Friday, May 26, 2023

Banbury, Oxfordshire


Brush up your Shakes

Some time ago I remember wondering why a shop in Parsons Street in Banbury had a bust of Shakespeare above the window. On my most recent visit, I wondered again, while also smiling at the lucky combination of an old sculpture of Shakespeare next to a sign saying ‘Sheila’s Shakes’: shakes, clearly, without peer.

The answer to my question is the obvious one: there used to be a pub here and it was called the Shakespeare. And so this bust of the bard is added to my collection of three-dimensional pub signs, along with all the White Harts, Swans, Lions, Elephants and Sugar Loaves I’ve noticed over the years. There’s not much to say about the sign. It’s rather crudely made – although generations of paint have probably obscured some of the details, but it has a certain charm about it. And after all, the available early images of the English national poet are hardly great works of art – this one looks as if it has been based on his monument in the chancel of Holy Trinity church at Stratford, a bust which the literary critic John Dover Wilson said made him look like a ‘self-satisfied pork butcher’. The Banbury bust could perhaps do with some of the care and attention lavished on the one in Stratford.

One can trace the pub through various 19th-century directories and census records, which list the innkeeper’s name and mention additional jobs as well as that of publican. For example in 1871 the main occupant was William Reed, stonemason and beer seller; in 1881 it was John Sole, coach builder and innkeeper; in 1901, Maurice Horan, beer house keeper and groom. This range of activities may be an indication of 19th-century Banbury entrepreneurship, but is more likely the result of this being a small pub or beer house, not a big enough business to support a family. One hopes that the business of ’shakes’ is a more prosperous one.

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