Banbury in Oxfordshire, near the borders of Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, was one of England’s liveliest market towns in the nineteenth century. Much of its prosperity was due to the Oxford Canal which linked the town with the coalfield around Coventry from 1778, and was extended south to reach the navigable River Thames at Oxford in 1790. The canal came to be lined with wharfs, on one of which the town hall of about 1800 was re-erected in 1860 after a new hall had opened in 1854. The building served as a warehouse that was used initially for the storage of artificial manure, and still stands.
The canal at Banbury is closely associated with L T C Rolt (1910-74), biographer of several of the leading engineers of the Industrial Revolution period, whose voyage of 1939 described in the book Narrow Boat began at Banbury, and who was active in the early years of the waterways conservation movement. Rolt’s boat the ‘Cressy’, was maintained at Tooley’s Boatyard in Banbury, which is now conserved as part of Banbury Museum. The yard dates from circa the late eighteenth century and includes a dry dock and a smithy, both of which are listed, and a belt-driven workshop. The yard, now run by a private company, still provides service to boatowners, but guided tours, that include short boat trips, are available in the summer months, and ‘Dancing Duck’, a 12 m long day boat launched at the yard in 2007, is available for hire.
On the opposite side of the canal from the boat yard, with which it is linked by a bridge, is Banbury Museum, housed in a modern buildings. Its collection includes exhibits, amongst them a loom, relating to the manufacture of plush, which was important in the area until the mid-nineteenth century, some of the agricultural machines produced by the local foundry that belonged to Bernhard Samuelson (1820-1907), and a late nineteenth century carrier’s cart. Banbury attracted more carriers’ carts each week in the nineteenth century than any other town of its size.