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Witney Blanket Hall Home of Witney Blankets

   We hope that you will be able properly to explore Witney Blanket Hall when you visit us but, in the meanwhile, please enjoy this 'Virtual Tour'... Welcome!

WE COME IN, as everyone always has, through the big green doors off the High Street. Pause to note the curious nature of the door frame. The huge black hinges once swung the jambs themselves out of the way to allow for a wider car to enter what was once Brian Crawford’s garage. (More later of Mr Crawford.)

The Measuring Room SHOP at Witney Blanket Hall

The Measuring Room Shop

   This is what we now know as The Measuring Room, and is our shop selling woollen throws and scarves, and all sorts of excellent stuff... Including, of course, our Blanket Hall beer and cider. Blankets were never woven in the Hall, but for 150 years from 1721 to the 1840s, it was where every blanket woven in Witney and for 20 miles around had to come for weighting and authentification.

   The individual Master-weavers were charged fees by the Company for this task, and had fines summarily exacted for infringements of the company’s regulations. In the 1720s, before the advent of machine power, there would still have been quite elaborate hand-(or possibly animal-) driven perching, cuttling, and rolling machinery; made from timber and iron, and in constant creaking motion, like the rigging of a land-locked warship. 
   There would have been great racks heaped with piles of blankets, some cut and folded, and some on roll. Constant movement of blankets arriving, and others leaving, the bustling activity of the workers at their tasks, weighing and measuring, checking, and recording in ledgers. And everyone, everything, everywhere covered in a fine drift of woollen fibres, like snow on the hedgerows.

   Above your head are some large photographs taken in Early’s Blanket Mill in the 1890s that show some of the processes involved in making blankets. On the left is a card machine, on which the wool is disentangled and prepared for the spinning that comes next. This is on a spinning mule, a huge and noisy beast, with wicker baskets full of cops of yarn ready for weaving.

Blanket making at Witney Blanket Hall

   The chap in the middle is a hand-weaver at his wooden loom, an ancient tool that gave way to the cast-iron machine loom; dozens of them in a roaring room full of lip-reading weavers. Lastly, there is a scourer at work at his giant vat of soapy water cleaning the cloth, and shrinking it to thick softness. 

The Town Fire Pump that once lived at Witney Blanket Hall

   With its excellent access onto the High Street, this room also appears to have been chosen to house a Newsham fire-engine, for the Company records suggest one was purchased in 1740. These engines were essentially wooden water-troughs on wheels, with a hand operated pump and leather hose. So many subsequent Company records refer to repairs to the engine that one wonders if this was a service that the Company provided to its members, whose weaving workshops would have contained so much easily combustible wooden machinery.

   Look up to right and left and see the small cupboards high on the walls: these give access to the shafts that rise to the attic, and down which hang the weights of the Blanket Hall clock: the striking train weight to the right, and the time-keeping train weight to the left.
   Also to the right is the safe still set in the wall from when, long after blankets left, this room was sub-divided into offices. The safe might have been in what was then the Registry of Births Marriages and Deaths. You can also see the name-board for Russell Cox, an architect whose studio was upstairs in
The Great Room in the middle decades of the 20th century.
   Below the ceiling, you can see line shafting of the type used to drive machinery from an engine via the various cast iron pulleys. It mostly came from an old textile mill and is probably similar to that which would have driven the brewery machinery during the 19th century. Note the glass oil feeds above the bearings, some original globes, and some empty Victorian sauce bottles: and look at the playfully decorative shell-shaped oil-drip catchers: the Victorians were not by any means always the utilitarian kill-joys they are often painted.

The Blanket Store

The Wine Store

The Throne Room

   Start down the passage towards the door at the rear of The Measuring Room. To the right are two small rooms: first, down some steps, is The Blanket Store & Beer Cellar, where you can see reminders of the time when the building was at least partly a brewery between about 1848 and 1890. Although the Company of Weavers had disbanded, its use as a brewery was not a complete break with the past. Firstly, the building had been sold to Edward Early (of the Early blanket weaving family), and secondly, as William Smith (one of the brewers) remembered:
‘There was already on the premises the original brewing plant of the Blanket Makers Company with several casks in the old Cellar including the cask “Queen Anne” which was supposed to be the relick of the original as presented by the Queen of that name. With this small plant (12 Bushels) we commenced our brewing business, and added vats and casks as fast as required for use, upon credit.’

