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Here's some interesting information about Earl’s of Witney (Witney Blankets) found in the local newspaper "Witney Report".

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First published on Friday 15 June 2001:

• Blanket factory plans to move by Witney staff reporter

Witney's only remaining blanket factory has announced it is moving from its present site to a smaller factory in the town to secure its future.

Established in the 17th century, Early's of Witney is undertaking a programme of changes to modernise the business.

It plans to sell its seven-acre site in Burford Road. A joint planning application with All Souls College, Oxford, which owns an adjoining 11 acres of land, to redevelop the site for housing, has been lodged with West Oxfordshire District Council.

Early's chairman Robert Chris said: "No loss of jobs is anticipated if the business is successfully reorganised."

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Published on Wednesday 05 June 2002:

• Historic town business faces uncertain future by Witney staff reporter

The company which has taken over Early's, Witney's sole surviving blanket makers, has still not found an alternative site, needed to keep the business going.

Time is running out for the Derbyshire-based firm, Quiltex. However, the firm's boss says he is keen to keep the manufacture of a once world-famous product in the town.

Talks are continuing with Aster Holdings, the owners of the current Burford Road mill, which want to sell the site for housing.

An application for redevelopment will be put before West Oxfordshire District Council planners on June 17.

Quiltex chairman Alan Lewis said: "We have no alternative sites at this stage. The problem is that to carry on manufacturing you need a purpose-built factory by a river, as this one is by the River Windrush.

"We need time to relocate Early's. We want some kind of lease to take over this building, while we continue to look for somewhere else in the area.

"Though there is very little unemployment in Witney, there are people who have been here for 30 or 40 years. They have a skill in a specialised trade. They won't get this type of work anywhere else around here. Some provision should be made for them.

"So we are trying to say that it is in the local interest to develop the business rather then the site. We are putting forward a business plan for expanding the business. It is not a dead business."

Earlier this year Quiltex, which manufacturers quilts and pillows, took over the trading name Early's. The Burford Road factory, now operating on a reduced staff of 72, is still making blankets.

Just three weeks ago Robert Chris, chairman of subsidiary companies connected to Early's, revealed that annual sales had dropped from £3.8m to £2.7m.

The Burford Road site had been earmarked for housing. But planners and developers are yet to reach agreement over the proportion of social housing.

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Published on Wednesday 03 July 2002:

• Workers mourn loss of blanket factory

Three workers who have worked for blanket makers Early's for a total of 127 years say they are devastated by the closure of the factory.

The plant in Witney will shut on July 19. Its 72 workers have been given the chance to relocate to Ilkeston in Derbyshire, but negotiations are still going on. Early's, founded in 1669, is one of the oldest companies in the country.

Quiltex took over Early's earlier this year and will now move manufacturing to a factory near its headquarters in Ilkeston after failing to find an alternative site in Witney.

Planning permission to turn the site into housing, which is owned by a subsidiary of Early's, was granted last month by West Oxfordshire District Council.

Tony Clapton, 64, of Bladon, would have retired in a year's time having served 50 years with Early's. He joined straight from school when he was 15.

"My father worked there for 25 years and my uncle for 50 years. I started at Woodford Mill in a really old part of the factory.

"There were 400 workers and a good, friendly atmosphere and a canteen serving really good meals.

"We are all very sad to see it go as so many of us have worked here for so long. It is very sad day too for Witney as a whole. Blanket making has been such a part of the town for centuries."

John Brooks, 63, of Westfield Road, Witney, has been with the company for 41 years. He said: "Now I will be seeing it all knocked down. It is most distressing. I still can't believe the factory is shutting for good. We are all feeling very low."

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Sue Downes can see Early's factory from her home in Crawley Road, Witney.

"In November I would have worked there 37 years. I, like everyone else, was devastated when we got the news. My parents worked there in their time." None of the three have decided on their future yet.

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Published on Saturday 20 July 2002:

• Tears mark last day at Early's by Andrew French

The last blanket has been sewn at Early's in Witney, ending 333 years of tradition.

Many of the remaining 72 staff at the New Witney Mill factory in Burford Road were in tears as they came to work on Friday, July 19, for the last time.

Sheila Baker, manager of Early's Shop, said: "It's so sad. I can't tell you how I'll feel by one o'clock.

"I'm already really upset."

John Brooks, 63, who works in the wages office, said: "I have worked here for 41 years, man and boy, so this has been a terrible day. It's a family break-up."

But while staff look for new jobs, they also face the worry that the company's pension fund could be in difficulties.

Earlier this week, workers received letters advising them the £4m invested in the pension fund may not be enough to pay their pensions in full.

Mr Brooks said: "Staff have been given letters which said that the pension fund is worth £4m, but that is still half a million pounds short, and the company does not know how long the money will last. It's extremely worrying.

"The irony is that sales have been terrific over the past six months."

The company, founded in 1669, became the last remaining blanket factory in Witney as the rise in popularity of duvets hit the blanket industry.

In May, it was revealed that annual sales had dropped, and large debts forced the company into voluntary liquidation.

Last month, West Oxfordshire District Council granted permission for the site to be redeveloped for housing.

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Published on Monday 04 November 2002:

  • Blanket exhibition

An exhibition looking back on Witney's long history in the blanket trade starts on November 4.

It is being held in the wake of the closure of Early's factory in Burford Road, which signalled the end of more than 300 years of blanket manufacture in the town.

Photographs and artefacts feature in the display, at the Visitor Information Centre in Market Square from 10am to 4.30pm until Saturday.

It is going on show during November 4 to 9 at from the industry have been contributed by local businesses, residents and the Witney museum.

Tony Walker, the district council's cabinet member for culture, said; "It is being held to celebrate the blanket trade as this is a significant part of the town's history."