Not just blankets!
Witney was well known for its wool products from at least the early Middle Ages, and by the 17th century it was famed for its blankets. Down the years the different blanket makers and companies were often involved in other trades and the making of things other than blankets through necessity, enterprise or tradition. Here are some examples:
A well-known Witney product was wednal (sometimes called
wadmill, wadnal or wadmal), a rough wool cloth used mainly to
line the collars and saddles of working horses. Known also as
horse collar check, this was still being woven on a handloom by
Sydney Taylor in the late 1950s (an employee of Early's, working
at the 55-56 West End premises).
The underside of a leather horse collar showing the collar check
- Before the 17th century Witney's main trade was undyed woollen
broadcloth and although some of this was made into blankets it
was also used for making water-resistant clothing such as coats.
In 1814 the blanket maker Edward Early received this order from
'Mr Early, I want a warm great coat very much and I should like
one of a light warm Witney Blanketting and a light brown colour;
the last I had was so heavy I could not wear it. I should like
to know the width and price. If you will execute this commission
I will send you a brace of Hares.' 
A trade in tilts or tiltings, which were coarse woollen covers
for waggons and canal barges, also developed in Witney. The oil
that was added to the wool to assist spinning and weaving was
left in the fabric rather than being washed out, giving it water
resistant qualities. Tilts were still being made in the 20th
century for use as horse covers and as anti-spark safety floor
coverings in explosive factories and the magazines of Royal Navy
Edward Early and Sons' advert listing tilts, horse collar check
and mop yarn.
Mop heads were an important product for several Witney blanket
makers, perhaps because it allowed them to use up scraps of yarn
that would otherwise have been wasted. Both Edward Early and
William Smith specialised in producing mop heads using
hand-wound wooden machines known as 'doublers' during the 19th
and early 20th centuries. Mop making was in fact William Smith's
first self-employed venture into the wool trade in about 1850,
and he became known as 'the great mop maker of Bridge Street'.
He had earlier improved the equipment, increasing output, and
soon won a Government order for 125,000 mops (mainly for the
navy), said to be the largest contract available at the time.
Charles Early and Co. carried on making mops by hand in the
traditional way at West End, Witney until as late as 1960.
The two Misses Busby photographed at the closing of the
mop-making department of Edward Early's factory at 55-56 West
End in 1960.
- Before the days of factories it was common for wool spinners,
carders and others connected with the weaving trade to take on
farm work at harvest and other busy times. It seems that around
Witney, though, the weavers themselves rarely got involved with
agricultural work as they appear to have been quite highly paid
compared to other textile workers in England . As the demand
for woollen cloth fluctuated many people found it wise to have
two or more occupations, such as the 17th century Witney
innkeepers who also had looms, wool and yarn listed among their
- It was not unusual for people plying a trade in the weaving
industry to have a second wool-related occupation, such as
clothiers who also owned fulling mills, and dyers who were also
sheep farmers. In 1692 the wealthy blanket-maker Joseph Selman
owned a sheep-shearing shop, weaving shop, dye shop and wool
house, as well as tenter racks for drying cloth at New Mill, so
he would have been involved with most stages of production. In
the 18th and 19th centuries the blanket making family of
Marriott were also cloth dyers (and later they entered the coal
By the 1890s Early's owned a few Jacquard looms at their Witney
Mill plant and were making elaborately patterned rugs destined
for South Africa and South America . Some of the pattern
designs for the Jacquard mechanism still survive.
A rug pattern from Early's, used to create the punched cards
that controlled the Jacquard looms.
- Pritchett and Webley inherited a bicycle frame brazing business
with their lease for Worsham Mill in the 1890s! They were to set
up business there making blankets, mops and tilts (a venture
that was unfortunately to last less than 20 years), as well as
In the mid-1960s Early's imported Fiberweaving technology from
America, which was a new method of making cloth from man-made
fibres and wool. As well as increasing the output of blankets
these versatile machines enabled the development of a diverse
range of other products, including corn plasters, carpet tiles,
linings for slippers and sanitary products, capillary matting
and fire-retardant blankets, all of which helped Early's stay in
business when blanket making declined.
A 'Warlord' brand Fiberwoven carpet tile made by Early's, 1970s.