Newsletter July 2009
Options for Growth: Landscape Sensitivity Consultation

Map showing all options for major development at Banbury
The site allocation map of Banbury, as published in CDC’s 2008 ‘Options for Growth consultation document and captioned “All Options for Major Development at Banbury”. All of the sites featured are the subject of the Landscape Sensitivity Consultation

The Banbury Civic Society has been contacted by Halcrow (on behalf of CDC) regarding a Landscape Sensitivity Assessment of the possible sites identified in ‘Options for Growth’ for Banbury's future housing needs. The landscape sensitivity assessment is part of a suite of thematic assessments commissioned by CDC. We are very pleased that all of the ‘Options’ sites are under review, rather than just those previously identified by CDC as the ‘Reasonable Options’ (see illustration).

The purpose of the consultation was to gain local knowledge about ecology, local beauty spots, current public uses, historic features, archaeology, cultural associations, stories, myths and legends. Although only 10 days were given for responses, the Society carried out a detailed review of each site, under chosen headings of Place names, myths and legends, Archaeology, Historic buildings, Historic boundaries, Landscape value, Recreational value and Other issues of note.

Great emphasis was placed by us on the value of the prehistoric Salt Way as a recreational resource and its value as a natural barrier to further urban expansion, especially in view of its designation as part of the Banbury Fringe Circular Walk, Bodicote Circular Walk, Salt Way Nature Trail and National Cycle Network. Similar emphasis was also placed on the recreational and landscape value of the canal and its towpath, Crouch Hill and the Broughton Road pick-your-own farm. Attention was drawn to the value of the landscape around Banbury Crematorium and cemetery in providing an attractive and much valued setting for the activities carried out there. Surviving township, parish and Hundred township boundaries were also identified wherever possible, as these are often the most ancient visible features in the landscape.

Despite the limitations on time, assistance was sought from the Banbury Historical Society and the planning archaeologists at Oxfordshire County Council. This provided much information of interest: Banbury retains two recognised Deserted Medieval Villages (DMVs), Wykham and Hardwick, the latter (Site B) being viewed as a nationally important archaeological site. Wykham (combining vicus (a Romano-British trading/roadside settlement) and ham, an early Anglo-Saxon settlement) was the only outlying manor in Banbury parish to be important enough prior to the Conquest to be mentioned by name in the Domesday Book (1086) and the only outlying portion wealthy enough to be held by tenants for military service. The proposed Wykham Farm site (Site F) includes the below-ground remains of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure and at least one Bronze Age round barrow.

The place names Crouch Hill and Crouch Farm (Site H) derive from the British/Celtic crug meaning a hill. Its conical top is artificial, possibly Iron Age. Crouch Hill was the site of the Bishop of Lincoln's deer park, the site of a revolt by the peasants whose grazing he displaced, it was occupied by both roundhead forces and royalist cavalry in 1644. It was used for May Day celebrations and local legend claims that it was created when the Devil dropped a hod of mortar he was carrying to build Bloxham church.

The hillside above Hardwick Farm (Site B) was the location of a plywood decoy factory, built to misdirect German bombers attempting to bomb the aluminium factory. It was hit once, killing a pig. The name Spittal Farm (Site D) derives from Banbury's medieval leper hospital, St Leonard's, founded in 1265. The location of the hospital is unfortunately now lost. Some sources assert that it lay on the Grimsbury landfall of Banbury Bridge, possibly beneath either the Elephant & Castle P.H. or the recently redeveloped former Bridge Motors site.

The river Cherwell (Site E) was navigable to Oxford during the Civil War. The Oxford Canal is of exceptional historic interest, being part of the trunk network of canals established by James Brindley from the 1770s to connect the Thames, Severn, Trent and Mersey. Site E also contains the site of Banbury’s gallows (between Station Approach and the canal) as well as a number of sites and buildings of industrial archaeological interest. These include the remains of the engineering works of Banbury's agricultural implement and steam engine makers - the Britannia Iron Works, Banbury's largest employer in the 19th Century (now Swan Foundry), and the Barrows and Carmichael works (now Burgess).

Whilst some areas of Banbury's medieval open fields were still cultivated as strips into the 18th Century, large areas were Inclosed by agreement in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Many of the surviving ‘post-Inclosure’ field boundaries are potentially of this period This is borne out by Banbury’s surviving legacy of fine 16th / 17th-century farmhouses, all of which stand in what had previously been open-field landscapes. These include the threatened Grade II and Grade II* listed 16th and 17th-century farmhouses at Hardwick (Site B), Wykham Farm (Site G), Crouch Farm (Site H) and Withycombe Farm (Site I), as well as listed farmhouses of similar date elsewhere (Easington (Oxford Road), Manor Farm (Grimsbury), Wykham Park (Tudor Hall) and Wykham Mill). Surviving 16th / 17th-century boundaries created through such ‘Inclosure by agreement’ would form important elements of the setting of the 16th / 17th-century farmhouses to which they relate.