Look Back With Little: Reasons to be cheerful about changing times

Banbury Sheep auction, Look Back with Little NNL-180917-105626001
Banbury Sheep auction, Look Back with Little NNL-180917-105626001

In my column for September 6, I wrote about Arthur Hughes, an exiled Banburian. He had visited the town in 1939 in order to discover the extent to which it had changed since his early years at the turn of the 19th/20th century.

The outcome amounted to considerable disappointment which he did not hide from readers of the Banbury Advertiser.

Arthur’s reactions and remarks generated widespread interest and especially caught the attention of Edward Baker of Tilehurst, Reading.

It is clear from an article in the Advertiser for August 24, 1939 that he did not entirely share Arthur’s sentiments.

In particular Edward demonstrated that it was desirable to adopt a circumspect approach to the comparison of past and present.

He was especially moved to say that streets and roads ‘were now much cleaner than when as boys we played nick and span along muddy roadways and girls were caused to look for clean patches on pavements to play their games of hopscotch’.

Edward was keen to record the loss of many slums such as Rag Row in Neithrop.

In his view another improvement was the relocation of livestock sales from street spaces to a planned site in Grimsbury.

Turning to the behaviour of people, Edward noted that drunkenness and brawling was less of a problem.

As for other changes he was happy about improved school buildings, increased social amenities for older folk and especially better facilities for travelling and efficient postal services.

Turning to Arthur’s remarks concerning multiple stores, more credit was owed to private tradesmen.

These people were notable for their abundant stocks and attractive displays of goods at competitive prices.

Turning to religion, Edward noted what he called ‘a beautiful spirit of unity among sections of the Christian church and philanthropic organisations, though he failed to identify these. Overall he felt that there was more cause for rejoicing than regret and on that note he ‘Dear old Banbury, with all its faults I love thee still’.

The Advertiser edition which included the response column contained some evidence of justification for the less pessimistic view of change revealed by Edward Baker.

Study of the advertisements of the time suggests business as usual. A notable one was that placed on behalf of Ewins Garage. This promised better motoring for 1940 at the same time as a reduction in prices.

The 1940 Vauxhall 10 4-door de-luxe saloon was quoted at £169. Incentives to purchase included the promise of immediate delivery. Before then the ultimate test of satisfaction was summed up in the phrase ‘let a ride decide’.

Still as popular as ever was the Milk Bar in the Market Place. A notable attraction here was the dairy ice creams made to a standard that had won diplomas at the 1937 and 1938 Ice Cream Exhibition.

Amongst the increased social amenities in the town was the recently opened Corporation Swimming Pool which had been made possible by the donation of land by the Gilletts of Woodgreen.

Warm weather was an encouragement to Banbury families to take full advantage of the facility. Over 500 did so and a swimming gala was promised.

Another notable development that Edward might have noted was the improvement to the Peoples Park by the Town Council. This was made possible by the condemnation of a set of old houses known as Paradise Square.

The additional ground space became home to hard tennis courts, a bowling green, a putting green, a children’s playground, paddling pool and an aviary.

Interestingly there was very little national news in the Advertiser regarding the looming crisis in Europe as peace talks broke down (Britain and France War declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939).

The Banbury Guardians of the period carried official notices of preparations for war. A report on a blackout exercise to prepare for the possibility of air raids stated it went well apart from the fully illuminated rail stations. The travelling public could not be inconvenienced for a mere practice run.

There was one casualty; a warden was knocked over by a delivery bike as he stepped off the path in Broad Street.