A note about Arthur Linfoot’s Diary entry of 31 May 1916 and the mysterious place-name between Leicester and Oxford:

Reveille at 4 o’clock. Paraded 5.15 for breakfast. Marched to station. Left 6.40. Beautiful country. Past Nottingham, Leicester, Sansbury†, Oxford, Winchester and to Southampton. Arrived Southampton 1.15.

This journey was about 170 miles as the crow flies, and took from 6.40 am to 1.15 pm: 6 hours 35 minutes, at 30 mph if the actual distance was, say, 200 miles; so for a troop train ‘special’, the time taken does not suggest that there must have been any great detours. The places ALL records going “past” were Nottingham, Leicester, ‘Sansbury†’, Oxford, and Winchester; ‘Sansbury’ has remained a mystery since the diary was first transcribed.

Pitman’s Shorthand

This shorthand name is among the best-written anywhere in the diaries, with the shape well-defined and vowels appearing to be accurately marked. The latter part of the name is clearly “-nsbury”; this assumes that there was no vowel between the ‘n’ and the ‘s’, as none was written, but it is a reasonable assumption, given that the ‘u’ and ‘y’ are unusually unambiguous (interestingly, but correctly to a north-countryman, the ‘u’ is written with a third-position dash, phonetically ‘oo’, not second-position which would be the ‘central’ or neutral vowel.) But before the “-nsbury” it isn’t quite so clear: there is a light first-position vowel above (ie before) the ‘n’, which is probably a dot for short ‘a’, but just might be meant for a dash, which would be a short ‘o’; and the main mystery – there is something at the beginning of the ‘n’ stroke, which looks like a narrow, elongated hook or loop, and might be intended for either a small circular loop meaning ‘s’ before the vowel, or a long loop meaning ‘st’ before the vowel, or a small hook, meaning an ‘r’ somewhere between the ‘n’ and the (medial) ‘s’. It was established early in the editing of the diaries that none of these interpretations corresponds with any major location or station on a possible route between Leicester and Oxford. Even the more remote conjectures (for example, might an initial ‘st’ loop mean “Saint” – “St. Annesbury”?) produced nothing.

(Assuming that the initial mark is a loop, the shorthand outline – ie the consonants – would be exactly right for ‘Knaresborough’, but the vowels would not fit that, and geographically one would have to assume a quite bizarre misunderstanding by ALL. I also wondered if the initial mark could be intended for a right-handed semi-circle – though it really isn’t that – which could give an incorrect but characteristic way of writing ‘Wednesbury’; this is somewhat less implausible geographically, but would have needed a seriously time-consuming detour. If, of course, there had been no circle or loop, and the ‘n’ stroke had been preceded by a top-left to bottom-right (thick) straight stroke, it would simply have been “Banbury”. This would have been very likely geographically – see below; but there is no such stroke.)

The Rail Journey

The restriction of surmises to the territory between Leicester and Oxford did assume that ALL had got the sequence of the locations right in his list, but this assumption turns out to be immaterial. A search of the 29,000 place-names in Philips’ 2010 Drivers’ Atlas of Britain produces only some 35 names ending in “-sbury”, and none of these names is reconcilable with ALL’s carefully-written shorthand; it might almost be surmised that he wrote the name so carefully because it was not one he was familiar with. But the search did reveal one interesting location.

But first, to go back for a moment to the train journey on the ground: I haven’t seen a complete map of the rail network as it was in 1916, but I think that the shortest route from Leicester to Oxford would probably have been through Coventry, Leamington Spa, and Banbury. Unless there was some really major detour, which as noted above the timing does not suggest, one alternative, which probably still exists, to this most direct route would seem to have been south-east through Market Harborough, Kettering, Wellingborough, Bletchley and Bicester – quite a significant detour to the east; but older maps suggest that there had also been a line south from Leicester through Northampton to Banbury. So either way, ALL’s train very probably went by Banbury. Note also that the Wikipedia article on Banbury Merton Street rail station (closed in 1961) says that in WW1 “in addition to the munitions traffic” [there were major munitions works in Grimsbury – see next paragraph] it “also handled troop trains converging from north to south.”

A Possible Explanation

The interesting location ending in “-nsbury” is Grimsbury (B on the map), which according to the 1” Ordnance map of 1947, based on the 1930 survey, together with Old Grimsbury immediately to the north, closely adjoined Banbury east of the River Cherwell and the Oxford Canal (Banbury itself, A on the map, then being wholly to the west of the river and canal), both Banbury Merton Street station and Banbury General, which alone now remains, being also east of the Cherwell and the Canal. Grimsbury is now a Banbury suburb.

I cannot trace Grimsbury as ever figuring in a railway station name, and in any case “Grim-“ is nothing like “San-“ or “Stan-”. But (a) failing evidence to the contrary, it seems very likely that ALL’s train went through Banbury, and (b) the only explanation so far for ALL’s “Sansbury” is to assume that he hadn’t seen a name himself, and that what he wrote was all he could remember or piece together when writing the diary later, perhaps from only a garbled version derived from his comrades’ glimpses of the name “Grimsbury” on the munitions works, and perhaps also of “Banbury” on the station.

DL, 03.06.2016
Revised 25.01.2018