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The Blanket Hall

Situation
Number 100 High Street, Witney, just south of the town bridge.

History
Situated at Number 100, High Street, the Blanket Hall was home to the Witney Company of Blanket Weavers. It was erected at a cost of around 430 in 1721, following the formation of the Company (or guild) of weavers in 1711. For the first few years the members met at the Staple Hall Inn or other locations in Witney but decided that their own premises were necessary and so brought a house and orchard in the High Street from a part time weaver and inn keeper John Butler. This was then pulled down and the Blanket Hall erected, the members met there for the first time in December 1721 [1].

Queen Anne granted the Witney weavers a charter of incorporation, which gave them permission to form a company to regulate the products and business activities of the many small independent weavers in and around Witney for a twenty-mile radius. This type of measure had been in discussion for many decades before, when it had been realised that by imposing standards and rules in cloth production the reputation of local goods and therefore the livelihoods of the local producers would be protected. An oil painting of Queen Anne painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller was hung up in the principal room of the building for many years and their accounts show that a sum was set aside regularly 'for cleaning and varnishing Queen Anne'. This painting is now in the collections of Oxfordshire Museums Service.

The Blanket Hall's chief purpose was to be a central meeting place of the company and somewhere that locally made blankets could be weighed, measured, inspected and marked. The large room upstairs, known as 'The Great Room', was where the main business of the company was debated and in addition to this there was a kitchen, cellar and outbuildings.

The Blanket Hall clock with the arms of the Witney Company of Blanket Weavers and the inscribed keystone below it.
The Blanket Hall clock with the arms of the Witney Company of Blanket Weavers and the inscribed keystone below it.
It was built in the Baroque style and has a panel on the outside bearing the inscription 'Robert Collier Master 1721' and the arms of the Witney Company of Blanket Weavers [2]. A public clock hangs on the outside of the building which was paid for by the company in 1722. This was at first was only a striking clock with a bell under a cover on the roof (this is still in place) but had no clock face: later a face with a single hand was added to the front of the building [3].

William Smith (1815-1875), the founder of Smith's blanket company, at one time lived in the Blanket Hall using the attics to store potatoes and later ran a brewery from the cellar of the building [4].

The Blanket Weavers Company came to an end in 1847 and since then the Blanket Hall has had many business uses; more recently it has become a private house. The internal structure has been subject to many alterations and only the external walls and a floor survive of the original building [5].

Clare Sumner