Witney is a town on the River Windrush, 12 miles (19 km) west of Oxford in Oxfordshire, England. Minster Lovell Hall and Dovecote is 4 miles to the north-west by road and North Leigh Roman Villa is 5 miles to the north-east by road. Both are in the care of English Heritage.
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’.
The Church of England parish church of St Mary the Virgin was originally Norman. The north porch and north aisle were added in this style late in the 12th century, and survived a major rebuilding in about 1243. In this rebuilding the present chancel, transepts, tower and spire were added and the nave was remodelled, all in the Early English style. In the 14th century a number of side chapels and some of the present windows were added in the Decorated style. In the 15th century the south transept was extended and the present west window of the nave were added in the Perpendicular style. The tower has a peal of eight bells.
Holy Trinity parish church in Wood Green was built in 1849 in the Early English style. Both St. Mary the Virgin and Holy Trinity are now members of a single team parish.
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 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.
Witney has long been an important crossing over the River Windrush. The architect Thomas Wyatt rebuilt the bridge in Bridge Street in 1822.
The Friends Meeting House in Wood Green was built in the 18th century. Since 1997 Quakers in Witney have met at the corn exchange. The Methodist church in High Street was built in 1850.It is now one of five Methodist churches and chapels in Witney. The Roman Catholic parish of Our Lady and Saint Hugh was founded in 1913. It originally used a chapel in West End built in 1881 but now has its own modern building. The old chapel in West End is now Elim Christian Fellowship.
West End, part of the road to Hailey, is one of Britain’s best-preserved streetsand inspired the song Just an Old Fashioned House in an Old Fashioned Street. Although it is called West End, it is actually on the northern side of the town and gets its name from when it was not actually in Witney parish but at the west end of the adjacent Hailey parish.
Witney Workhouse was on Razor Hill (now Tower Hill). It was built in 1835–36 by the architect George Wilkinson. It had four wings radiating from an octagonal central building, similar to Chipping Norton workhouse, which also was built by Wilkinson. His younger brother William Wilkinson added a separate chapel to Witney Workhouse in 1860. During the First World War the workhouse contained prisoners of war. In 1940 it became Crawford Collets engineering factory and the chapel became the factory canteen. In 1979 Crawford Collets demolished the main buildings and replaced them with a modern factory but preserved the entrance gate and former chapel. In 2004 the modern factory was demolished for redevelopment. The gate and chapel have again been preserved but the chapel is in a poor state of repair.
Witney has been famous for its woollen blankets since the Middle Ages. The water for the production of these blankets is drawn from the River Windrush, which was believed to be the secret of Witney’s high quality blankets. The Blanket Hall in High Street was built in 1721 for weighing and measuring blankets. At one time there were five blanket factories in the town but with the closure of the largest blanket maker, in 2002, Early’s, 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. Witney United FC retains its nickname “The Blanketmen” from the town’s traditional trade.
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 Refresh UK’s Wychwood Brewery has brewed real ales in the Eagle Maltings. In 2002 Refresh UK contracted to produce ales for W.H. Brakspear, who had sold their former brewery in Henley-upon-Thames for redevelopment. Refresh UK also brews ale for the Prince of Wales’ Duchy Originals company.
The Witney Railway opened in 1861, linking the town to Yarnton where the line joined the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway. In 1873 the East Gloucestershire Railway opened linking Witney with Lechlade and Fairford. The Great Western Railway operated services on both lines and eventually took them over. In 1962 British Railways closed the EGR completely and withdrew passenger trains from the Witney Railway. In 1970 BR closed the Witney Railway completely and it was dismantled.
Witney has two museums. Cogges Manor Farm Museum, in the 13th-century manor houseand farm of Cogges, represents farming and countryside history. The Witney and District Museum has many artefacts and documents representing the history of the town.
In July 2007 Witney saw its worst flooding in more than 50 years. Homes and businesses were evacuated and Bridge Street, a major road into the town and the only road across the Windrush, was closed. About 200 properties in central Witney were flooded, with areas around Bridge Street, Mill Street and West End the worst affected. The new and incomplete housing development Aquarius also suffered substantial flooding.
In 2008 further flooding contributed to the death of a 17-year-old youth who drowned in a culvert.