Witney review of the year part two: Road sign blunders and giant tortoise

·8-min read
The year in Witney included festivals, a giant tortoise and a road sign blunder <i>(Image: Newsquest/Contributed)</i>
The year in Witney included festivals, a giant tortoise and a road sign blunder (Image: Newsquest/Contributed)

Fashionable crowds descended on West Oxfordshire for some of the country's top music festivals and Witney Carnival was back amid a heatwave.

But so soon after we had celebrated her Platinum Jubilee we were plunged into mourning at the sad death of the Queen.

Here's a look back at the second half of the year in Witney.

July

After a "sad two-year sabbatical", Cornbury Music Festival returned with headliners Bryan Adams, James Blunt, The Darkness, The Waterboys before bowing out for good with a finale of Ronan Keating and Jools Holland.

Oxford Mail: Bryan Adams headlined at the last ever Cornbury Festival
Oxford Mail: Bryan Adams headlined at the last ever Cornbury Festival

Bryan Adams headlined at the last ever Cornbury Festival (Image: PR)

Founder Hugh Phillimore announced he was bringing down the curtain on the festival, which started in Cornbury Park before moving to the Great Tew estate, after nearly 20 years.

Five men were sentenced to a total of more than 66 years in prison after being convicted for drug supply offences across the Thames Valley.

They included Richard and Patrick Gray from Witney who were sentenced to 21 and 18 years’ imprisonment respectively.

READ MORE: Five men sentenced for drug offences across the Thames Valley

Richard Gray was the ringleader of the Oxfordshire-based gang that prosecutors claim supplied "at least" 50kgs of cocaine.

He bragged to his older sibling that they would eventually be able to live the "life of Ryan" once they’d funnelled the profits of their dealing into a property empire.

Langel Common was set to preserved as public green space for posterity after the council and local residents joined forces to buy it.

Residents from the Protect Our Meadow group helped the council raise £75,000 to purchase the land which lies between the town centre and Cogges from owner Eton College.

Thousands of people celebrated at Witney Carnival which was back after two years.

Oxford Mail: The sun was shining for Witney Carnival
Oxford Mail: The sun was shining for Witney Carnival

The sun was shining for Witney Carnival (Image: Ed Nix)

But the high temperatures proved too much for some and a planned dog show had to be scrapped because of the heat.

The event celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, with its traditional parade given a royal flavour.

The Grand Procession through the centre of the town continued for 45 minutes – with 28 colourful floats, two steamengines, riders fromcycle clubs, marching bands, local school children and two bands.

The carnival also boasted a stage with music for all ages.

Elderly people living near Witney were left without water for most of a week during the heatwave.

The water at Kingsgate, in Cote Road, Aston, stopped working due to a burst pipe and issues with a pressure valve.

Residents in the retirement complex were worried about becoming dehydrated during the heatwave, which saw temperatures rise as high as 37C.

August

Wilderness Festival attracted more than 20,000 people for four days of weird and wonderful fun.

Many hailed the event, held at Cornbury Park, near Charlbury, as the best yet.

Stars included Underworld and It’s A Sin actor Olly Alexander’s electro-pop band Years & Years.

Oxford Mail: Olly Alexander headlined Wilderness Festival
Oxford Mail: Olly Alexander headlined Wilderness Festival

Olly Alexander headlined Wilderness Festival (Image: PR)

But sweltering temperatures took their toll on agriculture and had the fire service attending up to four field fires a day.

An official drought was declared in Oxfordshire and Thames Water announced it was planning a hosepipe ban.

“Exceptional and inspiring” pupils at Witney schools were praised for their excellent A level results despite Covid disruption.

Stars from the worlds of music, food, TV and film joined thousands of revellers for The Big Feastival at Blur bassist Alex James's farm in Kingham, near Chipping Norton.

The festival, which basked in glorious sunshine, was headlined by 80s electro-pop act The Human League, chart star Anne Marie and Welsh rockers Stereophonics.

Oxford Mail: Fans at Wilderness Festival
Oxford Mail: Fans at Wilderness Festival

Fans at Wilderness Festival (Image: PR)

Hundreds of jobs were put at risk when Noble Foods confirmed that its plant at Standlake, near Witney, would shut its doors.

The company said it was result of a move towards supplying only cage-free eggs and soaring inflation.

September

The thoughts and prayers of West Oxfordshire were with the Royal Family after the death of the Queen was announced.

Mayor of Witney Liz Duncan and the leader of the council Vicky Gwatkin wrote: “Now is the time to reflect on her decades of diligent and dedicated service throughout the unprecedented longevity of reign and the tremendous changes she has seen in her lifetime."

Chair of West Oxfordshire District Council Julian Cooper, said: "Her dedication to our country and the crown will go down in the history books, and her commitment to a life of service is an example to us all".

