British Weaver Thomas Whitty and Axminster Carpets
In the 18th century, a struggling clothier visited a market in London. His experience there inspired him to start making carpets. Ultimately, his creations would become some of the most fashionable and sought-after in Europe. The story of Thomas Whitty and Axminster carpets is a fascinating tale with a legacy that extends to today.
The History of Thomas Whitty
Thomas Whitty was born in Axminster in Devon, England in 1713. Growing up, Whitty served an apprenticeship for a local clothier. Following its completion, Whitty started his own weaving business. However, he soon experienced difficulties with his business, along with many other weavers in the area. An attempt to save his business would prove to have a legacy still felt today. While looking for alternative ways to make a living, Whitty visited the Cheapside Market in London in 1754. There, he saw rugs and carpets imported from Turkey. Whitty was impressed by the quality, size and color of the carpets. He committed himself to produce a carpet of equal quality.
It took months of experimentation and a trip to a French-run factory in Fulham, but by the summer of 1755, Whitty had made a prototype carpet ready for sale. Soon, Whitty’s Axminster Carpets would be popular items in the country homes and townhouses of the aristocracy in England and other parts of Europe.
According to Whitty’s own account, a major reason for his success was repeatedly winning competitions sponsored by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. (Today, it is known as the Royal Society for the Arts.) This significantly boosted his fame and helped bring in numerous orders.
Whitty and Axminster carpets became so famous that King George III and Queen Charlotte visited the factory in 1789, an unusual occurrence. Sadly, Whitty passed away in 1792. His descendants continued to run the carpet weaving factory and make the famed rugs. However, in 1828, a fire destroyed the looms and set the business on the path to bankruptcy. Axminster Carpets, the business, was ultimately revived in the early 20th century.
To this day, it continues to produce high-end carpets and rugs inspired by Whitty’s work in the 18th century.
Thomas Whitty’s Philosophy on Carpet Making
Although some of Whitty’s success can be attributed to good timing and luck, there is no question that he produced some truly high-quality carpets. The vibrancy, complexity and attention to detail are still noteworthy. Whitty appears to have been interested first and foremost with producing the finest carpets possible. He was also very interested in producing large carpets, a challenging proposition for hand weavers. One of the company’s most famous pieces was produced in 1800 during the tenure of Thomas Whitty III. This 23 meter by 16 meter carpet was produced for the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mahmud II.
Another aspect of Whitty’s carpet making was the celebration of special carpets. Many of the pieces produced by the company were ordered by architects to fit specific rooms in the aristocratic houses they were designing. Whenever a particularly notable project was completed, it was laid over the pews of Whitty’s church then paraded through the streets of Axminster.
Axminster Carpets were hand-woven with symmetrical knotting. They were typically made with wool on woolen warps and using a flax or hemp weft. Frequently, the carpets borrowed themes from Renaissance architecture. Others had floral patterns or mimicked Oriental rug styles. Since the carpets are very wool rich, they are highly durable. This has helped them to retain their beautiful rug patterns and value over the years.
There are two major categories of Axminster carpets: antique carpets made by the Whitty family and generic carpets made using a similar process. When used generically, the term refers to a machine-made carpet with piles created using the technique for velvet or chenille.
Whitty’s Modern Legacy
Today, the town of Axminster is synonymous with carpet-making. That is all thanks to Whitty’s incredible carpets. Whitty and his descendants produced carpets for Brighton Royal Pavilion, Saltram House, Powderham Castle, Chatsworth House, Warwick Castle and many others. Some of these carpets are still in use at their original homes. Original Axminster carpets continue to be highly sought-after. They are some of the finest examples of carpet-weaving from England and anywhere in the world. A new business now operates a renovated version of the original building. Nonetheless, it is the carpets made by the Whitty family that are the most renowned.
The Right Rugs for Your Home
Whether you want an Axminster carpet or any other type of rug, Nazmiyal can help. We have extensive collections of antique, vintage and modern rugs. If you need help selecting the right piece for your needs, you can connect with our experts. Discover what a high-quality rug could do for your home. Alternatively, search for the perfect investment piece, such as an original Axminster. Learn more and explore the collection today.
Here are some beautiful Axminster carpets from the Nazmiyal Collection:
Other antique rugs from England:
This rug blog about British weaver Thomas Whitty was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rugs.
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