Banbury is, as you may know, forever entwined with Banbury cakes – flat-ish oval pastry filled with spiced currants. They’re not unlike Eccles cakes and they’re still available in Banbury though not in the two shops most associated with them in days or yore. I present to you – the days of yore.
E. W. Brown’s Original Cake Shop, 12 Parsons street.
Betts’s Cake Shop on Banbury High Street in 1878
There was some dreadful idea being tossed around about turning that A. Betts High Street space (very much present and in use lately as a pop-up shop) into an arcade. Yes, a gaming arcade. I am very much hoping the request for the change of use required will be denied. But never mind that now. I will complain about that elsewhere.
Banbury has another eponymous foodstuff lurking in its past and today seems a good time to mention it. Why today? Because today is April 23rd — anniversary of both Shakespeare’s birth and his death.
“Banbury cheeses, for which the town was noted until the 18th century, were first mentioned in 1430” (Cal. Close, 1429–36, 74). It was a cow’s milk cheese, yellow in colour and quite strongly flavoured, made in thin (about 1 inch) rounds.
“But wait!” I hear you cry. “What does this have to do with Shakespeare?”
In “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Bardolf addresses Slender as “You Banbury Cheese!” – and this would have been commonly understood by the playgoers as an insult implying there wasn’t much to him (Banbury cheese being only about an inch thick.) That’s not to say Banbury cheese wasn’t popular – it was; in fact, it was better known than Banbury cakes at the time. It was just … well, thin.
It was made in various places around the area but mostly in Grimsbury and Nethercote – what was then the Northamptonshire end of things*
And that’s not the only bardish thing about Banbury. No, there was a Shakespeare Inn on Parsons’ Street and we can still see the bust (sitting over Flora Bella Florists) that used to greet visitors to the Shakespeare Inn (1871-1891, I believe). *waves* Hi, Will!
And that is my culinary history trivia for the day. Happy birthday, Will.
* Boundaries tended to move around a lot and originally Banbury straddled two counties.