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The History of Banbury

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Human habitation in the area of Banbury dates back to at least Iron Age times. In 2002, during building work on a new office in Hennef Way, the remains of a British Iron Age settlement were found. The site contained circular buildings dating back to 200 BC and about 150 pieces of pottery and stone. Later, there was a Roman villa situated at nearby Wykham Park.

Like many English towns and villages, and especially those with a name ending in ‘bury’, its early development and history are to be found in the Anglo-Saxon period and date as far back as the second half of the fifth century. The Saxons built Banbury on the west bank of the River Cherwell, a strategic resource and a transport link in those times. On opposite bank they established the settlement of Grimsbury. This became part of Northamptonshire until its incorporation into Banbury in 1889. The word Banbury is said to derive from ‘Banna’, the name of a Saxon chieftain thought to have built his stockade there in the sixth century. The ending ‘bury’ comes from ‘burgh’, the Saxon word for fortified settlement. Banbury featured a defensive ditch and wooden rampart at the time. The correct Saxon spelling was Banesbyrig and this appears as as ‘Banesberie’ in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Banbury’s location by the river makes up just a part of its important and ancient transport links, the town also stands at the junction of two early roads. One is the Salt Way, so called as its primary use was once the transportation of salt. The other is Banbury Lane, stretching from close to Northampton towards the Fosse Way at Stow-on-the-Wold . This ancient track runs through Banbury's High Street.

Banbury Castle was built from 1135 by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln. It managed to survive until the Civil War , when it was besieged. Banbury was a Royalist town by authority, mainly because of it was closely linked to Oxford which was then the King's capital. Despite this the inhabitants were known to be strongly Puritan and thus Parliamentarian. The castle, like many other English castles, was demolished after the war.

1154 saw Banbury establish an annual fair and a weekly market in the in the Market Place. The annual fair attracted people from all over Oxfordshire to buy and sell or show off their skills as a showman. Two fairs took place in Banbury each year by 1329, both stretched over several days in the summer. Trade prospered through the 14th and 15th centuries and specialised markets sprung up in various places around
town. By 1319 a cattle market was being held in Broad Lane and by 1441 the east end of the High Street was hosting a sheep market. Bakers were holding their own market at Bread Cross by the 16th century.

Banbury established a reputation for its cloth by the 13th century. It was also famous for it’s ale and cakes and it was a recognised place for cheese making by the 15th century. Wool was vital to the town’s economy. Wool woven and dyed in Banbury was sent for export to France via London or to Southampton on its way for export to Italy.

Banbury was ravaged by fire in 1628. Although some buildings have survived to the present day, many were destroyed. The Oxford Canal, running from Hawkesbury Junction to Banbury, opened on 30 March 1778. In 1787 the canal was extended southwards, finally reaching to Oxford and the Thames on 1 January 1790. Railways arrived in Banbury in 1850. Banbury was once home to Western Europe's largest cattle market, on Merton Street in Grimsbury. It closed in June 1998 and was replaced with a new housing development and Dashwood Primary School.

The town saw rapid expansion during the 1960s fuelled by housebuilding to cope with London’s overspill. The building of the M40 motorway gave fast road links to London and Birmingham . Banbury was reformed by the Municipal Reform Act 1835. It retained a borough council until 1974 when, under the Local Government Act 1972, it became part of the Cherwell district . In 2000, a civil parish with a town council was established.

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