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Witney, Oxfordshire

PUBLISHED: 11:22 08 September 2010 | UPDATED: 15:09 20 February 2013



World-famous for its blankets, Witney is a harmonious blend of the modern and historical. Situated on the banks of the River Windrush this vibrant market town is the largest in West Oxfordshire.....

Visiting Witney - a word from tourism development manager Hayley Beer:

What makes the town a great place to visit?

Witney is a traditional market town set within the West Oxfordshire which is branded as the Oxfordshire Cotswolds and really is Rural England at its Finest. The town is growing rapidly, welcoming new facilities such as the development of Marriott's Close, retail and leisure development with five-screen cinema, cafes and restaurants, yet it still manages to retain its charm and traditional feel. It is of course world-famous for Witney Blankets and history of the woollen weavers plays a very big part. There are nearly 30 pubs in Witney so it is a great place to socialise and try the local ales, in fact Witney is home to its very own Brewery - Wychwood Brewery.

What must visitors definitely see before they leave?

One of the town's most distinctive landmarks is the Buttercross, so-called because it was where neighbouring villagers would gather to sell butter and eggs. It is a medieval building off market square and features a clock dating back to the 17th century. The town still holds a market every week and a Farmers' Market every month showcasing locally produce foods and drink. Visitors should also walk the Witney Wool Trail which takes you round the history and heritage of what once was a thriving industry in this town.

What's the transport like for getting around the town?

Transport is excellent around Witney and the surrounding areas. There is a good bus route from local surrounding villages into Oxford and good local rail networks. We are blessed in Witney with free car parking anywhere in the town which is indeed a rarity in this day and age.

Food and drink - what does the town provide?

The town has seen a wealth of new places to eat out or have a drink over recent years and it is fair to say that the quality and standard is certainly getting higher. There are some nice restaurants serving great food such as the Fleece on Church Green and the Hollybush on Corn Street. There is also The Royal Oak on the High Street which serves good quality pub food and I'll be surprised you can finish your meal as the portions are renowned for being large! A new bar called Hacketts opened last year just behind Wesley Walk and offers a contemporary relaxed atmosphere great for relaxing and catching up with friends. There are also many flavours from the east with choice from Indian, Chinese and Thai.

Special attractions?

The new Witney Wool Trail guides visitors around the town to explore the history of Witney and its most famous product - Witney blankets. The tour takes visitors through the traditional parts of town and the surrounding countryside to show how Witney came together. Cogges Manor Farm is also a must-see attraction as it is a unique working farm that shows how life used to be in Victorian rural Oxfordshire. Educational visits allow visitors to meet the traditional breeds of farm animals and regular demonstrations of farm work include handmilking and buttermaking. Witney is also well-known for its real ales and The Wychwood Brewery, also home to Brakspear Beers, stands on Corn Street. Guided tours take place every Saturday and take visitors through the brewing process before sampling the legendary beers and bitters fresh from the cask. The Witney and District Museum houses a selection of displays covering the history of Witney through the ages, including local industry, life in Victorian Witney to local industry including blanket making and brewing.

Where to stay?

There is a great selection of hotels, guesthouses and self-catering options in the town. Visit www.oxfordshirecotswolds.org/site/accommodation for more details on accommodation in the area.

What about a night out?

There is a new music venue in Witney called Fat Lil's which features new bands during the week and plays Jazz on a Sunday afternoon. For a lively night out there's Izi's Bar and The Palace Nightclub. Witney also has a few gastro pubs and a variety of great restaurants. Evening culture in Witney revolves around great eateries and popular drinking venues. There is something for everyone.

Best for retail therapy?

There is a great selection of unique shops in Witney as well as the usual High Street shops. There are many independent businesses such as a fantastic bag shop, clothes boutiques and a varied selection of unique shops. When Marriotts Close is developed in 2009 there will also be a wider high street offering.

Best for activities?

Witney is a beautiful place to visit and there are some lovely walks in the surrounding area and along the River Windrush and Witney Lake and Meadows (known to the locals as Ducklington Lake) which features a managed nature reserve and is named as one of the most important sites for plants and wildlife in the Windrush Valley area. Witney also boasts some lovely cycle and walking routes which takes you through the lovely surrounding countryside.

For more details contact Witney tourist information on 01993 775802.

For information on attractions, activities, accommodation, events, eating out and much much more visit www.oxfordshirecotswolds.org which highlights everything there is to see and do in Witney.

Why is Witney famous?

For centuries Witney has been associated with blankets; many individual companies around the town were involved in its wool trade, producing blankets which were to become known for their soft, fleecy, good quality cloth the world over. Synonymous with quality, the 'Witney blanket' name was used by other blankets made from similar good quality cloth until it was made a legal requirement for a Witney blanket to have been made in the town.
The town was well-placed for a cloth-making industry, with the River Windrush supplying large volumes of water necessary to power the mills. The clean water of the River Windrush was sometimes said to be the secret for the fine quality wool. Blessed with open pastures for farming sheep, the breed of sheep in Witney produced a long, fine wool, which became much in demand in the Medieval period.
The town developed a reputation for its wool and by the 17th century it was famed for making high quality blankets. By the 1670s the town's blanket makers had established lucrative export markets, and the industry supported thousands of workers. From the mid-18th century the blanket trade expanded and new machinery was introduced to the industry propelling it further forward.
The blanket trade continued to prosper and by 1895 two manufacturers dominated the business in the area - Charles Early and Co, and William Smith and Co. By the end of the 1930s Witney was producing 700,000 pairs of blankets every year. Two new companies entered Witney and during the second world war some factories were used to produce blankets for the armed forces. The end of the war signalled another change for the industry as the blanket makers started to adopt synthetic fibres. Originally Witney blankets had always been made from wool.
Despite new technology introduced in the 1960s, the industry began to decline from the early 1970s. Most of the town's blanket firms closed and the industry, which had survived in the town for over 300 years, finally came to a halt with the closure of Early's in 2002, which was the last firm to make Witney Blankets.

For more information on Witney blankets, visit www.witneyblanketstory.org.uk

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