Banbury (St. Mary)

BANBURY (St. Mary), a borough, market-town, and parish, and the head of a union, chiefly in the hundred of Banbury, county of Oxford, but partly in that of King's-Sutton, S. division of the county of Northampton, 22 miles (N.) from Oxford, and 69 (N. W.) from London; containing, with the township of Neithrop and the hamlets of Grimsbury and Nethercote, 7366 inhabitants. This place, called by the Saxons Banesbyrig, is supposed to have been occupied by the Romans, which opinion is corroborated by the discovery of Roman coins and an altar, the latter relic having been preserved under an archway in front of an inn, until about the year 1775: there is also, in a field near the south entrance to the town, a sort of amphitheatre, now called "the Bear Garden," presenting two rows of seats cut in the side of a hill, and of very ancient date. About the year 1135, a castle was built here by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, who, when taken prisoner by King Stephen, was compelled to resign this, with Newark and other fortresses which he had erected. It was afterwards restored to the see, and long continued to be one of the residences of the bishops, but in the first of Edward VI. was resigned to the crown: it is described by Leland, in the reign of Henry VIII., as "a castle having two wards, and each ward a ditch; in the outer is a terrible prison for convict men; in the north part of the inner ward is a fair piece of new building of stone." During the war between the houses of York and Lancaster, the neighbourhood was the scene of a sanguinary conflict, in 1469. between a vast body of insurgents from the north (said to have been privately encouraged by the Earl of Warwick) and the army of Edward IV., commanded by the Earl of Pembroke, who had been joined by Lord Stafford with about 5000 men. The armies met on a plain called Danesmoor, near Edgcot, five miles from Banbury; and a conflict ensued, somewhat advantageous to the insurgents. In the evening, the king's forces having retired to Banbury, a quarrel took place between Pembroke and Stafford respecting quarters at the inn; in consequence of which, Lord Stafford quitted the town with his followers, and left Pembroke alone to meet the enemy (who had encamped on a hill near the town) on the following day. In the battle which ensued the royal army was defeated, with the loss of 4000 men; and the gallant Pembroke and his brother, Sir Richard Herbert, being taken prisoners, were on the next day beheaded at this place, together with ten other gentlemen of the king's party.

At the commencement of the civil war of the seventeenth century, the inhabitants espoused the cause of the parliament with so much zeal as to give occasion to the mirth and raillery of some writers of that and subsequent periods. The castle was at first garrisoned for the parliament, but was surrendered to the king in the week following the battle of Edge Hill, Oct. 1642; it withstood a slight siege from the parliamentarians in 1643, and a very severe one in 1644. After the affair at Cropredy-Bridge, three miles to the north, on the 29th of June in that year, the siege was pressed with the utmost vigour; Col. John Fiennes, a son of Lord Saye, having brought to the assistance of the besieging party all the disposable forces from Northamptonshire and Warwickshire. A breach being effected, an assault was made on Sept. 23rd, but without success. At length, on Oct. 25th, the Earl of Northampton, having defeated the parliamentary cavalry on the south side of the town, was enabled to relieve the garrison, after the siege had continued thirteen weeks, and when the defenders had eaten all their horses except two: the defence was conducted by Sir William Compton. In 1646 the castle was again besieged, by Col. Whalley, who encamped before it ten weeks; and the king having now joined the Scottish army, and further resistance being useless, the garrison capitulated on honourable terms. Of this once massive fortress the only vestige is a part of one of the walls, on which a cottage has been erected, and the site is now occupied by fruitful gardens.