Witney Blanket Hall beer and stout

   As will be seen The Company of Witney Blanket Makers had always liked their beer! And we still do, and our cider. Do try it in our Pieshop if you visit The Blanket Hall.

Part of the current range of Blanket Hall Ales, stouts, ciders and lagers

   The Early family were Methodist by tradition, and it must have taken a certain contortion to convince everyone that brewing was a legitimate profession, but the company prospered first as a partnership between William Smith and Joseph Early, Edward’s son, and then under Edward alone who also started to buy pubs. His first was the nearby Prince of Wales at 63 High Street, which is now Martin & Co, the estate agents. 
   After 1865, the brewery was operated by the Shillingford family which, curiously, had also been involved in the woollen trade, later joined by Arthur Bateman who bought the Blanket Hall in 1879 for £900. In 1890, Clinch’s bought the Blanket Hall Brewery, together with all
‘The machinery, plant, and casks’... And promptly closed it. To the left of the cellar door is a notice from The Witney Gazette advertising the impending sale of the brewing plant.
   There is also a sign advising the demise of Neave & Garnett, a company named for two Witney chemists who came to the Blanket Hall in 1900 probably to make
‘aerated water’, water with carbon dioxide dissolved in it. There are no Neave & Garnett bottles at the Hall, but their screw bottle tops continue to turn up in the garden and you can see them in various cases around the Hall. The water probably came from the well in the yard, and the carbon dioxide may have been made on the premises from the reaction of sulphuric acid with limestone. No doubt resultant carbonated water was sold plain as Seltzer (more or less modern soda water), or flavoured as ginger beer and lemonade.

   In 1905, Dale & Sharpe bought the business. Walter Dale was a Witney publican’s son, and Harold Sharpe was a Sussex man who came to Witney and met Dale when he joined a church choir. Their letterhead suggests they widened their range to include ‘lemonade, lime juice & soda, dry ginger ale, ginger beer, hop bitters, soda water, potass water, seltzer water, lithia water, ginger wine and cordials’. At that time water containing Potassium (potass) and Lithium salts (lithia) were thought to have great health benefits. A bit like ‘green’ smoothies today, perhaps.

Neave & Garnet sell to Dale & Sharpe at Witney Blanket Hall

Dale & Sharp take over from Neave & Garnet

   Years later Brian Crawford gleaned a vivid description of the raffish nature of the business from Charles Coutts, Sharpe’s son-in-law: 
   ‘The water was drawn from a shallow well in the courtyard. Cordials were bought in and the carbon dioxide gas (to provide the sparkle) came in black pressurised cylinders which came to Witney by train. The gas was injected into the individual bottles or syphons by hand. The injector mechanism was housed in a wire netting cage to provide some protection for the operator when bottles exploded!
   ‘Transport was a horse-drawn four-wheel dray. The horses were stabled in the Blanket Hall courtyard at the river end. The hay was stored over the stable. The bottle washing was primitive: the bottles were soaked overnight in soda water & then briefly brushed on a rotating brush.’
   The carbonated water business ceased trading sometime around the Second World War. We have collected several Dale & Sharpe bottles around the Hall today, most of them with their Lamb & Flag emblem.
   Next to
The Blanket Store & Beer Cellar is (naturally!) The Wine Cellar, a reminder of the important role that hospitality played in the affairs of the Company during the 18th century. Feasts could go on for days, and vast quantities of meat was cooked and consumed. These feasts were part of local tradition (like the old Witney Feast), or were connected with events like coronations, or were connected specifically with the weaving trade.
   There would be music, and speeches, and, of course, alcohol. Eventually, in 1784, no doubt to stem both the revelry and the costs, the Company decided that henceforth members could bring only one guest.
The Wine Cellar, is, perhaps appropriately, The Throne Room. This restored Victorian loo has been here since the 1890s, for you can see on the cast-iron cistern the letters ‘H Long’. Henry Long opened an ironmongery store in the Blanket Hall after the brewery closed, and offered:

