10 June 2010

Lady Godiva & Banbury

Ride a Cock Horse

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.

During the 11th century, Leofric, the Earl of Mercia, imposed heavy taxes on his countrymen, provoking outrage and near riots. Leofric's wife, Godgifu (changed over time to Godiva), sympathised with the common people and urged her husband to lower the new taxes he had levied.  Now, Leofric was obviously a man with a sense of humour because he told his wife he would lower taxes only after she had ridden naked through the streets of Banbury. Leofric hadn't reckoned upon Godiva's spirit and, much to his surprise, she agreed to the challenge. The delighted people as a show of respect and to spare her blushes, all agreed to stay indoors, close their shutters and face the other way as the lady passed by.

She rode through the streets on her beloved white horse, completely naked apart from her wedding ring (rings on her fingers), and with bells attached to her toes to remind the people not to look out of their windows.  All the citizens kept their word, except for Tom the tailor, who couldn't help himself and peeped out through the shutters - hence the expression the expression 'Peeping Tom'.

An old friend (now no longer) lived about half way to Banbury and decided to meet there for a coffee and a natter. I asked Dad what he would like to be brought back and he said a Banbury cake for his tea, I agreed but after eventually finding parking and meeting up with M we covered the main shopping areas of Banbury in about 15 mins; actually I think it was more like 10 mins and no Banbury cakes could we find.

Now I don't know whether it was because we didn't know the town well enough, or simply that there were none that day (or any other) but Banbury seemed such a town with history and yet was almost soulless in it's grey existence. Needless to say we never met there again, preferring instead to meet at Stratford on Avon despite it's 70 miles away from my house and only 20 from M's; some things cannot simply be divided into two equal parts and SoN was a satisfying place to visit.

Does anyone want to chip in with what makes Banbury special in case I missed it?


soubriquet said...

Banbury is indeed uninspiring. Luckily, all around it you can find beautiful villages and good folk.
I always understood Godiva's ride to have been made in Coventry, if at all, though the whole story has no contemporary affirmation whatsoever.

Coventry, of course, is even less inspiring than Banbury.
Stratford, on the other hand, apart from the mobs of tourists, is delightful. Good choice!

Relax Max said...

I'm not sure. Perhaps the stark greyness is actually the appeal. I thought it was Coventry, too. Coventrians must think so too, because they have a statue of her there. :) Your telling of the story sounds very authentic, though, so I may vote for Banbury, though it is said they hide their cakes from out-of-towners.

I know for sure I like Godiva much better than Godgifu, and I also know that not enough ladies wear bells on their toes anymore.

Kath said...

My lovely Sister in law, Caroline and her soon-to-be husband live there. They have a salt box cottage, which is tall and narrow, one room on each of the 4 floors. She has restored it beautifullly, using thrift shop finds and making pretty soft furnishings. That's my twopennyworth LOL