The town is pleasantly situated in a fertile valley, on the banks of the small river Cherwell, which separates this county from Northamptonshire; it formerly consisted of old streets irregularly built, but has been greatly improved under an act passed in the 6th of George IV. for paving, lighting, and watching the borough. The shops are excellent, the streets for the most part wide and airy, and the footpaths well paved: the carriage ways are macadamized with a durable kind of ironstone brought from the border of Leicestershire; the streets are lighted with gas, and the supply of water is generally abundant. A subscription library and mechanics' institute have been established. The manufacture of plush, shag, and girth-webbing was formerly carried on to a considerable extent, but has of late somewhat declined. Banbury was noted for a peculiar kind of cheese, but has long since lost this distinction; its cakes, however, still enjoy great and deserved celebrity. The Oxford canal passes close to the town, communicating with all parts of the kingdom, and affording facility for every kind of trade; and the Oxford and Rugby railway, commenced in 1846, runs close to Banbury, on the east side. The market is on Thursday, and, from the situation of the town in a fertile and populous agricultural district, is much frequented. Fairs are held on the first Thursday after Old Twelfth-day and the three preceding days (which fair is celebrated for the trade in horses), the third Thursdays in Feb., March, and April, Holy-Thursday, the third Thursdays in June, July (for cattle and wool), August, and Sept., the Thursday after Old Michaelmas (which is also a statute-fair for the hiring of servants), the third Thursday after Old Michaelmas, the third Thursday in Nov., and the second Thursday before Christmas.

The inhabitants were originally incorporated in 1554, by Queen Mary, who granted them a charter, in consideration of services rendered in the suppression of the Duke of Northumberland's rebellion upon her accession to the throne. A second was bestowed by James I. in 1609; and in 1718, George I. conferred the charter by which, until the passing of the Municipal Reform act, the borough was governed. The corporation, since the passing of the act, has consisted of a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors, and the number of burgesses is about 350: a commission of the peace has been issued to four justices, who hold a court of petty-session every Monday; and a court of general sessions and gaol delivery is held by the recorder, four times in the year. A court of record, which had fallen into disuse, was revived in 1833, and is regularly held for determining all kinds of civil causes to the amount of £40. The powers of the county debt-court of Banbury, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Banbury. The elective franchise was granted in the reign of Mary, from which period the borough has continued to return one member to parliament; the mayor is the returning officer. The borough for municipal purposes comprises 300 acres, but for the election of the member is co-extensive with the parish, and contains 4182 acres. The town-hall is a modern brick building, and there is a gaol for the borough, in which a tread-mill has been erected.

The parish comprises a considerable tract of land under tillage, and some portions of grazing and meadow; the surface is partly hilly, and the soil a rich loam, well cultivated. The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £22. 0. 2., and in the patronage of the Bishop of Oxford: it is endowed with 43 acres of land in the parish of Shutford, and 4 acres in Warkworth, Northamptonshire, together with a modus in lieu of small tithes; the value of the whole being about £90 a year, which amount has been nearly doubled by the aid of Queen Anne's Bounty, and partial help from private sources. The church was erected pursuant to an act obtained in 1790, under which the old church, a noble cruciform edifice, and a beautiful specimen of the pointed style, was taken down: it is a spacious building, with galleries all round; and the view of the interior, with its numerous columns, and its lofty ceiling in the form of a dome, is very imposing, but externally the edifice has a heavy and inelegant appearance. A district called South Banbury was formed under the act 6th and 7th Victoria, cap. 37, of a portion of the parish, in 1846: the living is a perpetual curacy, in the patronage of the Crown and the Bishop alternately. There are places of worship for Calvinists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyans, Presbyterians, and others; and a handsome and commodious Roman Catholic chapel recently erected. A Blue-coat school, established by subscription in 1705, and endowed with property to the amount of £80 per annum, was amalgamated in 1817, with a national school formed in that year. The poor law union of Banbury comprises 51 parishes and places, of which one is in the county of Gloucester, 7 are in Northampton and Warwick respectively, and 36 in Oxford, the whole containing a population of 28,482. An hospital dedicated to St. John stood near the entrance to the town from Oxford, the remains of which, consisting of the outer walls, have been incorporated in a private residence; and in the township of Grimsbury, near the foot of Banbury bridge, another charitable foundation, for leprous brethren, was anciently situated, the site of which is still called "the Spital farm." Among the natural curiosities are many species of petrifactions; and the surrounding district is rich in native botany.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.