Banbury is known around the world from the famous nursery rhyme which starts with the line ‘Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross’. Thousands of visitors are attracted here to see the Cross. Banbury also has many other delights awaiting its visitors. It has many fine buildings and little medieval streets which retain their atmosphere and reminders of bygone days.
The town is in the north of the county, close to the borders of Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, and for many centuries Banbury has been a meeting point for roads from London, the Midlands, and Oxford.
The Bishop of Lincoln built a castle here in the twelfth century. The castle was purchased by the Duke of Somerset, then the Duke of Northumberland who sold it to the Crown. The castle was razed to the ground during the English Civil War which also resulted in great damage in the town which supported Parliament.
Two sieges were laid against the castle. The first was from July to October 1644, and the second was from January to May 1646. It is said that Oliver Cromwell had plotted against the castle in a room at The Reindeer Inn in Parsons Street. Eventually the castle surrendered and after its destruction stone from it was used for buildings in the town.
In later Middle Ages the wool trade brought prosperity to the town.
Disaster struck in 1628 when a fire destroyed a third of the buildings. The fire is said to have started in a malthouse.
In 1838 during the coaching age fifty four coaches a week left Banbury to destinations including London, Birmingham, Leicester, and Oxford.
The canal reached the town in 1778 which also contributed to is prosperity.
Another claim to Banbury’s fame are Banbury Cakes which were originally exclusively made in the town. At one time ‘The Original Banbury Cake Shop’, which reputedly opened in 1638, and ‘The Genuine Banbury Cake Shop’ stood in adjoining streets.
Banbury Cross is in the centre of the roundabout at the junction of Horsefair, High Street, West Bar and South Bar Streets. The present cross dates to 1859. It commemorates the marriage of Victoria, Princess Royal, to the Crown Prince of Prussia. It has statues of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, and King George V. The original Banbury Cross was destroyed by Puritans at the beginning of the seventeenth century. It also has colourful coats of arms.
The nursery rhyme which made the cross famous says:
Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes.
The Original Cake Shop stood in Parsons Street almost opposite the Reindeer Inn but in 1967 it was sold to developers and was unfortunately destroyed before a preservation order could be confirmed. The famous Banbury Cakes made here had sugar-sprinkled puff pastry with a secret filling. They have been a local delicacy since 1586.
Banbury is a town with many interesting buildings, reminders of its history, and of course its Banbury Cross to enchant visitors.