Tuesday, 21 February 2017


The Market Place

I went with my friend Merv to explore Banbury, a town I have passed several times but never really seen. We walked through the newish shopping precinct and started our walk at the Market Place, intending to loosely follow the "perambulation" in Pevsner's Oxfordshire.

Over in the right hand corner, in Cornhill, our attention was drawn to a pair of Victorian buildings with wonderful polychrome brickwork. The smaller one was built in 1866 as a shop for a spirit merchant ...

... while the larger was a house. Pevsner says that "the total effect is splendid, in a horrible way." Personally, I think it is just splendid.

Opposite is the former Corn Exchange (1857), or at least its facade, now simply an entrance to the Castle Shopping Centre.

We retraced our steps to leave the Market Place by way of Bridge St, to come round in front of the Town Hall of 1854 by E Bruton. "Ponderous" says Pevsner. This time I agree. The tower is too bulky and too short.

Over to the right is this rather entertaining building, with signs for its former business as Seedsmen and Millers (now recruitment consultant and estate agent).

We walked down to the busy road at the end turned right and right again to enter the rather run-down George St. At the end on the corner was this building of 1908, with the Cooperative Society emblazoned on it. I liked the corner cupola. Surely it must have been a pub at some stage?

We continued into High St and passed the defunct White Lion Hotel, an early Victorian building with a fine lion statue above in case you forgot where you were.

At the end of High St we reached Horse Fair, the main road through Banbury before the M40 was built. In the centre of the roundabout was the famous Banbury Cross. Pevsner says that there is no evidence that a medieval cross stood and that the present structure was erected in 1859 to commemorate the wedding of Victoria, Princess Royal to the Crown Prince of Prussia.

A minimal amount of Googling reveals the usual mix of speculation and conflicting information: it refers to Queen Elizabeth (the fine lady) who visited a large stone cross there: she was actually Lady Katherine Banbury; the nursery rhyme was first written down in 1784 (but refers to an old woman); Banbury had at least three other crosses (the High Cross, the Bread Cross, and the white Cross) which were destroyed by the Puritans ... Perhaps it was written by the Banbury Town Council marketing department?

We headed left along South Bar St, a street of mainly 17th and 18th century houses. This nicely restored one on the corner of Crouch St was very attractive.

Crouch St had a nice concentration of early Victorian houses, including this one with unusual first floor Doric columns ...

And this lovely terrace with wonderful drip moldings over the windows.

Doubling back, we enjoyed Linden House near the Banbury Cross.

Just the other side of the roundabout, in Horse Fair, was the 1930s Odeon Cinema, whose classic white body was completely concealed behind this facade, designed to blend in with the neighbouring buildings. It looked so very different from the side!

Finally, further along Horse Fair, was St Mary's church. This is a medieval church rebuilt in 1790 to a design by S P Cockerell and completed by his son. It is a bit drab from the outsude and somewhat forbidding.

However, the inside, "a typical 18th century preaching box" (but later altered by teh removal of one section of the gallery), according to Pevsner, was a riot of colour which I must say I absolutely loved.

The tower remained in view as we headed back to the car park.

Conditions: rather a drab day.

Distance: two or three miles.

Rating: three and half stars. An interesting walk, but not much of real note.

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