H Long at the Blanket Hall

   All kinds of Agricultural Implements  and Machinery, Chaff Cutters, Oil Cake Mills, Corn Grinding Mills, Turnip Cutters, Pulpers, Cattle Troughs, Pig Troughs, Ploughs, Harrow Cultivators, Churns, Dairy Utensils, etc, and Alexandria Separators. Authorized to Sell the Incandescent Gas Light. Estimates given for fitting Private Houses, Shops, and Public Buildings. A well assorted Stock of Petroleum and other Lamps, and Gas Fittings. Agent for Diener’s A1 Safety Oil.

The Blanket Hall when it was H Long's Agricultural emporium in the 1890s. Photographed by the famous Henry Taunt.

   On The Throne Room wall is a photograph of the Blanket Hall taken in 1896 with Henry Long’s product lines very clearly set out for passers-by.

   Above the outside door is a small homage to the Shuttle, the essential tool of the weaver that flies from side to side of his loom interlacing the weft yarn into the warp. The arms of the Company of Witney Blanket Makers includes three leopards with shuttles in their mouths; when Brian Crawford had the arms on the front of the Hall recut, he borrowed as a model a shuttle from Cotswold Woollen Weavers in Filkins which is now part of this tableau. Little did we imagine that twenty years later we would be here now.

The Wine Store on the right, and the Throne Room on the left. Also on the left is the Visitors' Book, which we hope one day you will be able to sign. We are now going through the green glazed doors into the courtyard

The corridor out the courtyard at Witney Blanket Hall

   AS WE GO out of the green glazed doors, the nature of the Blanket Hall plot becomes apparent. It is only about 35 ft (10m) wide, but is 225 ft (70m) long, stretching from the high street way down past all the building and terrace, through the iron gate, and past the garden to the River Windrush beyond. It is one of the few intact ‘burgage plots’ in Witney, but typical of how most medieval towns were originally laid out. In the days before customers could be enticed with easy advertising, a shop front on the high street was a must and so they were narrow to squeeze in as many as possible. Behind the shops would be workshops, and the living quarters of the extended shopkeepers’ families and their workers, and beyond would be the stables and the vegetable gardens. A complete little world behind a single front door.
   The plots were not just pieces of property: the plot holders, or burgesses, generally had voting rights including, until the reforms of the early 19th century, the election of members of parliament. We have lost the voting right, but we do retain a modern inconvenience of our burgage plot: there is no back entrance, so everything we buy, sell, pull down or build up has to be carted in and out through the big green doors on the street.
   The pale blue lean-to buildings on the left were last used by a succession of engineering companies that operated here during the Second World War, and for the following 30 years. They included Tartan Engineering, who made electric hand-tools, and Brooks & Brown who turned and pressed small metal components primarily for the motor industry.  There was also a company copper plating
‘baby’s first walking shoes.’ 

Brooks & Brown at Witney Blanket Hall
Part of the collection at Witney Blanket Hall

     In the lean-to, you can see a great collection of machinery, tools and bits-and-bats that we have found, mostly in the Hall attics and cupboards that give a flavour of the multifarious activities that have gone on here over the years. Some of the engineering companies also used the buildings on the right, and we will return to the ‘sheepshead door’ later. Further down the yard, there was also a corrugated shed where the picnic tables now are. You can see machine fixing-bolts in the stone paving, and there is a photograph of the building in the Pie Shop.

Top: Brooks & Brown engineering works once occupied the building

Bottom: Some of the interesting stuff left behind over many years... 

   On the right, at the end of the building, is the remains of the brewery chimney, the boiler gases would have been piped into the brick base of the chimney stack which would once have towered over the building. Behind the chimney is a brick alcove which was, apparently, once an opening through which beer barrels could be passed to the Plough Inn next door.

