Newsletter 3 – Feb 2014

Witney Museum & Historical Society

Dates for Your Diary
Our programme for 2014 continues with the following talks, all held in the Wesley Room of the High Street Methodist Church at 7.30 pm.
All members and visitors welcome.

Tuesday 18th February
“The Dating of King Arthur’s Round Table”
by Ian Gourlay

Tuesday 18th March
“Oxfordshire Light Infantry in New Zealand – Local Connections

by Stanley C Jenkins

Tuesday 15th April
“Tales of Wychwood Forest

by Christine Bloxham

Tuesday 15th May
“Odder Oxford

by Brian Lowe



Join the Conversation
The subject:
What impact can a local authority’s support for culture have on its community?

In times of continued austerity, there is a temptation for local authorities to cut cultural, museum and arts funding from their budget as has been the case in so many towns and villages. But in doing so local authorities fail to recognise the economic and social values of the arts.
A strong cultural presence makes residents proud of where they are from or where they now live. It can transform a community and regenerate an area. The arts have a progressive impact on people’s wellbeing through community empowerment and social cohesion.

It is for these reasons that the Witney Museum & Historical Society press on regardless in the hope that their participation in our Town’s cultural heritage is not lost and to create something that is useful in terms of education, regeneration and to foster a dynamic community spirit.

What are your thoughts on this?
Join the conversation! Contact us
Eleonore Bruyere


Other Museums
As promised in the last Newsletter below is my piece on the Weald & Downland Museum which I visited in June last year. Please don’t forget that if you visit another museum in your travels I would very much appreciate a short article on your views of that museum. It could very well be that there are specific things about your visit that impressed you that we could take on board for our museum!


Weald & Downland Open Air Museum
The Weald & Downland Open Air Museum is situated in the beautiful West Sussex countryside at Singleton, near Chichester. It was founded in 1967 by the late Dr J R Armstrong, MBE who, with a small group of enthusiasts, set about saving some of the vernacular buildings which were fast disappearing from the weald and downland of Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire.

The Museum covers a 50 acre site and now has some 50 buildings all carefully dismantled from their original sites all over the Weald and rebuilt at the Museum.

Market Hall, Medieval Shop & House

Market Hall, Medieval Shop & House

These vary from houses and cottages to farm buildings, public buildings and workshops to a church! – covering something like 600 years of the built environment. Some of the houses and cottages are furnished as they would have been when built to enable you to see how their owners would have lived and worked. So we have examples of most of the crafts and their workshops that would have existed in the weald and downlands such as a blacksmith, a brick works, the lead workers, the carpenters, saw mills, joiners, charcoal burners and a watermill. All of which contribute to a fascinating insight into the trades that went on in most areas of rural Britain.

As well as the buildings the Museum has a collection of wheeled vehicles ranging from a timber bob (used to haul logs), various regional style wagons, water cart, broadcast sowing machine to cattle transporter. This display is housed in one of the open air galleries and the items displayed are rotated drawing on the Museum’s large collection of vehicles and implements.


Horse Tack in the Museum’s Store of Tools & Artefacts

There is also a modern building, called the gridshell, completed in 2002 which houses a workshop and layout space for conservation work and training on the upper deck and in the basement a store for the Museum’s extensive collection of tools and artefacts.

Guided tours are available to these areas and when I visited there was a demonstration by a number of wood carvers on the upper deck. The building itself is fascinating as it is constructed of a cross hatch of 120ft long oak lathes that were bolted together using special brackets.

The Gridshell Building - interior of the upper deck

The Gridshell Building – interior of the upper deck

The whole thing was assembled horizontally on top of a huge scaffolding platform and when the frame was finished the sides were lowered using a large number of hydraulic jacks over a period of weeks until the edges reached ground level!

The construction can be viewed on the Museum’s website at as can the opening times and admission prices. I can thoroughly recommend a visit if you are in the area.


Following on from the picture quiz in our last Newsletter a number of members expressed a wish for further quizzes.

The answer to the last quiz was that Mary Smith was employed with her peashooter in the East End of London as a “knocker-upper”, which is someone who woke up the workers before the general availability of alarm clocks! She would shoot peas at the bedroom windows of her clients to get them up for work.

This edition’s quiz is a basic British history quiz which I suspect will be too easy for most of you!

  1. Who currently holds the record for the longest–reigning monarch?
  2. Who currently holds the record for the shortest-reigning monarch?
  3. Which former Archbishop of Canterbury was burnt to death in Oxford in 1556?
  4. Who was the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated?
  5. Who holds the record for the longest serving British Prime
  6. Minister of the 20th Century?
  7. Who holds the record for the longest serving British Prime Minister in history?
  8. Which British mathematician was instrumental in breaking the German Enigma cipher?
  9. Who was the suffragette who threw herself under the King’s horse at the 1913 Derby?
  10. Who commanded the New Model Army during the English Civil War?
  11. What were the names of the Princes in the Tower?



Then and Now
The open space known as Marriott’s Close, which was situated immediately to the west of the High Street, was given to Witney Town Football Club by the Marriott family, who envisaged that the field would provide recreational facilities for the townsfolk in perpetuity.


However, Marriott’s Close was later acquired for re-development by West Oxfordshire District Council, and little “open space” now remains. The upper picture purports to show a football game in progress at Marriott’s Close, while the lower picture shows the modern development that now occupies the site (and indeed the plots of land on either side of Marriott’s Close).


The football photograph certainly looks like Marriott’s Close, but the buildings in the background do not seem to “fit” in relation to the local topography. Moreover, one wonders if coaches could have entered the site as it existed in the 1950s, as the vehicular entrance was by means of a narrow gateway entered from Marriott’s Yard – although having said that, coal lorries were able to enter Marriott’s Close to reach the stock-piles of coal that used to be piled-up along one side of the site.


Museum Opening for the 2014 Season
The Museum will be opening its doors earlier this year as we have agreed to take part in the Oxfordshire Science Festival which runs from Friday 7th March to Sunday 23rd March. Our event is entitled “The Theory of Flight” and will be included within the 1914-2014 Anniversary Commemoration Exhibition “Witney and War”.

This special exhibition for the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1 will run for the whole of this coming season and will include some specific displays such as Crawley at War. There will also be other events; Stanley Jenkins has a new book coming out entitled “Oxfordshire at War through Time” a record charting 2000 years of history relating to Witney and Oxfordshire.

If you have any World War 1 souvenirs and would be willing to loan them to the Museum for the exhibition we would be extremely grateful. We are also interested in any family stories relating to the First World War which would help to put some flesh on the bones of how the war affected Witney.

Your Help Needed!
We will be having our usual “spring clean” of the Museum prior to opening so if you are able to spare an hour or so to help with this task the Committee would be very grateful. If you can offer your services please get in touch with Roger Hollier, the Committee Member who will be co-ordinating the preparation of the Museum for opening, on 01993 772604 or email



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 13th January 2014
Editor: Malcolm D Osmundson