Banbury Cross is well-known to speakers of English all over the world. The famous nursery rhyme 'Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross' does not, however, refer to the present cross. The rhyme dates back to long before 1784 when it first appeared in print. Originally it must have referred to Banbury's ancient High or Market Cross demolished together with two other crosses by Puritan fanatics in 1600. For over 250 years Banbury Cross existed in the rhyme only.
The present cross was erected in 1859 to commemorate the marriage of Queen Victoria's eldest daughter to Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia. The statues of Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V were added in 1911 at the time of the latter's coronation.
The area around the Cross is now the site of New Year's Eve celebrations by the town's youth.
The Oxford Canal and its well-landscaped banks with pedestrian bridges and many pot plants are for me the most attractive part of Banbury. I could sit there for hours watching the colourful narrowboats but when we were there it was too hot to sit in the sun and there weren't enough benches anyway. Another time perhaps. It looked so picturesque I couldn't resist taking a few pictures and we crossed the bridges a few times to see the place from different angles. The Canal runs through the centre of Banbury, with Castle Quay Shopping Mall, Banbury Museum and The Mill Arts Centre lining its banks.
Banbury now has its 'fine lady' from the nursery rhyme. The monument was erected only last year and stands opposite Banbury Cross. The lady rides a big white stallion and sprinkles May blossom before it. Who she really was is a matter of controversy. Some say she was Queen Elizabeth I herself, others she was Lady Godiva. Another probable theory claims that she belonged to the Finnes (pronounced as 'fains') family, the lords of the nearby Broughton Castle. If you wish to know more, including plausible explanations of some parts of the rhyme, read my general tip.
The most striking thing about this museum is its modern architecture. The museum is accessed across a covered glazed bridge crossing the Oxford Canal, and, in fact, some exhibits are displayed on the bridge as well. The museum comprises hands on displays illustrating Banbury's colourful past, with among others the siege of the town by Roundheads or boats being repaired in the historic Tooley's Boatyard.
No photography inside and no arguing about it or pleading with the staff, who remain adamant.
Open: Mon.- Sat. - 9.30 a.m., Sunday - 10.30 a.m. - 4.30 p.m.
Banbury, with its many pubs to choose from, is an ideal place for a pub crawl, if you like that sort of thing. But, as we only had drinks (soft drinks to be sure, Alan was driving) or a meal in a few, I remember their beautifully decorated buildings and surroundings better than the actual food. Some of the pubs, like the Olde Reindeer Inn in Parsons St remember the time of the English Civil War, in which they themselves played a part. Set up by John Knight, a baker by trade, around 1567, The Reindeer Inn is said to have been Oliver Cromwell's headquarters where he may have planned one or both of the sieges of Banbury Castle. One, in 1644-1645 ended well for the Castle, the second, a year later, lasted three months and ended in the Castle's surrender. There is evidence to prove that Cromwell used the most elegant parlour of the inn, the Globe Room, for his trials of Royalists during the Civil War.
But Cromwell is not the only colourful figure to be associated with The Reindeer Inn. It is rumoured that a knife or sword belonging to the notorious highwayman, Dick Turpin was found in the loft above the Globe Room. Whether you believe it or not, The Reindeer Inn now is a nice safe place, worth popping in to have a pint of ale.
When you come to Banbury, visit their Tourist Information to find out about the coming events, which you might be interested in. One of them is the Canal Day, which this year (2006) was celebrated on 1 October, another - the Banbury Canalside Folk Festival also in October. But there are other fetes and funfairs as well throughout the year so just check with them. The attractions may include concerts, ceilidhs, Morris dancing, workshops, folk theatre, singing, horse and cart rides, local craft stalls, historic walks, hands-on activities and workshops.
While I was staying there, there was a fete for the Red Cross at Tadmarton Manor nearby, where we had a chance to watch Morris dancers perform and a falconry show (more about it in another tip), in addition to walking around the beautiful gardens and admiring the manor and the 15th century barn, which are normally not open to the public.
For more pictures of Morris dancers and Tadmarton Manor see the travelogue.
You can view birds of prey, not an activity you can do every day, if you join Keith Jones
on his Owl Evenings, with hawk, owl and falcon display. BBQ and refreshments are included in the price. Even more exciting can be Hunting Days from October to March, when you can actually fly the birds. No previous experience required. Accommodation can be recommended and the price includes lunch in a country pub. To book, phone Keith Jones.
