Look back with Little: Show gave a boost to the reputation of Banbury

Hood's mobile advertising display unit in the 1930s NNL-180515-144717001
Hood's mobile advertising display unit in the 1930s NNL-180515-144717001

The year 1937 must surely be remembered because of the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

The occasion inspired the people of Banbury to transform the town into ‘a place of colour, of merriment, of coronation laughter and coronation gaiety’. This front page comment by the Banbury Advertiser was the newspaper’s tribute to the town’s determination to make it an occasion to remember.

An interesting response to the way people entered into the spirit of the occasion came in the form of a letter to the press from the mayor, John Cheney. It was an appeal to the residents of the borough to allow their coronation decorations and illuminations to remain up because six days after the royal occasion Banbury was to host the Oxfordshire Agricultural Show for the first time in seven years. The expectation was an event ‘finer and bigger than ever before’. In anticipation of this the railway companies and coach organisations arranged special cheap excursion fares.

The venue chosen was Easington Show Ground, a field close by the county school. Here on May 18 and 19 people would be able to see entries from all parts of England and Wales and experience special displays by the hounds of the Warwickshire Hunt and especially the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, whose musical ride was a spectacle to remember.

The show enhanced the credentials of Banbury as a market town with a central location in the country. This was reflected in the increases in livestock entries over and above the previous year when the show was elsewhere. The cattle numbers were 429 as opposed to 387 in 1936. Sheep on show attracted breeders of Oxford Down, Hampshire down, Kerry Hill, and Southdown.

There was a show within a show organised by the Cotswold Rabbit Club and featuring numerous beautiful varieties.

An aspect of the event that attracted a lot of attention was the show jumping. Linked to this was a children’s pony class for riding and jumping. The show organisers were keen to encourage youth interest. Tickets were cheaper for school children, girl guides and boy scouts. For instance on day one these were priced at 6d, a quarter of the 2/- charged for those of more senior years.

The show was a very important occasion for ironmongers who featured strongly in the retail trade of Banbury. Three companies who are no longer with us took substantial boxes in the Guardian and the Advertiser: Hoods drew attention to their comprehensive stock and stressed as always they were ‘The Banbury Ironmongers’; Mawles were significantly different in that they were styled Agricultural Engineers and at stand 20 visitors could inspect powered farming machinery; and the Robins partnership decided to feature heating, lighting, cooking and labour saving appliances. They had over 40 oil cooker models and drew attention to the fact Calor Gas would greatly help people in isolated houses.

In marked contrast to the ironmongers, Ewins Garage exploited the interest expressed by farmers in road transport. Their emphasis was on the Bedford range of vehicles.

The show was also an opportunity to feature school exhibits arranged by the Oxfordshire Education Committee, supplemented by exhibits and demonstrations planned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Banbury stood to make substantial gains from a show on its doorstep. This was the case for a number of reasons. The May 1937 Oxfordshire Agricultural Show was the first show of the season and set the standards by which other shows elsewhere in the county were measured. Secondly breeders viewed the occasion as an unrivalled opportunity to show their animals in the context of the best prize-winners in the country.

Since this mighty show of 1937 that emphasised Banbury’s agricultural setting, contemporary house building has ushered in an era of conflict between urban affiliations and rural aspirations.