BLANKET MAKING AT WITNEY BLANKET HALL
BRIDGE STREET MILLS
WE TEND TO REMEMBER BEST, and most fondly, the pre-industrial days of handweavers working at their looms in workshops behind their cottages... An apprentice or two, and chickens scratching in the yard... All very Silas Marner! And of course most of the good stories (and, for that matter, many of the good designs!) probably date from that era.
But in terms of production, the heyday of the Witney blanket trade was in the years around the middle of the 20th century. Well managed, well appointed mills reamed out blankets in astonishing quantities. The Smith's Bridge Street Mills (not much more than 100 yards along the street from Witney Blanket Hall) turned out about 450,000 blankets every year in the decades before duvets and competition forced its closure in 1975. And although Bridge Street Mills was by no means the biggest mill in Witney, its 450,000 blankets was over 800 miles of blankets a year, and woven from a length of woollen yarn that would stretch further than the moon, and spun from the fleece of over half a million sheep!
Here are some pictures of blanket making , starting with a picture of the mill (founded in the 1840s, and developed over the rest of the 19th century), and then of the process from wool-opening, through carding, spinning, warping, weaving, finishing (scouring, tentering, raising), converting into blankets... And ending with pictures of where the workers had their lunch!
All photographs courtesy of David Smith