Banbury Town Defences

Has been described as a Certain Urban Defence

There are no visible remains

NameBanbury Town Defences
Alternative NamesCole Bar; Sugarford Bar; St John's Bar; Bridge Gate
Historic CountryOxfordshire
Modern AuthorityOxfordshire
1974 AuthorityOxfordshire
Civil ParishBanbury

Medieval Borough mentioned in 1163 and 1166. Banbury is said to have been defended with earthen defences of post conquest date (Bond writes C13). King writes had gates but apparently neither wall nor ditch. No remains.

Although the town of Banbury was never walled, the Bishop of Lincoln in the C12 built five gates denoting the area of his manor. According to Stukeley only three remained in 1712, and all of these has been rebuilt. (Oxfordshire HER)

About 1540 John Leland declared that there was 'neither any certain token or likelihood, that ever the town was ditched or walled'. (Leland, Itin., ed. Toulmin Smith, ii. 38–39) The only evidence of medieval fortification is a reference in 1219 to the town ditch (fossatum ville) ( Reg. Antiquiss. iii. 266–7) and again in 1608 ('a ditch of ancient time called the town ditch'); (Hants R.O. 43 M. 48/167) the latter lay west of St. John's Street, but the property concerned in the deed of 1219 probably lay near the mill in the north-east of the town. There are traces of an outer lane linking the sites of the town's gates or bars. (Potts, Hist. Banbury, 39) The earliest evidence of the bounds of the borough is the location of the town's four bars, which probably were built at its limits in the early 13th century. North Bar and South Bar are first mentioned in 1268, ( P.N. Oxon. (E.P.N.S.), ii. 412; Potts, Hist. Banbury, 27, is incorrect in speaking of references to a gate in Queen's Coll. Oxf., MS. 366, ff. 19v–20v.) and the latter was later also known as Easington Bar (1441, 1510), (Bodl. MS. dep. b 7; Linc. Dioc. R.O., B.P. Accts. 8, mm. 19v–21v.) St. John's Gate (1393, 1554) (E 212/81; Cal. Pat. 1553–4, 246–8.) and Oxford Bar (1839); (O.R.O., Gar. I/v/17) the bars stood immediately south of the junctions of the Warwick road with North Bar Street and of St. John's Road with South Bar Street respectively

West Bar is first mentioned as such in 1351, (J.I. 2/130, m. 2.) as Shokersford Bar in 1431, and as Shookewell Bar in 1483. (Linc. Dioc. R.O., Bj 5/17/4.) Later the name was Sugarford Bar or Gate. (O.R.O., Dil. VII/g/1 (Succhars Bar, 1537); Cal. Pat. 1549–51, 8, 10, 17–19 (Shoccarfar Bar, 1549); Cal. Pat. 1553–4, 246–8 (Sugarforde Yate, 1554). See also P.N. Oxon. (E.P.N.S.), ii. 412.) From the 17th to the 19th century the bar was also known as the Bull Bar, from the name of a near-by inn. (Beesley, Hist. Banbury, 207–8; Bodl. MS. d.d. Risley D.III. 8/1.) It stood at the junction of the Shades with West Bar Street. An East Bar, mentioned in 1351 and 1355, (J.I. 2/130, mm. 2, 3.) may have stood at the bridge over the Cherwell, (Beesley, Hist. Banbury, 209, speaks of a Bridge Gate, but cites no evidence for its existence.) but is more likely to have been the Cole Bar of 1441. (Bodl. MS. dep. b 7.) Broad Street was called Cole Bar Street (with variants) from the 16th to the 18th century, (Bodl. MS. Ch. Oxon. 3563; Par. Colln. i. 21–22.) so the gate probably stood somewhere between its junctions with George Street and Marlborough Road. Presumably the gates were intended for collection of tolls rather than for defence. All four were apparently standing in Leland's time for he referred to the stone gate at either end of the main street from north to south, and to 'other gates besides these'. (Leland, Itin., ed. Toulmin Smith, ii. 38–39.) Cole Bar had probably been removed by 1712. South Bar, then a 17th-century structure with a 12-foot arch, was demolished c. 1785, when an obelisk was put up to mark its site. West Bar was demolished soon after 1789, apart from the base of one side of the arch which remained until c. 1812; a carved inscription on it was dated 1631, probably the year when it had been rebuilt. The North Bar, which probably dated from the late 17th century, was demolished c. 1817. (Beesley, Hist. Banbury, 207–8; Herbert, Shoemaker's Window, 53; a drawing of South Bar in 1781 is in Bodl. Gough Maps 26, f. 41.) (VCH)

Gatehouse Comments

Given map reference for location of South Bar. North Bar was at SP45364075. Sugarford Bar was at SP45204036.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSP453401
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  • Salter, Mike, 2013, Medieval Walled Towns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 157 (listed as gates only)
  • Creighton, O.H. and Higham, R.A., 2005, Medieval Town Walls (Stroud: Tempus) p. 37,174,237,258
  • Bond, C.J., 1987, 'Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Defences' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 92-116 online copy
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 388
  • Barley, M.W., 1975, 'Town Defences in England and Wales after 1066' in Barley (ed) The plans and topography of medieval towns in England and Wales (CBA Research Report 14) p. 57-71 download/view online
  • Crossley, Alan (ed), 1972, VCH Oxfordshire Vol. 10 p. 21 online transcription
  • Harvey, P.D.A., 1969, 'Banbury' in Lobel, M.D. (ed), Historic Towns: Maps and Plans of Towns and Cities in the British Isles, with Historical Commentaries, from Earliest Times to 1800 Vol. 1 (London: Lovell Johns-Cook, Hammond and Kell Organization) online copy
  • Potts, W., 1958, History of Banbury (Banbury Guardian) p. 26
  • Gelling, Margaret, based on material collected by Doris Mary Stenton, 1954, The Place-Names of Oxfordshire (English Place Name Society) Part 2 p. 412
  • Beesley, 1841, History of Banbury: including copious historical and antiquarian notices of the neighbourhood (London) p. 207-10 plate xxi online copy


  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England (Sutton Publishing) p. 370
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1908, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 2 p. 39 online copy


  • Creighton, Oliver, 2006, ''Castles of Communities': Medieval Town Defences in England; Wales and Gascony' Château Gaillard Vol. 22 p. 75-86

Primary Sources

  • Stamp, A.E. (ed), 1937, Calendar of Patent Rolls Philip and Mary (1553-54) Vol. 1 p. 246-8 view online copy
  • 1925, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward VI (1549-51) Vol. 3 p. 8, 10, 17–19 view online copy
  • Foster, C.W. and Major, K., 1932, The Registrum Antiquissimum of the Cathedral Church of Lincoln (Lincoln Record Society 29) Vol. 3 p. 266-7 online copy (charter of 1219 mentioning Fossatum ville. )