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Saturday 14 October 2023

Wandering off to Witney.

 It wasn't as cool as I was expecting when I got up to make the tea this morning. Maybe the fire last night kept the chill off. We had a plan for today.

We were going to head into the Westgate Centre where there is a Sainsbury's as we had just about run out of grub for Macy, plus a few other provisions as once we leave Oxford habitation is quite removed from the canal. We were then going to take that back to the boat and straight away head out again. The plan was to catch a bus.

Neither of us had been to Witney so we decided to use our passes and travel the 40 minutes from George Street in Oxford on the very comfortable S1, via Eynsham. When we passed through Eynsham we realised that we had been there before when we had been on then Thames and moored at Swinford Toll bridge and Lock. We watched a film at the village hall too. It is quite a nice little place, but with plenty of housing around the edge.

We got off at one end of the High Street to walk up one side to get our bearings. It was market day, but there wasn't too many stalls to look at. We did pop into a few charity shops as we passed as Helen has her eye out for a few things. We walked past the Market Place and the Church Green that were laid out to be the market area from the start. 

At end of the Church Green is the Church of St Mary's with a 156 ft tower. There were some impressive tombs in the church yard but the interior of the church was quite plain really. There was a young man practicing Christmas tune on the organ. The church was founded in about 1070.

As we walked around we found that there was a great selection of shops and much to Helen's consternation there was an M&S store that was about as big as the one in Hull, before it closed. I realised that this really demonstrated the north/south divide. Hull had a population of about 267,000 in 2021. It is about 40 miles from any other centre of population, York and a little bit further to Leeds, (Both take about an hour to drive to), so has quite a large hinterland. In 2021 Witney had a population of 30,168 and is about 13 miles from Oxford and takes about 30 mins to drive there. The selection of shops was nearly as great as that in Hull with many top brands that Hull doesn't have. Witney's M&S is in a new development, just behind the High Street, where as they closed the branch in Hull that was around the same size. They even owned their own property in Hull. To me it really demonstrates the divergence between the north and south. The East West electrified rail connection between Cambridge and Oxford, via Milton Keynes, is well underway, yet we have an un-electrified rail line that has extremely limited capacity that should link the cities of Hull, Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Manchester and Liverpool.
Looking at the official Government figure the England average public spending per person in 2021/22 for England was £10,505. In London it was £12,157. For the North West it was £10, 947, North East £11,170 and Yorkshire and Humber £10,321. The lowest was the East Midlands with £9,817! Interesting isn't it. Just to complete the picture the Revenue earned by the regions is roughly North West £9,500, North East £9,000, Yorkshire and Humber £9,500. The lowest is the NE. London's I hear you ask? £18,000+!

We had a cup of tea and a bite to eat at M&S so Helen could get a real fix. We saw that the local museum was open so we went to have a look around. It was just off the High Street and was interestingly about the same size as the one in our town where I am a trustee and volunteer. It was £3 to get in (Ours is free). It was originally a builder's house and the workshops until the late 1800's then had a mix of uses before the museum opened in 1996. (About the same time as ours opened too). Witney is known for its wool trade and especially blanket production. It also has the Eagle Brewery that once belonged to Clinks (I think it was). A great name for a brewery. It was also the home of the ubiquitous Hobgoblin beer that was bought out by Carlsberg. The volunteer on duty told me that Carlsberg have just announced they are closing this brewery. It seems to be the usual pattern. Mind you I could do with out Hobgoblin as it does nothing for me. We had a nice hour looking around

We next went over to the Blanket Hall that was opened in 1721 as the HQ of the Guild of Blanket Weavers after they obtained a Royal Charter. It is very similar to my town's Town Hall that was opened in 1693 and is the same size and layout. They now sell very lovely (and expensive) blankets and scarves. Upstairs is a little museum and out the back is a little cafe, so we had another cup of tea.

This is the rear of the Blanket Hall. It was originally to run checks on quality and size of the blankets produced within a 20 mile radius. The quality was indicated by lines, called points that were hand sewn into the blanket to denote the quality. 4 points being the best. I think every household of our parents age would have had a Witney blanket or two, and so they will have come down to us. In fact the last factory closed in 2002. The main Hall of the Blanket House was the largest public room in the town so was used for just about everything!

The Corn Exchange was open and had a craft show going on so it would have been rude not to have a look see. Helen bought another Christmas present of honey and lavender hand balm made locally. The building was built in 1863 to cater for a growing trade in corn, but was opened by a private company to also act as a market hall and a recreational space. It is now used as a small venue and looks very nice too.

We caught the 16:20 bus back home and were back on the boat by 17:30. Helen set to making cheese and apple scones. I lit the fire before it got too cold and we will be all snug for the night now.

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