St Mary's church
Another walk with my friend Merv exploring English towns. Witney is east of Oxford, just off the A40. We parked near a newish shopping centre in Welch Way. The shops were quiet and many had sales on; on the opposite side of the road there was a motley collection of civic buildings. At the end we turned right into the High St when things looked up: more character, more life.
The first really striking building we noticed was the 18th century Town Hall in the Market Place, a single room over a lovely two-bay loggia.
Opposite is the Butter Cross, dating from about 1600, while the clock dates from 1683. The Market Place now feels like a cross roads, but once it was where people came from all around to buy their butter and other produce.
We continued southwards along the left hand side of the Church Green, a massive gassy area with houses (mainly now offices) on both sides. This is the view looking back from the right hand side.
At the end is the Church of St Mary, a13th century church with a splendid spire 156 ft high - I realised now that I had got too close to get a good picture (the light wasn't too good either). Inside however it felt rather messy, seemingly the result of a 19th century restoration - Pevsner describes it as "bleak".
The new roof over the chancel was impressive through, with, we were told, showing the stars as they were at a point during the Second World War.
To the left of the church, as you admire the spire, are the Almshouses. They were originally built in 1724 for six widows of blanket-makers (the town's most important industry) and rbuilt in 1868 by William Wilkinson of Oxford. They make an attractive group.
We headed down the right hand side of Church Green, where there were several attractive Georgian houses, to reach the Corn Exchange of 1868. Pevsner rails against its "debased classical style" and "coarse detail", but we thought it a splendid building with a bit more drama than most neo-Georgian buildings.
Continuing northwards along the High Street, we cam to the simple, but pleasing, Blanket Hall, where blankets were weighed and measured. There is a panel with "Robert Collier 1724" on it.
We crossed the River Windrush, over a bridge of 1822 ...
... to reach the former Courtroom (just one room) of 1858.
Turning right into Bridge St and right again into Oxford Road brought us to Townsend's Almshouses of 1827.
The plaque reveals that they were built and endowed by William Townsend, a native of the town, now a Haberdasher in London. They were intended for "six aged unmarried women" and designed in a rather austere style.
Conditions: grey with a threat of rain.
Distance: a couple of miles.
Rating: four stars. A charming town, much more interesting and characterful than first impresssions would suggest.
Footnote: we had intended to walk out along the Windrush to Minster Lovell and back. By the time we had had lunch, however, this seemed optimistic so we drove to Minster Lovell and did an excellent circular walk there.