Banbury Cross © TAB
Banbury is a large market town in Oxfordshire, well known throughout England from the lines of the popular children's nursery rhyme "Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross". The current Victorian Gothic cross (in Horsefair) only dates from 1859, as the previous structure was torn down by the pious Parliamentarians during the Civil War. The new cross was erected to commemorate the marriage of Queen Victoria's oldest daughter.
Banbury's other claim to fame is its traditional fruit pastries, called Banbury Cakes; made with spices, liquor and dried fruits. They are said to date back the to 13th century, when the Knights brought back spices and dried fruits from the Crusades. These little sweetmeats are still sold in many of the shops and tearooms around the town.
The historic centre of the town has managed to preserve a few of its older buildings; although the original Banbury Cake Shop was knocked down as recently as 1967 (a bronze plaque in the pavement in Parson's Street is all that remains). The town's Norman castle has also gone the same way, leaving little trace of its existence, apart from some reused stonework in a number of the old houses in the town. Of the heritage that still remains are several fine old coaching inns, mixed in among the modern shops and businesses. Also the classical entrance of the old Cornhill Corn Exchange (1857), which now provides the entrance to a modern shopping centre. Other interesting places include the impressive Grade 1 listed 18th-c St. Mary's Church, built on the site of a much older place of worship and the 16th-c "Ye Old Riene Deer Inn" on Parson's Street.
Modern Banbury is a thriving and expanding town with a good range of shops and facilities, and traffic-free shopping areas. An outdoor market is held every Thursday/Saturday, and a Farmers' Market on the 1st Friday of the month. The town hosts a number of important annual events including the Hobby Horse Festival, Food and Folk Festivals in the summer and the Banbury Canal Day in autumn.
The town's heritage can be traced in its modern museum, located by the Oxford canal. Here you will find permanent displays concerning the history of the town and surrounding area. Exhibits include signboards and ovens from the original 16th century cake shop, details of the Market Cross and its demise, plus information on the local canal network. The museum has a viewing walkway that runs over the canal, where visitors can observer the narrowboats navigating the locks. Once you have walked around the exhibits, don't forget to stop and enjoy tea and traditional Banbury Cakes, in the lower cafe, and watch the canal boats drift by.
Raising Bridge 164 on the Oxford Canal © TAB
The Oxford Canal passes through the centre of Banbury providing excellent walks along its wide level towpath. Tooley's Boat yard, located behind the shopping centre, dates back some 200 years and is the oldest working canal dry-dock in the country. The yard provides a rare opportunity to see boats being restored and repaired.