1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Witney

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WITNEY, a market town in the Woodstock parliamentary division of Oxfordshire, England, on the river Windrush, a tributary of the Thames, 75½ m. W.N.W. of London on the East Gloucestershire branch of the Great Western railway. Pop. of urban district (1901) 3574. The urban district was extended in 1898 to include portions of the scattered villages of Hailey and Curbridge. Witney is the seat of an old-established industry in blanket-making, and gloves and other woollen goods are also made. The broad main street contains several picturesque houses of the 17th century and later, and in it stands the Butter Cross, supported on columns and dating from 1683. The grammar school was founded in 1683, and a Blue Coat School in 1723. The great church of St Mary is one of the finest in the county. It is cruciform with a lofty central tower and spire, the latter considered to be a direct development of the early spire of the cathedral at Oxford. The tower is Early English, but the church exhibits the other styles, including a remarkable Norman porch. At Coggs, in the water-meadows bordering the river immediately below Witney, a priory was attached to the Benedictine Priory of Fécamp, and of this there are Early English remains in the vicarage, while the church is mainly Decorated. The foundation, however, dates from the 11th century.

The manor of Witney (Wyttineye, Wytnay, Wytney) was held by the see of Winchester before the Conquest. It was sold in 1649, but was given back to the bishopric at the Restoration. In the middle of the 18th century it was leased by the bishop of Winchester to the duke of Marlborough. Witney was a borough by prescription at least as early as 1278, and sent representatives to parliament with more or less regularity from 1304 to 1330. The government was by the steward and bailiffs of the bishop of Winchester, assisted by constables, wardmen and other officers. A woollen industry was probably established at an early date, for there is reference to a fulling mill in a charter of King Edgar dated 909. In 1641 the blanket-makers petitioned the crown against vexatious trade regulations; in 1673 the town is described as “driving a good trade for blankets and rugs.” In 1711 the blanket-makers obtained a charter making them into a company, consisting of a master, assistants, two wardens and a commonalty. In 1231 the bishop of Winchester received a grant of a five days' fair at Witney at the feast of St Leonard. In 1278 the bishop was declared to have at Witney a weekly market on Thursday and two fairs on the day of Ascension and on St Leonard's day. A further grant of two yearly fairs was made in 1414 to the bishop of Winchester at his manor of Witney, namely, on the vigil and day of St Clement the Pope, and at the feast of St Barnabas.

See J. A. Giles, History of Witney (London, 1852); Victoria County History, Oxon; W. J. Monk, History of Witney (1894).