Trades of Witney carved in limestone at Witney Blanket Hall
An ammonite built into the wall at Witney Blanket Hall

   Today, in the alcove, is a sculpture designed after a piece of the broken Parthenon frieze, illustrating the ‘Witney trades’ of brewing and blanket making. This was carved by Simon Brittain in local limestone at the Filkins Stone Company workshop in Filkins.
   In the opposite wall is set a giant ammonite, a fossil over 300 million years old, which sets the 300 years of the Blanket Hall into context!

In the context of the age of this ammonite, embedded in the limestone millions of years ago, the history of Blanket Hall is but a blink of an eye.

Enjoy a coffee in the garden at Witney Blanket Hall
Limestone sculpture at Witney Blanket Hall
The River Windrush flows past Witney Blanket Hall
Pieshop menu at Witney Blanket Hall
Pies made and sold at Witney Blanket Hall
The pieshop at Witney Blanket Hall
The Stair Hall at Witney Blanket Hall
The 1720 agreement to build Witney Blanket Hall
Veronica and a giant hare at Witney Blanket Hall
A 19th century shepherd's smock at Witney Blanket Hall

The splendid staircase, the agreement to build the hall drawn up in 1720, the Shepherd's Smock, and Veronica with a Giant Hare... She insists: 'he's just a friend'.

   There is also a poster advertising one of the early ‘town’ uses: a Witney Reading Society which was first mooted in 1830. Brian Crawford re-established this tradition in the 1980s, and the Blanket Hall Company now hosts many public events throughout the year.
   Harking back to an utterly different time, there is a shepherd’s smock hanging on the wall as it might have been left by its owner over 200 years ago.
   The hand-weavers came together to form the Company not just to raise standards. Almost certainly another impetus was to band together to more easily enter new markets. One was to supply blankets to the British Navy, and the Company opened a London warehouse to help with these new contracts. There is a splendid Witney-built model of HMS Victory on the upper landing to remind us that Nelson’s seamen slept under Witney blankets, and even into the 20th century warships had their powder magazines lined with blanketing to help prevent sparks from causing explosions.
Under the stairs is a replica 17th century lathe of the type that would have been used to turn many of the wooden fittings in this Hall, and of the spinning machines and looms used by the master-weaver members of the Company of Blanket makers.
   Above the lathe, is a ‘picture’ showing in real-time the clock mechanism in the attic. Originally the clock rang an hour bell on the roof, but at some time during the 18th century it was altered to drive a clock face on the front of the building. The clock has always only had one hand, an hour hand. One-handed public clocks were commonplace at the time, for not until the coming of the railways in the 1840s did most people need the accuracy of minutes to regulate their activities. In many cases minute hands were added to public clock faces, and this is now a rare example of the old style.
‘I’ll meet you about noon’... It sounds good to me.
   In the 1980s it was converted to electric winding. Trusting in the old ways, we have had the clock completely dismantled, and rebuilt with the original eight-day hand-winding; we are indebted to Steve Fletcher of Witney’s Clock Workshop for his help. We also thank Ben Bungay who, as well as working tirelessly on the Hall’s restoration, has become the honorary Winder of the Hall Clock.

'The Point Blanket' booklet from Witney Blanket Hall

This booklet about the 'Witney Point Blanket' is available from the Shop

   Of the multitude of different Witney blankets, one of the most famous was ‘The Point Blanket’, of which the best known variant is an ecru ground with four bars of different colours at each end. There is one hanging in the group above the stairs. In the 18th century, these were made in huge quantities for the Hudson’s Bay Company, which traded them with native Canadians for beaver and other skins. They were often made into long coats called capotes, and there is an example of such a coat draped over the banisters. For 100 years, the production of point blankets was particularly welcome to the members of the Company and then the mills that succeeded them. For the points had to be shipped in the early summer to avoid iceflows in the northern waters, and thus provided work for the Witney looms during the slack winter months.

