In 1869 Joseph Osborn was mayor of Banbury. He had been elected in November of the previous year. Like many other holders of that office Joseph had a business background. Rusher’s Directory reveals that he was a wine and spirits merchant at 20 Horse Fair from 1850 to 1872. Significantly as mayor he was also clerk responsible for the town’s arrangements for the marketing of livestock.
On September 13 1869, a notice was published by Joseph as clerk of the market concerning what was termed ‘the better regulation of markets and fairs’ giving clear instructions to the farmers and drovers coming to Banbury market. It read: “On and after Thursday the 30th day of September instant, all cattle, sheep and pigs brought to the Markets and Fairs of the Borough must be removed from the Market or Fair by 4 o’clock in the afternoon and I hereby require the owner or person having charge of such cattle, sheep or pigs to remove all the same accordingly.”
There were many reasons why the appearance of this notice would not have been a cause of surprise. During Queen Victoria’s reign Banbury was one of the most typical of market towns in the country. However unlike the period from 1925 to 1998 when all livestock marketing was focussed on Midland Marts’ site in Merton Street, Grimsbury, pre 1925 activity was scattered around the town.
This greatly heightened awareness but also implied the disadvantages of livestock wandering the streets and penned adjacent to people’s homes and businesses.
Sheep were bought and sold in the Horse Fair; Bridge Street and the lower part of the High Street were given over to cattle; whilst in a small corner of the Market Place there was a small hog market.
The 1869 regulation could be perceived as a way of limiting the unplanned movement of animals, most of which had been brought into Banbury on the hoof including those from farther afield that had rested overnight at nearby pasturages.
Other reasons for the notice become apparent from a study of reports of annual general meetings of the Banbury Agricultural Association: in September 1840 it had observed ‘Banbury owed its prosperity to the farmers without whom it would be little better than a village’. Most feared by farmers were outbreaks of distemper that could ravage cattle. In the association’s review of the Sanitary Laws it highlighted risks of temporary suspension of fairs, markets and public auction sales on account of the prevalence of foot and mouth disease. This could result in a serious disruption to business as in 1865 when Sarah Beesley reported in her diary, My Life, the markets were closed week after week due to the cattle plague.
The Banbury Association published its constitution and laws that revealed a policy of checking on measures in and out of parliament that affected agricultural interests. Its 200 members included many of the Banbury area’s decision makers who would welcome a tightening of controls over market organisation.
The Banbury Agricultural Association also gave awards for good farming practice. There were prizes for quality livestock exhibited in a field adjoining the town. Compilers of the linked report were not slow to acknowledge that Banbury took advantage of a central position in relation to the area dominated by Oxford, Northampton and Warwick. Typical of the prizes was the award of £3 to the shepherd of a member of the association ‘who shall have reared in the spring of this year, from a flock of not less than 100 ewes, the greatest number of lambs in proportion to the flock’.
The Michaelmas Fair is all that remains today of a wider schedule of fairs, which in the 1850s numbered 13. Most were more like special markets held for specific reasons related to the farming year. These were also covered by the regulations. Amongst the most popular were the great Horse Fair in January; the Michaelmas Fair (the main hiring fair or mop); and the cattle fair on the second Thursday before Christmas.