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Banbury Lane

Banbury Market was second only to Chicago in size by 1920, but before the railways it was small.   I’ve been told that Deddington, a village three miles away on the Oxford Road, was busier.  The king of the Midland markets in droving days was Northampton, busier than Rugby and even Leicester: at any one time 15,000 cattle were being grazed around the town.  And the oldest drove road to Northampton, and one of the oldest roads in Britain, was the Banbury Lane.


Possibly it started at the Aust Crossing of the Severn.  Possibly it meandered eastwards across the Cotswolds past the Rollright Stones – the damage to the King’s Stone is supposed to have been caused by Welshmen, who chipped lucky charms from it… Well, that’s the story.


But from the turn to Thorpe Mandeville at SP 531446, north east of Banbury, the track has no 'possibly' about it..    Nestling in a dip in Thorpe is an old drovers’ inn “The Three Conies”, with a sundial on the front dated 1622 and a line of four pine trees acting as waymarkers.


From then on the charm of the lane increases by the mile: it takes us through Lower Thorpe, dives off right into a field outside Culworth at 545465 – with a pine to mark the turn-off, then becomes a ridge-road, crossing the old railway & aiming for Weston.  There you’ll see a thin rectangular field parallel to the road on the right: an overnight stance, presumably.


The best bit of the lane starts near a small wood called ‘Grumblers Holt’.  Holt means ‘halt’; and as for Grumblers, is there a better word to describe a herd of cattle in the distance?1  The little tarmac road does a sharp left turn, but Banbury lane carries straight on (pic #2) as a byway (green lane) for nearly two miles, looking much the same as it has for centuries, to Adstone Lodge (pic #3).  And the Lodge, which used to be The Wheatsheaf, a drovers’ inn of course, is followed by a fulling mill and a fast-running stream to slake the thirst of the beasts. 

If you live near Banbury and have dogs that need exercise, there are few better places to walk them than along that byway.


Then back on to a thin ribbon of tarmac, often with huge wide verges, as we go through Foxley and approach the A5.  We cross that at Fosters Booth, (the ‘village of inns’: there were five), pass the village of Pattishall, and on the right as we go up the hill is another rectangular stance, less than 15 yards wide but over 150 long.  (See pic #4) This is the best example of a roadside pound that I’ve found anywhere.


Between the railway and the Grand Union Canal, on the left, is a white farmhouse building on the old road (best seen from above, on the new elevated crossing - see pic #5) which used to be the Anchor pub.   That is where (according to Peter Bird from Bugbrooke, whose father drove cattle to Northampton) the drovers used to drink away their profits at the end of market day.  Peter also told me that the dogs that had bullied the cattle along the lane were so covered in cow muck that you could only see their eyes.

We bypass Rothersthorpe – as we did Pattishall, and as drove roads tend to do, because the last thing a drover needed was confusion of herds and consequent delay or expense – and cross the M1.  Then, just after another crossing of the Grand Union (Northampton Arm this time), turn right into a housing estate where the blue cycleway sign points. 

The next half mile is more green lane, preserved, which takes us up to Hunsbury Hill.  And that was the beasts’ last grazing ground before the heat of Northampton Market.  Saturday was the day of reckoning if you were a store.  And now there’s one huge store where old Northampton Market used to be, called Morrison’s. 


Though sometimes surrounded by modern development, Banbury Lane remains an ancient, venerable track, proclaiming softly to every farmhouse or village it passes: “Make way! for I was old, wise and had been trodden by countless generations of man and beast before you were even thought of.”

1 Have just read (April 2020) that Grumbler is a local word for badger and that Holt means sett.  Nice try, Smith, but my cattle derivation could be way off the mark.  Pity, because I was about to suggest there may have been a cattle market there as GH is at the junction of two drovers' routes.  (The other being the Oxford lane.  Cf: Ham Green, under the Oxon tab.)

Banbury Lane image 1
The Three Conies, Thorpe Mandeville
Banbury Lane image 2
Green Lane starts here
Banbury Lane image 3
Wheatsheaf in View
Banbury Lane image 4
The Pound at Pattishall
Banbury Lane image 5
The Anchor