Newsletter 1 – Sept 2013

Witney Museum & Historical Society

Welcome  to the first edition of the Newsletter for our new society, Witney Museum & Historical Society!

We hope to be able to provide you with interesting articles and regular features such as our Witney Then & Now series plus up-to-date information on events, talks, exhibitions and walks.

Your involvement in making this Newsletter successful is very important so if you have an article on a local history topic or would like to see particular features in your Newsletter do please get in touch, your input would be very much appreciated. Also if you have suggestions regarding speakers that the Society might invite to talk to us they would be very welcome indeed.

Messages from our Chairmen

I have only been involved with the former WH&AS a relatively short time, compared to many of you. Characters come and go, stories evolve and legends are created about them! Just as many of the topics we enjoy listening to at our monthly talks.

The origins and links between our two groups has its own history. Many individuals (too many to name) should be given sufficient credit for forming both and especially the development of the museum.

The journey, like history itself has not always been a smooth one but never the less we are still running. Hopefully with the merger a more stable and productive future will evolve.

However, as before this will still require input from keen and loyal members. So please continue to recruit your friends and others interested in the fascinating history of our unique “blanket town” of Witney.

So meanwhile as they say watch this space, new joint talks, objects to view and developments in the town such as the Blanket Hall to follow.

I wish the merger a long and happy future.
Ian Gourlay


Our Editor has asked me to say a few words on the subject of our amalgamation.  “Better Together” is the phrase that springs to mind, one we will be hearing more of in the next few months for sure.  In truth we have been together for many years, to some degree, with many of our supporters being active in both groups.

We are particularly lucky to have a very capable team of officers on our committee whose expertise will smooth the transition of the newly named society.  I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of all our stewards and volunteers without whom we would have no ‘open’ museum.  We rely entirely on the good will, help and enthusiasm of this group as we do also rely on the generous financial support of our members, donors, sponsors and those leaving us a legacy.

This season the Museum has attended a number of outside shows, fetes and functions as promotional flag waving events.  A kind member brought his vintage car as an attraction to our stand at the Witney Carnival with great success.  This all helps to raise our profile, gain members and volunteers.

Ian Gourlay has alluded to the new venture taking over the Blanket Hall.  This we understand to be a ‘Heritage Business’ in other words a commercial organisation with heritage links.  We share our landlord with this new venture and hope to work together in the future.

Communication, co-ordination and co-operation are key to our wellbeing and one of the main advantages of the Museum-History links is that of the History website.  We hope to make more of this with our professional webmaster to promote our activities.  Do support the talks held at the Methodist Hall; they are always particularly interesting.  I found the talk by Chris Butterfield of the BusMuseum notable last week.  An item of note in his talk was the number of soldiers buying surplus army trucks after the war, using them as coal lorries during the week and char-a-bancs at the weekend by changing over the bodies!

On the subject of WW1, 2014 being the anniversary of the start of the war, this will be the theme of museums up and down the country.  We will be looking at this for part of our gallery exhibition for next year but with a ‘local’ element, so let us have any stories or artefacts and ideas please.  I look forward to seeing you at our talks.  Thanks for your help and support.
Ian Petty



With effect from this weekend, 29th Sept, we have an exhibition by the Witney Film Project to coincide with Witney Film Week. This is the fifth year the Film Festival has been running and takes place between Monday 21st Oct and Friday 25th Oct. They will be showing a mix of short and full length films by both amateur and professional independent film makers in 5 different venues, for further information see their website

For those members of the Historical Society who may not be familiar with the Museum layout our exhibitions are held in the Bartlett-Taylor Gallery on the first floor of the Museum.


Society Membership

For those of you who have already joined many thanks, but for those who haven’t as yet got around to it I have attached a membership form and also a gift aid form. If you are a tax payer and are willing to sign a gift aid declaration this, as I’m sure you know, will enable our Society to claim 20% of your subscription/donation at no extra cost to yourselves. Could I also make a plea that when you return your membership form you include your email address please, this is a tremendous help to your Committee to keep in touch with you and, if you are agreeable, it enables me to send the Newsletter out making a considerable saving on printing, stationery and postage costs.

The benefits of membership are free entry to the Museum, free attendance at the Society’s talks, this bimonthly Newsletter and the occasional guided walks around Witney. If the Newsletter reaches you in time there is a walk lead by Stanley Jenkins around the boundary of the Bishop of Winchester’s deer park. It starts at 10.30 am on Sunday 29th Sept from the Rowing Machine pub Fettiplace Road. As a bye the bye the name Fettiplace can apparently be traced back to a gentleman usher of William the Conqueror.


