Sunday, 7 October 2018

Banbury Cross and religious radicalism

The current Banbury Cross dates from 1859 and was built to celebrate the marriage of Princess Victoria to Prince Frederick of Prussia. Later additions also commemorated the coronation of King George V. It was the first cross the Oxfordshire town had had for over 250 years after several previous medieval crosses were destroyed by the Puritans. The destruction of the crosses is just one event from the town's radical past.

Banbury has a long history of radical religion with Puritans also disputing the erection of a maypole in the town in 1589, the maypole was destroyed sparking riots. The old crosses were destroyed in 1600 as they were seen by Puritans as objects of superstitious veneration. Even before the Reformation Banbury was known for its unorthodox religion, the phrase "Banbury gloss" meaning twisting of the truth may refer to what was seen as erroneous readings of Scripture.

Camden's Britannica from 1610 stated that Banbury was known for "cheese, cakes, and zeal"! In the 17th century the phrase "Banbury Man" was used as a derogatory term for a Puritan which is evidence that the town well known to outsiders for religious radicalism. The town had become one of the major centres for Quakers and Presbyterians also flourished. By the 18th century however the town's religious zeal was on the decline with the High Church (establishment backed Anglicanism) welcomed back in the town though religious radicals continued to have influence.

The Banbury Cross is mentioned in a nursery rhyme "Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross" though this likely refers to the earlier crosses as the earliest recorded versions of the rhyme predate the current cross by some margin in the mid-18th century.
Colvin, Christina, Janet Cooper, N H Cooper, P D A Harvey, Marjory Hollings, Judith Hook, Mary Jessup, Mary D Lobel, J F A Mason, B S Trinder and Hilary Turner. 'Banbury: Introduction.' A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 10, Banbury Hundred. Ed. Alan Crossley. London: Victoria County History, 1972. 5-18. British History Online. Web. 3 March 2015.