   THROUGH THE GATE is the Blanket Hall garden, with the river beyond. The garden appears to have played an important part in the life of the Weavers’ Company. There were certainly fruit trees here in the 18th century, and no doubt herbs and vegetables for the Company kitchens. The garden was also the scene of many outdoor feasts, and here is the report of one that followed the parliamentary election in August 1837:
 ‘The friends of conservatives in our town and neighbourhood met together, at the Blanket Hall, to celebrate the victory gained at our late county election. A large booth had been erected for the occasion, the entire length of the gardens, tastefully decorated with evergreens, and under it covers were laid for almost 150 persons. At three o’clock Leonard Pickering, Esq. of Wilcot Grove, took the chair, several excellent songs were sung, and the conviviality of the evening was kept up with great humour until a late hour.’
   We have tried to recreate the flavour of an 18th century urban garden and, if nothing else, have kept up a very long, and back-breaking tradition. From the Company records in 1765 ‘Payed 10 shillings for two loads of Gravell for the Hall Garden.’
   The central sculpture, created in our workshop in Filkins, recalls the legend of a two-headed flying serpent found near Chipping Norton in 1349: it is said, variously, that it both devoured and protected the local sheep. We like to think that sheep and serpent lived in harmony, and we hope that you find the same harmony in our garden. Rest, and enjoy.

   Back-track up the courtyard and past the well-head, and enter the Sheepshead door. In the early 20th century, this led to the quarters of the hall caretakers and clock winders, one of whom, Fred Probets, was known as ‘The Colonel’ because of his splendid waxed moustache. The original caretakers’ kitchen was in the shed opposite the sheepshead door.
   NOWADAYS the sheepshead door leads to a passage that takes you left into our Pieshop. The Company records do not say much about what was cooked in the kitchens, but one can be pretty sure that it included Pies. The 18th century loved Big Bold Pies, as this 1727 recipe from Eliza Smith testifies:
‘Take four small chickens, four squab pigeons, four sucking rabbets; cut them in pieces, season them with savoury spice, and lay ’em in the pye, with four sweetbreads sliced, and as many sheep’s tongues, two shiver’d palates, two pair of lamb-stones, twenty or thirty coxcombs, with savoury balls and oysters. Lay on butter, and close the pye.’ 
   We cannot guarantee coxcombs or savoury balls, but we do promise good honest, hearty pies from our excellent resident pieman, Mr David Pitcher. 
   This area was not just famous for weaving blankets. It was good farming country too, and the 19th century auction posters give excellent details of what you would have found on a Victorian farm in Oxfordshire. Lots of sheep, of course. In fact, because of the seasonal nature of blanket making, weavers have often combined their craft with working in the fields, and mill-owners quite often owned farms too. You can also read framed off-prints from
Jackson’s Oxford Journal detailing some of the events that have taken place at the Blanket Hall over the years, and you can also see how many of the 77 words connected with blanket-making in Witney you can find in our giant word-search puzzle on the wall. The words can be forward, backwards, and diagonal. Happy searching.

   AND NOW BACK into the Pieshop passage, there are glazed doors that lead to the upstairs rooms...

   The magnificent oak staircase was rebuilt by Brian Crawford to replace at least two previous ones going back to the Hall’s original construction in 1721. The design is based on an early 18th century staircase at New College in Oxford, and the treads and risers were re-placed as part of our restoration in 2014/2015.
   On the fireplace wall, is a replica of the original agreement to build the Hall. Sixteen months from decision to build, to sitting down to their first meeting in their new Hall. Who could do that today? 
   In nearly 300 years, The Hall has only ever been sold a handful of times. Above the fireplace is contract for the last conveyance, in 1910 back to the Early’s for £1465. At that time, the building appears to have been split into six parts variously occupied by Witney Urban District Council, The YWCA, Mrs Haley (the caretaker), Dale & Sharpe (the bottlers), and the Early’s themselves, with one part unoccupied (the front office.)

