Look Back with Little: Distinct characteristics of the north-south way through Banbury’s centre

A source of travellers' fare and a corner news agency add to the character of North Bar NNL-170717-112245001
A source of travellers' fare and a corner news agency add to the character of North Bar NNL-170717-112245001

An especially important aspect of Cherwell District Council’s Banbury Conservation Area Appraisal is the identification of what are called ‘Character areas’.

Each one of these has distinct architectural history but also well-established trading characteristics that have generated memories.

In today’s article I have focussed on the main north-south route which comprises North Bar, Horse Fair and South Bar.

Until the arrival of the M40 Motorway in 1991 there were many reasons why this route was the key north-south line of movement.

Until 1817 as the road names suggest these important access points to the town were guarded by two of the town’s bars or gates which may have had a defensive role in the middle ages even though the town was not walled.

By the 18th century they were toll points but stagecoaches and heavy waggons found them an obstacle and so they were demolished in the early 19th century.

In the 17th century North Bar Street was a thriving residential part of the town. Industry featured strongly especially during the 19th century.

Near the junction with the road to Neithrop there was a brewery owned by Richard Austin until the 1850s: by 1870 it was Dunells.

The manufacture of plush, a hard wearing velvet-like cloth used for furnishings and servants’ liveries, was especially concentrated in North Bar Street. Baughen’s factory employed 30 people in 1838 and 88 by 1851.

By the mid-1950s there was some very notable retail activity in this part of the main route especially at the junction of Parsons Street with North Bar where Percy Gilkes had his newspaper, printers and stationery business.

On the north side across the top of Parsons Street was the well-known delicatessen called Dossetts. William George Dossett and the members of his family lived over the shop and were great observers of the movement of traffic and people especially when Hunt Edmunds draymen were delivering beer to the Dog and Gun. Other well remembered businesses from that era were Wyncolls florists and green grocers, Lays who baked bread in a traditional style and Drayton Dairies.

Local Hornton stone played a part in defining its character, which is seen to advantage on the attractive frontage presented by the Buck and Bell.

The Horse Fair continuation of the route dominated by St Mary’s Church and former Vicarage also owes much of its character to the warm brown Hornton stone. In a corner on the west side is the Friends’ Meeting House, the oldest place of worship in the town.

In the centre was the 17th century Three Tuns largely replaced by the imposing 1930s Tudor Style frontage of the Whately Hall Hotel.

The Horse Fair additionally had strong associations with livestock marketing. Until around 1925, a weekly sheep market was held at the junction with the High Street.

Another event in the 19th century town calendar was known as the Banbury Twelfth Fair.

This was a January horse sale, which attracted especially tenant farmers. It occupied the space between the Cross and Church House and reached its peak around 1900.

The South Bar section of the route owes much of its character to the line of mansions on what is known as the Green with their Georgian frontages, some with Victorian modifications. At the junction with West Bar Street, Linden House dating from 1734 is an especially fine example of an old family home.

In the early 1960s, two of these mansions came on the property market starting the trend to commercialisation. Both were built as high class residences which were attractive to professional class families and prosperous shopkeepers who have left their stamp here.

Today most of the buildings house the business and commercial world and more recently conservation of these mansions has owed much to business initiatives. There is also evidence of the impact of the current apartment revolution.

A balanced picture for South Bar was provided on the east side of the road with its small businesses, shops and the likes of Wincott’s Café, its ballroom very much the hub for dances and local events including those organised by Banbury Rotary Club.