Saturday, January 8, 2011

Where is Banbury Cross?

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes 

While searching for a certain folk song for another writing project I have going, I stumbled upon some interesting tidbits about the origins and history of this rhyme.  Which then led my poor, undisciplined mind to a few other pages, which led to this post.

I fear my other writing project will not get done today.

Banbury is in Oxfordshire, about 70 miles northwest of London, England, Europe, Earth.

From Banbury Town
The name Banbury may be derived from 'Banna', a local Saxon dignitary who is said to have built his stockade here in the 500's. By the time of William the Conqueror 'Banesberie' was mentioned in the Domesday book. In the 13th century it had grown to become an important wool trading centre bringing wealth to the local population.
 From Banbury Cross
Banbury stands at the junction of two ancient roads: Salt Way, still used as a bridle path to the west and south of the town, led from Droitwich, Worcestershire to London and the south east of England, its primary use being the transportation of salt; and Banbury Lane, which began near Northampton and fairly closely followed the modern 22-mile-long road before running through Banbury's High Street and on towards the Fosse Way at Stow-on-the-Wold.

In the year 913AD a band of Danes, who had settled in Northampton, travelled along Banbury Lane and ravaged north Oxfordshire. The Danes were known to be great traders who established market towns. The outcome of their attacks is likely to have benefitted Banbury by aiding the development of the town centre. This is reflected in Banbury's Market Place, its triangular shape being typical of the Danes.
There is apparently much debate over who the fine lady in the nursery rhyme is.  Some sources say, as I had heard, that is was Queen Elizabeth I.   According to Capella University Nursery Rhymes and Lyrics and Origins page
The words of the Banbury Cross nursery rhyme are often attributed to Queen Elizabeth I of England (the fine lady) who travelled to Banbury to see a huge stone cross which had just been erected. The words 'With rings on her fingers' obviously relates to the fine jewellery which would be worn by a Queen. The words 'And bells on her toes' refer to the fashion of attaching bells to the end of the pointed toes of each shoe - this fashion actually originates from the Plantagenet era of English history but was associated with the nobility for some time! Banbury was situated at the top of a steep hill and in order to help carriages up the steep incline a white cock horse (a large stallion) was made available by the town's council to help with this task. When the Queen's carriage attempted to go up the hill a wheel broke and the Queen chose to mount the cock horse and ride to the Banbury cross. The people of the town had decorated the cock horse with ribbons and bells and provided minstrels to accompany her - "she shall have music wherever she goes". The massive stone cross at Banbury was unfortunately later destroyed by anti - Catholics who opposed the notion of pilgrimages.
But from that same site, at least one source says
The woman in question was in fact Lady Katherine Banbury, wife of Lord Jonathan Banbury. Miss Amy Banbury, sub matron of Auckland hospital, New Zealand (my grandfather's cousin) recalled after World War I her grandfather, Squire of Burford near Banbury in Oxfordshire, telling her that he distinctly recalled the white horse on which the "fine lady" used to ride. Among Lady Banbury's jewels were many very beautiful rings of which she was very fond. The bells were the tiny bells often used in those days to trim the edges of a lady's velvet saddle cloth.
And yet according to  the above linked Banbury Cross page,
The "Fyne" lady is generally thought to be a member of the Fiennes family, ancestors of Lord Saye and Sele who owns nearby Broughton Castle.
And from the Banbury Town link above,
More likely it was a local girl who rode in a May Day procession.
And I've also heard and seen references to that woman being Lady Godiva, but nobody seemed to have any history of that claim.

I don't really care, who it was, but I found all the debate over a nursery rhyme interesting.  A few other interesting morsels
  • The original cross was pulled down at the end of the 16th century. The present cross was erected in 1859 to celebrate the wedding of the then Princess Royal to Prince Frederick of Prussia.
  • The town is famous for Banbury Cakes, a special fruit and pastry cake, that are shipped to fans around the world.
  • Kraft Foods has the world's largest coffee processing plant in Banbury.

No comments: