Witney Blanket Project website logo Witney Blanket Project website logo

Pritchett and Webley

Dates of operation: 1896

Origins and history
William Pritchett and William Webley, who entered into a business partnership together around 1885, were both from successful glove-making families originally based at Woodstock a few miles away: Pritchett's father was employing several hundred people in gloving by the mid-1850s. Webley seems to have been largely responsible for constructing a glove factory in Newland, Witney shortly after the partnership began. This was a mechanised, steam-powered factory which specialised in officers' dress-gloves and waterproof driving gloves among other goods [1].

For reasons unknown Pritchett and Webley went into the blanket making business in 1896, acquiring Worsham Mill from Henry Early. The Newland building, although primarily a glove factory, is however shown on the 1899 Ordnance Survey map as a 'Glove and Blanket Factory' [2], so it is just possible that the partners had an interest in blankets before they acquired Worsham Mill.

The blanket side of the business does not seem to have been very successful: it ceased trading shortly before the First World War when Worsham Mill was acquired by George Howitt, the son of a local farmer (although gloving was carried on at Witney for some years afterwards). He had married the daughter of Edward Cadbury, the chocolate manufacturer, in 1903. Cadbury's wedding present to the couple was a substantial financial interest in Worsham Mill [3], which implies that Pritchett and Webley were in need of financial assistance for some time before they ceased trading.

Products and operations
The company made blankets, horse collar check, tilts and mops and also had a business brazing together bicycle parts. This latter, rather surprising, sideline had evidently been going at Worsham since before 1896 as the document giving Pritchett and Webley the rights to the mill stated that along with the mill went 'the goodwill of the business of woollen and cycle manufacture' [4, 5].

Worsham Mill, which was built as a three-storied spinning mill, stands four miles to the west of Witney. It was for many years in the hands of members of the Early family but in the 1890s was either sold or leased to Pritchett and Webley. They made several important changes to the mill while they were in occupation, putting in a gas engine and water turbine and erecting a new building block in 1902 [6].

The Newland glove factory, which seems also to have made blankets, stood just to the east of Early's Newland Warehouse.