   UP THE STAIRS now to the Upper Landing...
   By the window is 
an apparently unremarkable mophead in a bucket: but this too is a Witney woollen product, for they were made from the thrums (warp ends off the looms) and other waste yarn. William Smith began his woollen blanket empire as ‘The great mopmaker of Bridge Street’ in the 1850s; indeed, Smith won a contract to supply 125000 mopheads to the British Navy. The Early’s continued to make mopheads into the 1950s, and there is a splendid film in our archive, made by Brian Crawford, celebrating the craft.
   On the landing, there is the steam hooter from the Early’s Witney Mills, which was given to Brian Crawford as a (very loud!) retirement present.
   The cases on the landing contain wool samples and small tools of the trade, and a wide collection of items found under floorboards, and in attics and the backs of cupboards that have come to light as restoration of the Hall has taken place over the years. Every week something else is found; it is a source of never-ending delight. Note the growing pile of bottle tops from the Hall’s Dale & Sharpe era.
There are also a couple of large trade cards from London merchants, whose emporia were the forerunners of department stores, and who sold Witney blankets in the 18th century.

    Just below the top flight of stairs is a picture showing some chaps hooking blanket cloth on a wooden frame to dry in the open air. The frame is called a tenter frame (after the Latin ‘tendere’, to stretch), and the hooks ‘tenterhooks’.  Hence the old expression ‘to be on tenterhooks’, or to ‘to be under tension, and in a state of nervous anticipation’. 
   The Blanket Hall has been honoured with the permanent loan of three wonderful panels of
bas relief wood-carvings of various famous Oxfordshire sights, buildings, and events. The carvings were made in 2006/7 by members the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire branch of the British Woodcarvers’ Association as part of the county’s celebrations of ‘1000 years of Oxfordshire’.

Drying blankets on the tenterframe at Witney Blanket Hall
Carved panel at Witney Blanket Hall

Top: Tenterframes down by the River Windrush.

Bottom: One of the beautifully carved panels of Oxfordshire scenes. Note Witney Blanket Hall at the bottom left.

   For some years the panels were exhibited at various locations, and it is a great privilege for them finally to find a home at the Blanket Hall, and also very apt for one of the carvings is actually of the Hall itself. There was a very jolly reception in the Hall in May 2019 at which the woodcarvers were welcomed to see the fruits of their labours finally installed in their new home on the Great Stair landing.

   On the top landing, the harmonium stands for the great connection there always was between the blanket weavers and non-conformist Christianity, especially Methodism. For instance, both the Early and the Smith families helped finance the Victorian Methodist Church further down the High Street, and were keen followers of the Temperance movement. 
   Under their guidance the Tuckers’ (blanket finishers’) Feast on Woodgreen became a teetotal affair, until its sobriety was undermined by extended before and after sessions at the nearby
Three Pigeons. After that, beer was restored as part of the feast menu.
The longcase clock was an early purchase by the Company for the Blanket Hall. It was made by John May, a member of a family of Witney clockmakers. After the Company of Witney Blanket Makers was wound up in the 1840s, the clock, like other Hall property and the Hall itself, was sold off. We (the present Witney Blanket Hall Company) are indebted to Oxfordshire Museum Service, and Keith Crawford and the Early Archive Trust for their help in returning some of it to the Hall. We also thank Brian Crawford and his executors, and the Bartlett-Taylor Trust for the opportunity to return the building to public use, Dr Jane Cavell, historian of Witney, Don Deaney for sharing his collection of vintage electrical fittings, and Ben Bungay, our head builder.
 Through the big double doors into
The Great Room

The Great Room splendour at Witney Blanket Hall

   THIS WAS WHERE the original Company met to administer its affairs and to regulate the blanket trade in the town. In 1721, Witney had a population of about 2000, and this Hall was by far the most imposing building at this, the commercial, end of the town. Stand by the windows, look down into the street, and imagine how impressed passers-by would have been as they looked up at you. Everything about the building, and especially The Great Room, was designed to stress the importance of the blanket trade and the status of the Company of Weavers. Look at the size of the chair bought for the Master of the Company in 1721: either the master had a very large bottom or, again, it was designed to impress his visitors.

Queen Anne at Witney Blanket Hall

   The huge portrait behind the Master’s chair is of Queen Anne, and was a gift in 1721 to the newly built Blanket Hall by Lord Harcourt (Lord Chancellor of England and High Steward of the Company of Blanket Weavers) in honour of the charter of incorporation granted to the Company by Queen Anne in 1711.

