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High Life

Earlys in Witney celebrated their tercentenary by making blankets in one day, in fact in a record eight hours and eleven minutes. I photographed sheep being sheared at 4am and then stayed on in the factory throughout the day with a runner taking my films into Oxford for me. Two of the blankets appeared in a New York shop window the same day because of the time difference. You see the chap in the chain. Initially I had a problem with him. When Mr Kitto retired from his job as a bank manager I was asked to take a picture of him. He refused point blank. When he became Chairman of Witney Urban District Council I wrote to him saying I wasn’t interested in his face but I must have the chain of office in view and he wasn’t to make a fuss. He kindly capitulated and we became good friends.

St Mary’s church in Witney was having its spire repaired. The ladder looked very inviting and the obvious picture was one from the top. I approached the steeplejacks and asked them if I could go up. ‘Far too dangerous,’ they said. I mentioned that I had once climbed the Clifton Gorge in Bristol with the Oxford University Climbing Club (not adding by the easy route and with ropes). After a bit more wheedling they said if you get permission from the rector we will let you, but we can’t provide a safety harness. So I told Canon Bale I had permission if he would give me his permission. Hearing about my supposed climbing prowess he succumbed. Getting to the roof wasn't too bad. The second bit when I had to transfer to the ladder up the spire was a different story. I told the steeplejack I might feel safer climbing up the inside of the ladder. To my horror I then had a view of the whole of Witney in front of me. I froze. After a few minutes of deep breathing I returned to the conventional way of climbing the ladder facing the stonework and reached the scaffolding at the top. At 156ft and with a pounding heart I got my pictures. In retrospect it was a foolhardy thing to do but after all my travelling with a camera and all the amazing people I have photographed it is still what older people in Witney remember and ask me about.

Witney MillAfter that my male colleagues ducked out of several height related jobs. The 130 ft Witney mill chimney, being demolished by the three chaps in the gallery, was much easier on my nerves with all the scaffolding. And I was pleased to find the rim from the top that I could use to help place the picture.

And lighter diary days...

I wasn't the sort of photographer to wait for things to happen: scroll through the gallery below.


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Eynsham Image ArchiveMaps & WalksLocal Covid ResponseEynsham News