Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Cotswolds - Witney

ST Mary's church in the Cotswold market town of Witney by Martyn Ferry Photography

The Market town of Witney is on the River Windrush, 10 miles from Oxford. Witney is famous for the manufacture of blankets, gloves, and other woollen goods. Witney was selected by The Sunday Times newspaper (2014) as one of the best places to live in Britain. The place-name Witney is first attested in a Saxon charter of 969 as Wyttannige; it appears as Witenie in the Domesday Book of 1086. The name means Witta's island.

Witney town hall on the Market Square by Martyn Ferry Photography
The town hall is 18th-century. A local legend holds that it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, but there
is little evidence to support this claim.

In 1044 Queen Emma granted the Bishops of Winchester an estate in Witney and the ownership of the estate is confirmed in the Doomesday Book. A palace was built next to the parish church, the foundations of which were excavated in 1984. One of the streets in Witney, Queen Emmas Dyke, probably relates in some way to this granting of the estate by Queen Emma.

Shopping street in the Oxfordshire town of Witney in the Cotswolds by Martyn Ferry Photography
One of the small side streets containing independent shops that branch off from the main High Street.

Witney has been famous for its woollen blankets since the Middle Ages, and was known across the world for blanket making, especially in North America where the Witney Point Blankets were traded with the American Indians in exchange for furs. The water for the production of these blankets was drawn from the River Windrush, which was believed to be the secret of Witney's high quality blankets.

Old mill buildings now serve as residential apartments in Witney by Martyn Ferry Photography
Part of the Witney Mill complex which made up one of the Medieval cloth fulling mills. They are now 
residential apartments.

At one time there were five blanket factories in the town but with the closure in 2002 of the largest and best known blanket maker, Early's, who had been in business for over 300 years, the town's blanket industry completely ceased production. Early's factory, once a vital and important part of the town's history, has now been demolished, and is the site of several new housing estates.

Waterfood Mill chimney in the Oxfordshire town of Witney by Martyn Ferry Photography
The only remaining chimney from Waterford Mill, one of the oldest sites 
associated with woollen manufacture in Witney.

Standing at one end of Church Green, the imposing 156ft spire and impressive size of St Mary’s church, one of the largest in West Oxfordshire, reflects the wealth and importance of Witney in the Middle Ages. It is likely that the Bishops of Winchester were responsible for the founding of the current church some time between 1070 and 1100, though a Saxon church may have stood on the site before this. However the present building is mostly 13th century and was dedicated in 1243.

St Mary's church in the Oxfordshire town of Witney by Martyn Ferry Photography
St Mary's church

The church incorporates the mortuary chapel of the Wenman family: brasses show Richard Wenman in a fur trimmed gown, a purse hanging from his belt, his two wives standing either side of him. Richard Wenman was a wealthy wool merchant, so wealthy that in 1524 he paid 80% of all the tax due in Witney!

St Mary's church interior at Witney by Martyn Ferry Photography
The interior of the 13th century church.

Stained glass window St Mary's church in the Oxfordshire town of Witney by Martyn Ferry Photography
The impressive stained glass window at one end of the building.

Witney Market began in the Middle Ages. Thursday is the traditional market day but there is also a market on Saturday. The buttercross in the market square is so called because people from neighbouring towns would gather there to buy butter and eggs. It was built in about 1600 and its clock was added in 1683.

The Butter Cross at Witney market in Oxfordshire  by Martyn Ferry Photography
The Butter Cross.

Witney Market square in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds  by Martyn Ferry Photography
The Market Square, minus the market of course.

A long attractive high street runs from the Butter Cross and features the 18th century town hall, the Blanket Hall and the Victorian Corn Exchange. The town is the main retail centre in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds and has a bustling atmosphere with an unusually large range of independent specialist shops.

Huffkins bakery on the Witney High Street by Martyn Ferry Photography
Huffkins Bakery has been in the Cotswolds since the 1800's.

Witney High Street with its independent shops by Martyn Ferry Photography
A view along the top end of the High Street.

Marriotts Walk shopping centre in Witney Oxfordshire by Martyn Ferry Photography
Marriotts Walk shopping centre was built on a site bequeathed to the town by the blanket making 
family, Marriott.

For many years Witney had its own brewery and maltings: J.W. Clinch and Co, which founded the Eagle Maltings in 1841. Courage took over Clinch's and closed it down, but since 1983 Wychwood Brewery has brewed real ales in the Eagle Maltings.

The Angel pub on the church green in Witney Oxfordshire by Martyn Ferry Photography
The 17th century Angel Inn, located just around the corner from the Wychwood Brewery.

Cogges is an area beside the River Windrush just outside Witney, it had previously been a separate village, although it is now part of the town. The former village centres upon three historic buildings: the Church of England parish church of Saint Mary, the former Vicarage and Cogges Manor Farm. There was also formerly an 11th-century fortified manor house. Two moats survive south of the parish church. One was called Castle Yard, and excavation within the curtilage of the other has revealed massive 12th century foundations.

Cogges Mill pathway at Witney Oxfordshire by Martyn Ferry Photography
Just 5 minutes walk across open countryside leads to Cogges.

The church has an unusual tower, positioned in the north west corner of the church it is square at ground stage, octagonal at upper stages with a pyramid roof, and is characteristic of Normandy churches. The nave was originally aisleless and may be preConquest. 

Cogges church near Witney in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds by Martyn Ferry Photography
The parish church of St Mary.

And there we have a brief tour of Witney, the largest of the Market Towns in West Oxfordshire, that still retains, in parts, a very Cotswoldian feel to it.

You can see more images from the beautiful Cotswolds countryside on my website.

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