Why are blankets no longer made in Witney?
Early's, the last blanket mill in Witney, sadly closed down in 2002 so at present the town, after several hundred years of being famous for its blankets, can no longer claim to have a blanket industry. There are still some shops that supply traditional blankets and there is also a great deal of local pride, knowledge and interest in what used to be the town's major activity.
The chimney of Walker's Crofts Mill being demolished.
Today, though, there are generations growing up in the area who will never have heard of Witney blankets. They know Witney as a rapidly growing, bustling market town which hosts a wide variety of business and light industries. Here are some of the reasons why blanket making is no longer among them.
The rise and rise of the duvet, which has never gone out of
fashion since it first became popular in Britain in the 1960s
and 1970s. Blankets for bedding were simply no longer
fashionable and demand began to decline. They did come into
vogue at various times as decorative throws for furniture and
beds, but the market for these was of a different kind and of
less volume than the traditional blanket trade - it only takes
one blanket to use as a throw but several would have been needed
to make a warm bed.
Early's advertising sign from the 1920s for all-wool Witney
- Along with the duvet, central heating was also a factor; there
was no longer the need for layers of blankets at night for
warmth when it was possible to have constant background heating.
The idea of centrally heating our homes has been around for
centuries in one form or another but it was not until the 1980s
that the majority of people in Britain had gas, oil or electric
central heating in their houses.
- Witney had increasingly to compete with the cheaper labour costs
of overseas blanket manufacturers and the opening out of world
markets. It also faced competition from the larger suppliers of
domestic blankets in the north of England. The 1970s and early
1980s were also a time of national recession in Britain which
contributed to the downward spiral of the industry.
The value of land in Witney, on which the different blanket
firms' factories stood, began to rise from the 1980s because of
its redevelopment potential for housing. The need for new houses
was growing but the blanket trade was in a general decline so
there was a lot of pressure on the blanket manufacturers to
realise their property assets. The making of blankets requires a
large physical space so the firms were land-rich in areas of the
town close to the centre - ideal for house building. As well as
providing land for newly built homes, the idea of living in
converted industrial buildings had also become fashionable and
some of the surviving mill buildings now contain many homes and
Construction of new housing on the site of the 1960s warehouse
at Witney Mill.
Download audio file
Keith Crawford, former worker and manager at Early and Marriott
Ltd, presents some of the reasons why blankets are no longer
made in Witney (86Kb).