The legendary Banbury Cross is just minutes from FDU’s Wroxton College.


(Editor’s Note: Wroxton College is located in the picturesque village of Wroxton St. Mary, a small, quaint community that features three churches, a post office, a highly rated hotel and two public houses. Around the small pond in the center of the village stand 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century homes, built mainly of stone and roofed in decorated thatch. But FDU also considers nearby Banbury its home, and the town has proven a big attraction to those from near and far.)

Famous for its nursery rhyme, Banbury, England, saw its legendary cross erected in the middle of town in 1859 to celebrate the wedding of Prince Frederick of Prussia. But the Banbury of today, while still an attraction for its Banbury Cross, has developed into the region's largest town, just three miles from FDU’s Wroxton College. Though its distinctive cottages show off the town’s old-world charm, Banbury has met modern demands with its new Castle Quay shopping mall and a smattering of fast-food restaurants — a considerable difference from the land originally settled by the Saxons in the seventh century.

Banbury enjoys the distinction of being the first “American” college town in England.

Banbury then was no more than a region of the Cherwell Valley, located in the heart of England. Within a few hundred years, Banbury became known for its crops, livestock and cloth; by the 12th century, it gained the reputation of being the central marketplace in the area, famous for its fairs. In the 17th century, Banbury Castle became the focal point of the country’s Civil War. But, like the castle, many medieval buildings did not make it past the 17th century. A section of the town center, however, has retained the narrow lanes and narrower alleys where notable 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century buildings can be found.

Built in 1790 and running directly through the city, Oxford Canal transformed the district into a thriving manufacturing center. Cheeses, ales and Banbury cake — a flaky pastry filled with spices and dried fruit — brought additional fame to the area; the cakes remain a staple even today. Banbury also owes its growth to its excellent rail connections that provide easy access to Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon to the north and London and Oxford to the south and east.

Banbury has welcomed members of the Fairleigh Dickinson community since 1965, when FDU opened the doors of Wroxton College, becoming the first American university to own its own campus in England. Banbury thus enjoys the distinction of being the first “American” college town in England.

Wroxton College retains its unique British flavor. The 17th-century Jacobean mansion at the center of the college contains parts that date back to 1216 and boasts a list of famous occupants and guests — Lord Frederick North, Theodore Roosevelt and Henry James, among others. The resident British faculty is augmented by notable visiting scholars. Undergraduate courses are taught by the lecture and tutorial method, while graduate courses use the seminar in addition.

Cheeses, ales and Banbury cake — a flaky pastry filled with spices and dried fruit — brought additional fame to the area.

The links between Banbury and America are hardly new. Benjamin Franklin’s father lived in Banbury before emigrating to the United States. Josiah Franklin left when Banbury was what the British call a hamlet and would hardly recognize the current town. Today, the population of just over 43,000 includes inhabitants who work at large companies such as Kraft Jacob Suchards, which makes Bird’s Custard and Maxwell coffee, and in the area’s many small high-tech businesses.

But the modern town still cherishes its history. The Banbury Museum, established in the 1940s, is visited by thousands each year. A project to unite the museum with a historical boatyard has become so popular that plans have been made to include a 50-seat lecture theater and café overlooking the canal, a waterways discovery “hands-on” gallery, a tourist information center and a museum shop.

Banbury is preparing to welcome more people, and the locals aren’t the least bit bothered that the town is famous because of a nursery rhyme. And just what is a “cock horse” anyway? During medieval times, it was a horse ridden by two people, a knight in front, his lady behind; later, it was the name for a child’s hobbyhorse. Most locals would be quick to acknowledge that they have yet to see anyone riding into town this way.

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