Don't go if you are against that kind of entertainment. I must say I am rather ambivalent about it, though I realise that these birds were bred in captivity and might find it difficult to survive in their natural habitat. I only saw them displayed at a fete at Tadmarton Manor. They were not allowed to fly there because they could become entangled in the trees. The poor creatures didn't look very happy and some tried to free themselves, in vain.
One of the most interesting houses in Banbury is Vivers' House. Edward Vivers' splendid timber-framed and gabled house was built in 1650. For many years the building housed Brown's Banbury Cake shop, where they must have sold Banbury cakes - delicious cakes of flaky pastry with spicy currant filling, made in the area to secret recipes since 1586 or earlier. Don't miss them when you visit the town.
The place is now a travel agent's.
St Mary's Church is shared by Church of England and United Reformed Church. It was designed by Cockerell and built in around 1790 in the classical style. Its darkish colour comes from the local Hornton ironstone used for its construction. The Pepperpot Tower and Portico were added in 1818-1822. The domed roof and huge nave are supported by 12 ionic columns. Its interior comprises wonderful stained glass including 'Arctic Window'. There is a stage, which is now used for concerts. Look at alancollins' Banbury page to find out the times of church bell ringing practice there, might be worth listening to.
Tooley's Historic Boatyard was built in the late 1700's, at the same time as the Oxford Canal. Their listed buildings: the forge and the dry dock date back to 1790 and have been in continuous use ever since. You can take a guided tour of the boatyard, which includes all the workshops and a short boat trip on the canal.
Tours are available from Easter to 1st October at 3 pm. on Saturdays only. Arrive at 2.45.
Prices: Adults - 5.50 GBP, children 5 - 12 years old - 3.25 GBP, younger children - free
For enthusiasts, the boatyard offers short and long boat courses, rope courses (learn how to tie a strong and decorative knot), and blacksmithing courses at various levels, starting with complete beginners.
This over 300-year-old wisteria has been pointed out to me by my wonderful host and guide, Alan. I would probably never have found it in the little street bearing this proud name, which to me sounds very intriguing. Was there a bored live lion taking walks there once or just a sculpture of a lion? Anyway, the plant is beautiful, and even more beautiful on Alan's page, covered in flower all over. I was there too late for the blossom.
The present Town Hall, the seat of Banbury Town Council since 2002, is the fourth Town Hall built in Banbury and was first opened in 1854. This neo-Gothic Town Hall was designed by the local architect, E. Bruner. Recently refurbished, it is a perfect venue for important town events, annual dinners, presentations and special family events.
Banbery Town Council consists of 22 members, who every year elect a Town Mayor from among themselves. Banbury had its first Town Mayor in 1608, when the town was granted its second Charter.
The Reindeer Inn has one of the most interesting and unique histories of all of the pubs in Banbury. It has strong links with Oliver Cromwell and the English Civil War. It is believed Cromwell planned the Battle of Edge Hill in the Reindeer. Being situated on Parsons Street, a location in days gone by that was the rough end of town and extremely well populated with ladies of the night and the activities that surround them. One of the strangest stories is that a knife or sword belonging to the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin was discovered in the loft above the Globe Room.
The wooden panels in the Globe Room were sold off in 1912 and were exported to the U.S.A. Years later the panels were traced to a furniture factory in London and used to restore the room in 1981.
This is an old fashioned traditional pub that caters for a more mature 25 plus drinker. Though I don't drink I have sampled some of the lunchtime food which is good value and well presented. If you want to sample a traditional British pub, beer and ale this is the place to pay a visit.
St Mary's Church was consecrated in September 1797. It is thought to be modelled on one of Sir Christopher Wren's churches in Walbrook. The church bells can be heard on Wednesday evenings during bell ringing practice and Sundays between 8.45-9.30am. The church is open for visitors on Fridays between 11am to 3pm and Saturdays between 10am and 4pm, but may be closed at short notice, it is open for services on a Sunday.
Most visitors to Banbury are unaware of the Peoples Park because it is hidden behind buildings and only accessible via an alleyway from the town centre. The land for Peoples Park was given to the people of Banbury by George Frederick Ball in 1897 as part of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. It is three hectares in size and combines historic merit with a host of modern features and facilities including a community nursery, sensory garden, rose garden, bowling green, aviary, cherry walk and fine collection of trees. A war memorial has been placed at the centre of an area of open grass to the south of the park and the annual Remembrance Day service takes place in the park. It is a lovely location in the summer to picnic and watch the world go by.