The demolition crew dismantles the chimney of the Witney roofing factory


We not only swept the chimneys, we sometimes demolished them.

Our chimney sweep stories (Memory Lane, February 7 and March 21) reminded a reader of the dramatic end of a landmark in Witney.

The 100ft tall chimney of Walkers blanket factory in The Crofts was reduced to a pile of rubble by the expert demolition team seen here in 1983.

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The Oxford Mail reported: “After just over an hour of hacking the chimney like lumberjacks, they heard a faint rumble and then the structure toppled over, landing right on the target.”

Demolition contractor John Barney, of Sidney Street, Oxford, said: ‘We have achieved the goal, although it has been a long time in coming.

The chimney accident was the culmination of a seven-week demolition job at the old blanket factory, which had closed three years earlier.

Fifty houses were to be built there.

Among the crowd of tourists who showed up with their cameras to view the demolition was 69-year-old Ivy Claridge.

She said: “I saw the fireplace when it was first installed in 1933 and worked on it for six years.”

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No explosives were used for fear of breaking the windows of neighboring houses.

The workers drilled a hole in the base of the chimney with sledgehammers and pickaxes.

Then, as Mr. Barney said, “you keep hitting until a crack appears, then you run.”

Witney became well known for producing wool for blankets and other essentials over several centuries.

The surrounding meadows were ideal for raising and grazing sheep.

Witney also had a fast flowing river to supply the mills and later good road and rail links.

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By 1950, as old techniques were being replaced by modern manufacturing processes, Witney companies were producing a quarter of Britain’s blankets.

Further improvements were made in the 1960s, but the industry then declined, mainly due to the growing popularity of quilts over blankets.

Smith and Philips’ factory closed in 1975, the Witney Blanket Company in 1977 and Walker’s in 1980.

The last company to make real Witney blankets was Early and Marriott.

They were originally two companies but had merged in 1960 to fight increased competition.

They managed to continue until 2002, when the factory finally closed on July 19.

Its 72 workers were given the option of moving to Ilkeston in Derbyshire after a failed bid to find an alternative site in Witney.

Early’s, founded in 1669, was one of the oldest companies in the country.

This story was written by Andy Ffrench, he joined the team over 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.

Contact him by email: [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter @OxMailAndyF

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