OXFORDSHIRE BLUE PLAQUES SCHEME

William SMITH (1815–1875)

Blanket manufacturer

8 Bridge Street, Witney

As he states in his own memoir, William Smith was born ‘in the town of Witney, in the county of Oxford, on August 13th 1815 and was left in infancy to the care of an aged grandfather and his sister with no other friend or relation to assist’.

His grandfather died when he was eight years old and he was apprenticed as a bobbin weaver. He worked for Edward early as an errand boy and spooler, then yarn weigher, blanket packer, wool weigher and eventually was in charge of blanket dispatch. He wove tilts (wagon covers), and made mops (another big local trade). At one time he also grew potatoes and turnips on a two acre field and kept pigs. He had a retail coal business and a warehouse for selling all sort of things. His guiding principle was ‘Make something useful from something useless and you create employment and wealth’.

For a time he left the blanket trade and became a brewer and maltster, taking on the retail licence at the White Hart Inn in Bridge Street. But, he wrote, ‘My heart was among the wool.’ He bought a small spinning plant, installed a steam engine and, in spite of some severe trials, never really looked back. He went on to build, next to his house and former inn, the Bridge Street Mill, the first purpose built steam-powered mill in Witney. In addition to blanket weaving he made mops, successfully bidding for a government contract for 125,000 mops.

At the age of 21 he married Ann Godfrey and they had 15 children. He was a staunch Methodist, in spite of his venture into brewing, and for 25 years he played in the Witney Temperance Band.

The Bridge Street Mill continued manufacture until the 1970s.

Sources:

  • William Smith’s own memoir written in 1872
  • The speech made by David Smith, great grandson and last family director of the firm, at the unveiling ceremony

The plaque was unveiled at William Smith’s former house at 8 Bridge Street, Witney on 24 April 2009 by the Rt Hon David Cameron MP for Witney. Members of the Smith family were among those attending the ceremony.

Smith plaque

Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

WILLIAM SMITH
1815–1875
Blanket Manufacturer

Founder of the steam-powered
BRIDGE STREET MILL
lived in this house
next to his mill 
c.1850–1875 

West Oxfordshire District Council

© Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

 

Email: oxfordshireblueplaques@gmail.com