After The Cross, Banbury Market Place was one of the most photographed features of the town and rightly so. Together with the castle it acted as a focal point for the creation of a mediaeval burgh.
A range of cards and paintings show the market area in all its moods. In one early 20th century card the Market Place seems almost deserted. The camera picks out a tiny huddle of stalls at the Butchers Row end, as well as carriers and a few carts just beyond well-known shops such as Broughton and Wilks ironmongers.
Another card published by Raphael Tuck is based on a painting by H B Wimbush and takes in people as well as stalls close to Robins Ironmongery shop at the junction of Butchers Row. Several people are browsing if not actually making purchases.
A third picture reveals wooden pens probably for pigs at the Lamprey’s end. Judged by the absence of people, the occasion of the cameraman’s visit was not a market day. By complete contrast a Brummitt card conveys the bustle of early 20th century street trading with a roughly triangular area devoted to stalls. Flat caps abound and there are even a few cyclists.
All of these snapshots of Banbury Market Place suggest that the space had changed a great deal from the scene described by Thomas Ward Boss in 1903. Boss was librarian to the Marlborough Road Mechanics Institute and shared his memories in a lecture at the Municipal School. Thomas Boss observes that in the second half of the 19th century there was a pool of dirty water through which pickpockets and other disreputable characters were dragged. The western edge of the Market Place was typified by antiquated old properties including the shops of Mrs Pepples (a hosier) and Thomas Strange (jeweller). Sets of five steps had to be climbed to reach these shops whose windows were very small.
At the opposite end was a very old house whose eaves of thatch were not more than 10 feet from the ground. For many years this building was occupied by George Baker, grocer and provisions merchant.
That the Thursday and Saturday markets have survived at all says much for the determination of traders but also for the process whereby people drift into this way of working. Getting started locally was by no means easy.
This goes a long way towards explaining why in 1987 Ian Hopkins of Tamworth decided to seize the opportunity to become part of the weekly scene in Banbury.
In the late 1980s Norman Barnett of Evesham with his fruit and vegetable stand was not only a well- known figure but a supplier of Banbury area wholesalers. Age was starting to get the better of Norman who also suffered the indignity of being caught overloading his van.
His mind turned to calling it a day and this filtered through to Birmingham Wholesale Market where Bobby Harris was a good friend of Ian’s father Geoff Hopkins who promptly decided to take stock of the prospects for his son. One visit to Banbury was sufficient to recommend the worthwhileness of acquiring the stall.
Down the years variety has been a key word in accounting for the success of our charter market.
Food, fruit and flowers were balanced by plants and pottery in the late 1980s. Add to this haberdashery and underwear as well as cards, luggage and bed linen and it is easy to understand why regular shoppers made the Market Place their first stop. Crockery barrow boys rubbed shoulders with local wholesalers like Pete and Terry Griffiths and local growers such as Dennis Atkins the plant man. Cheek by jowl with the rural stalls of the Women’s Institute was a gathering of fishmongers in what Ian has called Fish Row.
Ian Hopkins’ stall was a family affair. Here Ian, Louise and sometimes the children exhibited all that was best in market trading.
It seems to me highly appropriate that his traditional layout of fruit and vegetables can still be found in Banbury’s much reduced produce market.