‘Banbury needs a covered market’ said Chamber

Boom days for Banbury Market with the Palace cinema a possible site for a covered market in the background
Boom days for Banbury Market with the Palace cinema a possible site for a covered market in the background

Annual dinners are often the occasion for speeches that include reference to the need by the organisation to achieve certain objectives.

On Tuesday January 8, 1952 the Banbury Chamber of Commerce attracted its largest attendance since the body’s re-formation in 1947. The venue was Wincotts Café in South Bar where the keynote speaker was Mr WH Russell, vice-chairman of the chamber.

The Banbury Guardian report of the occasion, which appeared in the issue of Thursday January 10, carried the caption ‘Banbury Street Market’. As no livestock sales had taken place after about 1932, there can be no doubt that Mr Russell’s remarks referred to the produce markets which took place in the Market Place on Thursdays and Saturdays.

The speaker was careful to preface his recommendations with recognition that the market ‘was most valuable’. However he thought that the Borough Council should consider moving it from the Market Place to a proper covered market. His suggestion was prompted by the perceived need to have access to ‘wonderful parking facilities’ throughout the working week.

This request was a key part of his speech proposing the toast to the Corporation of Banbury and was made with the full understanding that guests at the dinner included a number of people with a responsibility for Banbury’s affairs. They included the mayor Mrs Johnson, Alderman G D Braggins, and the town clerk Mr E Owen Reid.

Both then and later several people made significant remarks about holding the market in the Market Place. In a previous article (August 14 1977), I commenced with the comment that after the Cross, Banbury Market Place was the most photographed feature of the two and rightly so. Together with the castle it acted as the focal point for the creation of a mediaeval burgh.’

This status was secured by the Market Charter of 1148. The key document has been invoked on a number of occasions by market traders opposed to actions which were seen as prejudicial to their way of life. These included stall rent increases such as the 7 per cent of April 1986 and a move to run the market privately.

It mattered greatly to the chamber’s members that some stalls were developed in association with shops, either as a permanent venture or as the precursors of a subsequent town centre presence.

Salmon’s sweet stall was complemented by a retail business on the north side of the market place and there was a row of fish stalls, including Trusses, all of whom had businesses elsewhere in the town.

Wyncolls came from Birmingham to Banbury in about 1920. They had a stall outside the Picture House selling bananas. Its success prompted them to open a shop. Other Market Place shopkeepers such as Nathans and Robins the ironmongers used market days as an opportunity to display their wares on the pavement outside their shops to make additional sales, and would not have welcomed a move away from the Market Place.

The issue of the covered market raised by Mr Russell at the dinner is one that time has shown should have been given greater consideration. Someone who had the opportunity to effect the change was Thomas Ward Boss (1825-1903) who was librarian of the Mechanics Institute in Marlborough Road.

In 1872-73 he took charge of the Central Corn Exchange in the Market Place. This was one of two exchanges dating from the mid-1850s. Its failure to prosper as a Corn Exchange led Boss to look at other functions, though sadly not a covered market. He put on shows of various kinds in the hall and also developed shops flanking the approach to the building known as Exchange Passage. The other redundant Corn Exchange close by in Cornhill later became the Vine public house and is now an entrance to Castle Quay.

Today the newspaper Market Trader reveals that success in market business often stems from possession of a covered space as well as the traditional open air market. Comparable to Banbury’s reluctance to generate a shopping arcade in 1929, Mr Russell’s suggestion of a covered market was not taken up.