Oxford Mail: Councillors Julian Cooper and Duncan Enright lay flowers after the death of the Queen
Oxford Mail: Councillors Julian Cooper and Duncan Enright lay flowers after the death of the Queen

Councillors Julian Cooper and Duncan Enright lay flowers after the death of the Queen (Image: Ed Nix)

Council meetings were postponed and flags were flown at half-mast.

Floral tributes were laid at St Mary’s Church and a book of condolence placed in the Corn Exchange for people to leave messages.

October

A blue plaque was unveiled at Batt House on Market Square to honour the bravery of a nurse in the First World War.

Alice Batt was awarded the Albert Medal - the forerunner of the George Cross - for her heroic actions in Belgium.

Her citation for the medal mentions a fire breaking out at the Casualty Clearing Station at Rousbrugge, Belgium, on October 1, 1918, where she was working alongside a surgeon, performing an operation in theatre.

Despite the lights going out and the theatre filling with smoke and flames Miss Batt continued to assist the surgeon by torchlight, calmly passing instruments and threading needles.

In this way the surgeon was able to successfully finish the operation. Miss Batt then helped to evacuate men from the burning wards to safety.

Having become the first zoo in the UK to successfully breed Giant Galapagos tortoises Crocodiles of the World in Brize Norton shared the news that they had a total of eight baby giants, all fathered by Dirk.

Oxford Mail: Giant Galapagos tortoise Dirk with his babies
Oxford Mail: Giant Galapagos tortoise Dirk with his babies

Giant Galapagos tortoise Dirk with his babies (Image: Crocodiles of the World)

Giant Galapagos tortoises are the largest living tortoise species in the world and this successful breeding was an important milestone in contributing to their conservation.

Dirk, who is thought to be in his 70s, lives with three younger females at the zoo, Charlie, Isabella, Zuzu.

Two new late-night venues opened within days of each other in Witney. Bucking the national trend, where economic pressures are taking a heavy toll, Little Sandy’s and Blind Tiger opened for business.

November

Council bosses were forced to cover up dozens of new 20mph signs with bin bags after forgetting to remove the old 30mph signage.

Contractors putting up the new signs forgot to remove road paint spelling out the old 30 and 40mph limits.

This meant that confused drivers just ignored the 20mph limit.

Oxford Mail: The county council baffled drivers with its 20mph sign blunder
Oxford Mail: The county council baffled drivers with its 20mph sign blunder

The county council baffled drivers with its 20mph sign blunder (Image: Public)

Every single one of the now-obsolete new signs had to be covered up with black bags until the mistake could be corrected.

READ MORE: Oxfordshire County Council reveal start date of 20mph limit 

A proposed solar farm of unprecedented size, which could power all the homes in Oxfordshire, raised concerns.

Developer Photovolt Development Partners (PVDP) proposes to build a 1,000-hectare solar farm over three sites in the districts of West Oxfordshire, Cherwell and Vale of White Horse.

The Botley West Solar Farm would be built on land north of Woodstock, Eynsham and Cumnor, much of which is owned by the Blenheim Estate.

It would be the UK’s most powerful solar farm with the capacity to generate electricity for all of Oxfordshire’s homes, said PVDP.

Environmental groups warned too many solar farms will destroy open countryside and called for councils to put all other applications on hold until the outcome of the plan is decided.

December

Witney MP Robert Courts criticised the Home Office for the lack of warning over the use of a hotel in Witney to house people seeking asylum.

The situation was revealed when a customer suddenly had Christmas bookings cancelled at the 115-room Oxford Witney Hotel in Ducklington Lane.

The hotel said it had ‘agreed to help the Home Office as part of the UK’s humanitarian commitment to help those desperately in need of some safety and security whilst waiting for more permanent arrangements’.

Councillors in West Oxfordshire were told they will require more robust reasons for refusing housing plans over the next year.

Rules state that councils must have enough land dedicated to meet targets for new homes for the next five years or it must apply what is known as a “tilted balance” where there is a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.

Witney marked the start of the countdown to Christmas when hundreds turned out for the Christmas lights switch-on with live entertainment from schools, theatre groups and local bands.

There were a few fairground rides for children and Father Christmas was in his grotto waiting to hear what the young people of Witney have on their Christmas lists this year.

Mayor of Witney Liz Duncan did the honours, assisted by the joint presidents of Interact, the junior Rotary Club at Wood Green School while Witney MP Robert Courts and Rod Walker, Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Oxfordshire, joined them on the stage.

 

 

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This story was written by Miranda Norris, she joined the team in 2021 and covers news across Oxfordshire as well as news from Witney.

Get in touch with her by emailing: Miranda.Norris@newsquest.co.uk. Or find her on Twitter: @Mirandajnorris

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