Witney Blanket Making
Date: 21st July 2014
Speaker: Keith Crawford
The meeting took place at the Clifton Centre, Ashdene Road, Bicester and was attended by 43 members and 3 visitors.
Our speaker, Keith Crawford, is a member of the Early family of Witney blanket-makers, established in the town since 1669.
Witney was an ideal location for blanket-making as the town had a tradition of weaving broadcloth; Cotswold wool was readily available and properties included rear premises where hand looms could be located.
Keith spoke about the processes involved in blanket making, which include blending the wools; carding; spinning; weaving; washing; fulling; and raising. These processes were not mechanised until the beginning of the 19th century.
The famous Point blanket was made under contract for the Hudson Bay Company from the 17th century. Point blankets were so called because they had several short lines known as 'points' sewn or woven into one edge near a corner; the number of points on a blanket was intended to indicate its size and therefore its value.
At the beginning of the 18th century some poor quality blankets were being produced. In 1711 blanket-makers petitioned Queen Anne for a charter to control trade and quality. The Witney Blanket Weavers’ Company built the Blanket Hall in 1721, which still stands in the High Street. Here blankets were weighed and checked and meetings held.
The Early family celebrated its three hundred year association with blanket making in Witney in 1969, which started when Thomas Early (1655-1733) was apprenticed in 1669. This continued until the duvet became dominant in the 1960s/1970s and the last mill closed in 2002. During this long period the Early family were prominent in the town, building the Methodist Church in 1830 and being involved with the coming of the railway in 1861.
The Blanket Hall was given to the Bartlett Taylor Charitable Trust for the establishment of a blanket heritage centre.