BANBURY, OXFORDSHIRE

Grid Ref: SP 454 406
29 April 2005

 

Banbury Cross spacer Statue of lady
Banbury Cross   A fine lady on a white horse 
St. Mary's   Detail of lady on horse
St. Mary's   Detail of statue
Church ceiling   Columns supporting dome
Magnificent ceiling   Columns supporting the dome
Timber framed house   Canal scene
Timber framed survival   The canal and quayside development

 

I had the opportunity to visit Banbury a few days after the new statue of a fine lady on a white horse was unveiled by Princess Anne. It is an impressive work and should please all who have previously despaired of modern art.

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross

A plaque near Banbury Cross explains that in the mediaeval period there were three crosses in the town. There was the White Cross in West Bar, a Market Cross in Cornhill and the High or Bread Cross in Butchers' Row. The High Cross was one of the most notable features of the town. Banbury became a centre of Puritanism in the late 16th century. Puritans considered statues and pictures in churches and other religious symbols to be idolatrous and as a result the Maypole was destroyed in 1598 and the High Cross in 1601. All three crosses had been damaged or destroyed by 1621. The current cross was built to celebrate the marriage of Queen Victoria's eldest daughter to Prince Frederick of Prussia in 1858. It was completed in October 1859. Three of the niches show Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V and were erected to mark the coronation of George V in 1911. The cross incorporates the arms of the town and the motto 'Dominus nobis sol et scutum' - the Lord is our son and shield. The cross was cleaned and restored in 1978/9.

The origin and meaning of the nursery rhyme are not clear but some possibilities are considered in a short article in the Historical Guide to St. Mary's Church. Among the questions he raises are whether the horse was real or a hobby horse and whether the fine lady was a member of the Fiennes family.

St. Mary's Church

At the time of the Domesday survey of 1086, Banbury was the centre of a large parish. It is possible that the town had a Saxon minster but the first documentary evidence for a church is in 1185/6. The mediaeval church had some remaining Norman features but also extensive developments from the 12th to the 15th century. The church fell into disrepair in the 17th century and was damaged during the Civil War when it was used as a stronghold by Parliamentary forces. The church was repaired and in 1790 advice was sought on major restoration but it proved too late. On 12 December 1790 the north aisle collapsed and the following day the tower fell . The building of the new church commenced in 1791 and it was opened in 1797. The architect was Samuel Pepys Cockerell. The dome is supported on pillars with fine ionic capitals whose decoration is thought to be in code stone. The ceiling is quite breathtaking.  Originally the church had four galleries and could seat 3,000. The main chamber was for preaching and the altar was relatively inconspicuous behind the organ in the East Gallery. When first opened the portico had not been built and the tower was unfinished. The building was finally completed in 1822 by Cockerell's son. The church is now shared by the Anglican and United Reformed Church.

The town centre has been extensively rebuilt in the late 20th century with large shopping malls and department stores on the banks of the refurbished canal. My picture of a timber framed building gives a glimpse of an older Banbury.

Sources:

Historical Guide to St. Mary's Churchby Richard Wiggins, a booklet available in the church for £2.
Information available on the guides in the church.
Plaque near the cross.

 

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