We’ve spent more than a few weeks on the periphery of Banbury this year.

Just north of the Southam Road Footbridge

Its an ideal place for a continual cruiser, with access to facilities and a good train line but we get the impression that the holiday boaters just pass straight through without realising what they might be missing. Ok the canal itself isn’t going to grace many chocolate boxes, but never the less canal users owe a huge debt of gratitude to Tooley’s boat yard slap bang in the centre.

The busy Castle Quay and Tooley’s boatyard

Tooley’s is one of the oldest canal dry docks still in use on our waterways. Built when this section of Oxford Canal was completed at Banbury in 1778 (it finally made it to Oxford in 1790) it has operated continually ever since. There was a bit of uncertainty in the 1980s when the Castle Quay shopping centre was being built but thankfully Banbury is known for its canal campaigners and the little boat yard with its 200 year old forge and dry dock was incorporated into the structure of the centre and the Banbury Museum

Tooley’s before the development (photo from Tooley’s website)

Tooley’s has helped preserve many heritage boats and Hardy, the last wooden boat built by Nursers of Braunston is moored here now.

Afloat but not quite habitable

However the boat most have heard of is Cressy, a wooden hulled boat that Tom Rolt one of the leading campaigners used to preserve our beautiful waterways.

Photo Taken from the Tom Rolt website

She started life as a horse drawn fly boat in 1915 and after her trading days came to an end she was bought by Tom’s uncle Kyrle Williams. He had her converted to run on steam, but they quickly realised that it was impractical to cruise through tunnels so the steam engine was replaced by a motor from an old model T Ford. Cressy went on to have several other owners until Tom bought her in 1939 and had Tooleys do a complete refit so that he and his first wife Angela could live aboard. They then began a campaign maintain and reinvent the waterways for the benefit of all. If Tom and Angela hadn’t led the way, who knows if anyone else would have fought for what we love so dearly. In 1944 they set up the Inland Waterways Association. There is much much more to this tale, and Tom has ties to many places on the canals, but Banbury is where he set off from on his first campaign. And he is comemorated with a blue plaque and a bridge named after him

Tom Rolt Bridge looking north

Of course Banbury isn’t only famous for its waterways connection, the towns traditions were recorded in a nursery rhyme.

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross, to see a fine lady upon a white horse….. I tried to find out more about its origins, but as with most traditional storytelling words and their meanings have changed over the centuries so I think “you pays your money and takes your pick”

The rhyme we know today was published in 1784 after the canal arrived in Banbury, although I think that is coincidence rather than relevant, as it probably dates back to an early medieval period. The main Banbury cross was demolished by the puritans around 1600 and the current one was built in 1859 to commemorate the marriage of queen Victoria’s eldest daughter.

We’re now heading south on our adventures, but I know there’s more to Banbury still to explore.

Looking down from Tramway bridge, next to Morrisons.