeared in billheads and also in insertions in town guides; ‘the door round the corner’ was used on numerous occasions.

This was reference to the door in Marlborough Road which had travelled with the firm from the original 19th century Horse Fair premises.

This symbolised the transition from gig-based trade of the 1880s to the well-respected family enterprise of the present day.

A few years ago one of my guided walks included some visiting London doctors, who were fascinated by the mystic figures portrayed on the front of 27 High Street.

These are still surrounded by mystery. However it must not be forgotten that S H Jones moved with the times.

One of these innovations was an interior modification of the building to include a stylish wine bar where people could meet friends and colleagues surrounded by framed photographs depicting Banbury’s past taken by members of the Blinkhorn family.

In my 1998 article I was also able to show how company staff had contributed to the company’s business success.

Knowledge of their products has been gained by several visits to the Champagne region of France where during two days they secured valuable insights into the special characteristics of this chalk region that yields fine wines.

They have similarly gained knowledge about the whiskies and beers they stock.

Although S H Jones will continue trading in Tramway Road near to the Railway Station, the loss of yet another independent family business from the rapidly changing High Street is greatly to be regretted.

I am grateful to Derek Jones for the loan of memorabilia.