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Witney in 1840

Witney is in the hundred of Bampton, on the banks of the Windrush, chiefly on the western bank, 11 miles from Oxford. The area of that part of the parish in which the town stands is 440 acres ; the population in 1831 was 3,190, scarcely any part agricultural; there are beside this, the four hamlets of Crawley, Curbridge, Hailey, and Lew, with an aggregate area of 7,010 acres, and a population of 2,146, more than half agricultural : giving for the whole parish 7,450 acres and 5,336 inhabitants. Witney was a place of some consequence at an early period. It sent members to parliament in the time of Edward II, but discontinued doing so in the following reign. The manufacture of blankets was early established here, and Dr. Plot says that in his time 3,000 persons were engaged in the weaving business, from children of eight years to decrepit old people. In the latter part of the last century, the manufacture declined greatly. The introduction of machinery has again extended it ; and in 1831 it employed about 200 adult males in the town and 70 in the adjacent hamlets, besides females and children. The town is in a pleasant situation, and consists of two principal streets. The houses are generally of respectable appearance, and many of them spacious and handsome. Few towns containing so many inhabitants, especially with a large proportion of them engaged in manufacture, retain so quiet and rural an appearance. There are in the High Street a ‘staple or blanket hall,’ a handsome building, erected A.D. 1721 ; a town-hall, built of stone, with a piazza underneath for a market-house ; and a market-cross, built A D. 1683, and repaired A.D. 1811. The house for the free-school, comprehending a spacious school-room, a room annexed for the library, and the master’s apartments, is a respectable building. ‘The church is a large and handsome cross church, with a tower and a lofty spire at the intersection ; the nave has aisles and a clerestory ; the transepts are large, and the chancel small. The tower and chancel are early English, and the north transept decorated with a fine window of seven lights ; the clerestory and some other parts are perpendicular.’ (Rickman.) There are several dissenting meeting-houses. The manufacture of rough coatings, of tilts for barges, of felt for paper-makers, and of gloves, is carried on to a small extent ; wool-stapling is extensively carried on, and there is a considerable malt-trade. The Witney blankets are of superior texture and good colour. The market is on Thursday, and there are several yearly fairs.

The living is a rectory, of the clear yearly value of £1,290, in the gift of the bishop of Winchester. There were in the town of Witney, in 1833, one dame-school, with 15 children ; the free grammar-school, with 16 boys ; an endowed charity school, with 15 boys and 25 girls ; two national schools, with 110 boys and 70 girls ; five other day or boarding schools, with 47 boys and 97 girls ; and two Sunday-schools, with 306 boys and 329 girls. The national schools were attended by 70 boys and 50 girls on Sundays.