Committee Members

Your Committee currently consists of committee members from the two merging Societies and many of the names will be familiar to you but I thought it worthwhile to list everyone alphabetically. An opportunity will arise at our next AGM for new committee members to be nominated and for the roles of those elected to be defined. So current members are as follows:-

Eleonore de Bruyere-Perkins
Sheila Cuss
Tony Florey
Mike French
Ian Gourlay
Kate Hall
Roger Hollier
Stanley Jenkins
Chris Moxon
Malcolm Osmundson
Ian Petty
Mike Petty


Faces of Witney

Some of you may recall that in July the SOTA Gallery in Langdale Court, Witney, organised a community action project called Faces of Witney. Members of the public were invited to come along to the Gallery between 10.00 am and 4.00 pm to have their photographs taken by a professional photographer, David Willoughby. These were subsequently mounted in a montage of over 500 photos which is currently on display in the Gallery, if you participated do go along and try to find your photo!

The reason I mention it here is that the SOTA Gallery has very kindly offered to donate the montage to the Museum as a record of some of the people of Witney on that day in July 2013. It will be on display in the Museum from mid-October and copies will be available to purchase.


Then and Now

In common with other West Oxfordshire towns and villages, Witney is built predominantly of local stone, although many of its buildings are rendered with plaster and colour-washed, as seen in these two photographs of Bridge Street. The sepia view is an old postcard of circa-1920, while the colour photograph was taken in February 2013. Few changes have taken place in the intervening years – one obvious difference being the vast increase in the numbers of motor vehicles, which frequently cause traffic problems in this narrow street. Thanks to Stanley Jenkins for the photos and text.

Bridge Street in Witney circa 1920

Bridge Street in Witney circa 1920


Bridge Street, Witney February 2013

Other Museums

This series has sadly fallen by the wayside of late as it relies on members sending in reports of museums they have visited while on days out or holidays. Earlier in the year I spent a few days in the Bognor area and visited Bognor Regis Museum and the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum near Chichester. Both very enjoyable in their own way so I will start with the Bognor Regis Museum which is housed in an old public house, the Berkley Arms, in West Street, Bognor Regis where they have been since 2011.

Bognor Regis Museum

Bognor Regis Museum

A steward told me that the pub was given to the museum and grants were obtained to refurbish it and set up the museum which was previously in the High Street. It has two flats above the ground floor museum which are rented out and the income enables the museum to fund free entry and the maintenance of the property.

The museum is entirely run by volunteers of the Bognor Regis Local History Society and currently has in the region of 10,000 visitors a year!  The Museum has a good display of local history artefacts and a wide range of publications by members on specific streets and aspects of Bognor’s history.

The displays in the Museum have a “shop front” effect and include a chemist, a tobacconist, a cobblers and a radio & electrical engineers. Amongst other exhibits is the story of a Bathing Machine proprietor in the 1890s called Mary Wheatland whose great-great-granddaughter recently opened the Museum for the summer season. There is also an extensive collection of old radios donated by a former curator, Ron Simpson, housed in its own room. A nice little museum and well worth a visit should you be in the area.


This is another of our regular features and this entry appeared in our last Newsletter but I thought it might be of interest to ex-Historical Society members. The Museum has recently acquired about 100 images of the Smiths’ factory most of which are interior views. These haven’t been catalogued as yet but promise to add considerably to our archive on Smiths’, a site that hasn’t previously enjoyed much attention. There were three divisions of Smiths’ – vehicle heaters, precision fans and hydraulics – the latter two being slightly secretive (when open days took place they were not involved).
Stanley C. Jenkins


We are always in need of hardback books and paperback books in good condition to sell at our regular book sales. This is a good source of income for the Museum so if you were thinking of clearing out some books now is the time to do it! Drop them in at the Museum at any time, they are always most welcome.


Other Events

Over the last couple of months the Society has been represented at a number of outside events. Our first display was at the Witney Carnival on Saturday 13th July, a blazing hot day with large crowds enjoying the many attractions at this annual event. Two of our own members, Mary and Tony Perry, led the parade in their vintage Austin Seven after which Tony kindly allowed us to keep it in front of our stand for the rest of the afternoon which attracted a large number of people.

Our next outing was South Leigh Summer Fayre on the 28th July, not quite such a lovely day weather-wise as strong gusts of wind kept knocking our displays over! We didn’t manage to get to Ducklington Flower Show on the Bank Holiday Monday 26th August as originally intended but we did go to the Wychwood Forest Fair on Sunday 1st Sept. This is always a well-attended event and we had our usual place inside a marquee which protected us from the vagaries of the weather.

Our final outing of the year was at the Witney Feast and we had a fine display in St Mary’s Church which included a history of the origins of the Witney Feast.


We are always pleased to receive articles for the newsletter so please keep them coming in, preferably emailed to me as Word documents where possible. Also, if you have ideas about what you would like to see in the newsletter, do let me know and I will attempt to include them.

Items for inclusion in the next Newsletter should reach me by:

Monday 11th November 2013

Editor: Malcolm D Osmundson