Look Back with Little: Memorable moments at the Waggon and Horses

An early 1930s view of the Waggon and Horses
An early 1930s view of the Waggon and Horses

In his book Victorian Banbury Barrie Trinder has stated that in the nineteenth century the activities of village carriers were concentrated at certain public houses.

Notable amongst these were the Plough in Cornhill and the Waggon and Horses in Butchers Row. Rusher’s list for 1831 reveals that in the case of the latter, carriers who relied on its stabling were mostly from local villages.

Rusher placed licensed premises under two headings. There was a long list of beerhouses but the Waggon and Horses was part of a group identified as Taverns, Inns and Public Houses. Undoubtedly of equal significance was the location close to the Market Place. Among those using the accommodation were hawkers, who travelled around the surrounding area selling goods; 42 are listed in Rusher, most of whom were Irish.

In 1851 census three who were silk mercers stayed at the Waggon and Horses, while five drapers resided at an adjacent house.

In Shoemaker’s Window, George Herbert’s recollection of Banbury before the railway age, the author records that fly vans started from the Waggon and Horses to convey passengers to the inn close to Newgate Market faster than the stage coach. Trade cards of T Cave dating from 1843 and 1844 advertised a twice weekly van to Leamington and Warwick. These also assured travellers of comfortable beds, good stabling and lock-up coach houses.

Location was not the only factor in the popularity of the inn. Vera Wood, in her book The Licensees of the Inns, Taverns and Beerhouses of Banbury, Oxfordshire, quotes from an indenture of 1808 as follows, ‘all that messuage or tenement or public house known by the name or sign of the Waggon and Horse with outbuildings, together with outhouses, barns, stables, wells pumps and a right of way through to the gateway to granary and bakehouse now in the occupation of John Coles [baker]’. The yard was especially significant for some 10 butchers, a fact that may explain the origin of the street’s name Butchers Row. However Rusher’s List for 1832 suggests that the 21 butchers visiting Banbury from surrounding villages who patronised a wide range of hostelries may indicate that the earlier name ‘the Shambles’, a reference to the site of the meat market, is a likelier explanation.

Those butchers who favoured the Waggon and Horses included Chinner from Chacombe, Lambert from Cropredy, Aubrey from Lighthorne, and Bradshaw from Priors Marston.

A major feature of Vera Wood’s entry for the Waggon and Horses is her list of licence holders. There were 23 during the period from 1767 to 1954. Additional information is included against the names of some of these. Richard Newman (1767-1797) and Francis Gibson (1797-1808) were described as innholders. Charles Essex (1808-1815) was styled an innkeeper and went on to be mine host at the Jolly Weavers in South Bar. William Gibson (1814-1836) was also an innkeeper. John Rogers (1839-1844) hired out horses and gigs. Between 1860 and 1891, the licensees hailed from other places which included Oxford, Avon Dassett, Fenny Compton and Culworth.

During the time of Ernest George Biddle (1919-1932) the Waggon and Horses was a commercial hotel.

Today’s picture shows the inn in the early 1930s. A Rolls Royce is parked up in the yard. Significantly there are wall plaques for the RAC and the National Cyclists’ Union. A telephone call to Banbury 172 would have revealed the availability of accommodation.

By 1974 it had become necessary to change the name of the inn to the Banbury Cross to avoid confusion with its near neighbour the Coach and Horses. It is good to record that some of the inn’s historically interesting features have survived to the present day. These include the long and roomy yard that gave access to the stabling and parking of carriers’ carts, and later the cars of business people.

At points along the yard the skilful pen of Digger has highlighted the mysterious lady on the white horse. Today Hunt Edmunds is but a memory, under the eagle eye of Charles Wells of Bedford the message is ‘soar fearlessly’.

n I am grateful to licensee Tom Farmer for all his help.