Queen Anne, and friends

   For many years the painting was attributed to Sir Godfrey Kneller, and perhaps the queen’s portrait is from his circle with the cupids added by others. In 1845, when the Blanket Hall was sold, the portrait was sold too, and travelled around the country until eventually returning to Oxfordshire first to Early’s mill and then to the County Museum. Now after 160 years, Queen Anne hangs once again in the Great Room in Witney. The pair of portraits are of John Early (1783-1862) and Elizabeth Early, nee Waine (1783-1864). John Early saw the blanket trade turn from one conducted by individual weavers with a journeyman or two, to a factory-based one involving many employees.
   The table under these portraits was commissioned by Early’s for their stand at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Did ever anyone see such an elaborate table at was essentially a trade show? We all know the Great Exhibition was a grand affair, but a smallish provincial manufacturer going to such trouble is a very good indication of just how grand it was.

The grey blankets on the table come from the bunker built to withstand nuclear attack at West Oxfordshire District Council. Good to know that Witney Blankets were once recognised as a legitimate defence against such attack. The portrait over the fireplace is of Annie Littlewood Early, nee Cole (1856-1939). She was the wife of James Vanner Early who bought the Blanket Hall from Clinch’s Brewery in 1907.

Early's 300 birthday blanket at Witney Blanket Hall
The blanket Makers' seal at Witney Blanket Hall
A blanket teddy bear at Witney Blanket Hall

Expect the unexpected: A 300th anniversary blanket, an 18th century Company Seal... And Mr Blanket Teddy looking frisky for fun! 

   The pink blanket in the gold box was made to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Early’s in 1969. The sheep were shorn, the wool was spun, and the blankets woven and finished all in a single day. Because of the time difference, one was even sent to Early’s New York showroom within the same day. One rather assumes that blankets are proof against the vagaries of fashion, but would we design such a 300 year anniversary blanket like this today? Probably something more artisanal, more natural, and in a wooden box. But 1969 came between Mary Quant and Marc Bolan: and a pink blanket in a gold box must have seemed just the ticket.
  Elsewhere in the room are gathered innumerable books and objects, many of which were found on the premises, or were collected by Brian Crawford, and the present Company. They help illustrate that, except for a brief period at the end of the 20th century, the Hall was never a private house: it was always a commercial building, and for the first 150 years was the home of the Weavers Company at a time of great change in all of the manufacturing industries. And the Company was part of that change.
Not everyone welcomes change, but most practical men are curious about how things work. One can imagine the interest with which members would discuss new methods, and would hand round new tools for inspection. And the ‘gathering of curios’ continues: a customer at the teddy-bear shop opposite visited the Hall, and, smitten with what she saw, went home and made for us a truly wonderful bear out of a piece of old Witney blanket... And there sits
Mr Windrush Bear on a shelf overlooking the Great Room. 
   This is also the room in which the Company hosted meetings of wider importance to the town. For instance, in 1830, a meeting was held
‘to take into consideration the propriety of petitioning Parliament for the abolition of slavery.’ The petition was ‘most numerably and respectably signed.’ Slavery was largely abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833.
   The present Company continues this public use with a programme of meetings and entertainments in
The Great Room, and it is available for occasional hire by local businesses.
   Over the years after the Company wound up, this room was changed many times. For instance, Mary Rouse, who worked for Russell Cox the architect, can remember it being split into three separate offices with a connecting corridor. The room was largely re-constructed by Brian Crawford, and we have sought to reflect both the occupancy of the original Company of Blanket Weavers, and its multifarious uses since.
   We hope you have enjoyed your virtual visit, and we hope that one day soon you will be able to visit us for real. When you do come, and if you do not know Witney, please do explore the town... A long and interesting High Street, with many splendid buildings and independent shops along the way. And of course, the glory of West Oxfordshire: free parking everywhere. What's not to like?

The company seal at Witney Blanket Hall

   Woollen blankets have long been entangled with the history and heritage of the town, and Witney Blanket Hall has been playing its part for nearly 300 years. You will find a wide range of our woollen throws and scarves in our shop downstairs (in the original Measuring Room), and you can also buy them from this page HERE.

Long may wool and Witney march together, and thank you for visiting us.

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