View our antique selection of English rugs below:
Learn More About Antique English Rugs
English rugs were not produced until the late 16th century and early 17th Century. Main centers for production were located in Axminster, Wilton, and Kidderminster. Distinctive patterns on these antique rugs include deep golden coloration and asymmetrical designs.
Carpet Weaving in England was now flourishing and around this time Kidderminster was also beginning to become a centre for carpet making. The town had had a weaving industry since the 16th century and Kidderminster carpets are mentioned as early as 1635 in an inventory of a bedchamber of a Lady Lettice, though the precise meaning of the word cannot be clear. Carpet weaving in England was now flourishing and around this time Kidderminster was also beginning to become a center for carpet making. The town had had a weaving industry since the 16th century and Kidderminster carpets are mentioned as early as 1635 in an inventory of a bedchamber of a Lady Lettice, though the precise meaning of the word cannot be clear. In 1751 Richard Po Cocke, in his Travels through England, mentions that the town was famous for carpets and by 1800 the carpet industry had become the town’s major employer, although the trade was threatened by the Earl of Pembroke’s Wilton Carpet Manufactory.
It is known that one manufacturer, John Broom, went to Brussels and Tournai to learn the new techniques, although only two of the many original firms were to survive the technical innovations of the Industrial Revolution later in the century. In 1760 the Royal Society held an exhibition in their Great Room for a fortnight, showing two carpets from each of their leading premium winners-Whitty, Moore and Passavant. Whitty wrote of his success “These repeated successes so advanced the reputation of my carpets, that I had a constant and almost uninterrupted demand for many years.”
The fashion of the times was to have the pattern of the carpet reflect the painted ceiling. Thomas Moore, Whittys main competitor was a friend of Robert Adam, who directed business to Moorfields where he could personally supervise the production of his designs. Moore’s factory declined when Adam died in 1792 and was sold for other purposes in 1795.
The other premium winner did not survive either: Passavant does not seem to have made much after 1760 and went bankrupt the following year. However, Whitty’s Axminster factory continued to prosper. Within five years Whitty had established his factory as a leading concern in the towns economy. It was the custom for the finer completed carpets to be taken to the Congregationalist Church to be spread over the pews for all to admire and for thanks to be offered for their completion before they were sent to their destination.
On August 13 1783 George the 3rd and the Queen had visited the Factory, which had resulted in a flood of orders. The Crown Prince, later George the 4th, order several carpets, including one for the Throne Room at Carlton House.
Antique English Rugs: A Brief History
It’s been suggested that hand knotted pile carpet weaving came to England sometime during the early 16th century. The majority of the weavers of English rugs resided in South eastern England in Norwich. The 14 extant 16th and 17th century carpets have been called Norwich carpets. The English carpets contained mostly different adaptations of Indian carpets, Persian rugs and Turkish carpet designs or used Elizabethan Jacobean blossoms or vines. Only one of these works was not dated and many bore a coat of arms designs.
English rug weavers used a symmetrical rug knot, similar to how the French rugs were woven. A few of these antique European carpets are still in existence and some are documented. Such examples include 3 extant carpets manufactured from Exeter from 1756-1761, 5 extant carpets from Moorfields from 1752-1806, and a variety of extant carpets from Axminster from 1755-1835.
The Moorfields and Exeter carpet makers employed renegade French Savonnerie rug weavers and used a weaving structure similar to Perrot and factory inspired designs. Robert Adam, a neoclassical designer, supplied the designs from Axminster and Moorfields based on coffered ceilings and Roman floor mosaics. Some of his well-known designs were made exclusively for Newby Hall, Saltram House, Harewood House, Osterley House, and Syon House.
Thomas Whitty, the antique Axminster carpet weaver, created unique area rug floor coverings in a factory located in Axminster, Devon, England in 1755. These antique English carpets similarly resembled the Savonnerie carpets that were made in France in that they used wool pile to symmetrically knot them by hand on woolen warps. They also had a rug weft made of hemp or flax.
These carpets featured floral or Renaissance architectural patterns, while others mimic Oriental rug design patterns, comparable to the French carpets. Similar designs were made at Moorfields or Exeter during this same time and at Fulham in Middlesex shortly before that. In 1835, the Whitty factory closed when machine-produced carpeting had been invented. Axminster had survived as a generic term for machine-manufactured carpets that were produced by techniques that were like those that were used in making chenille or velvet.
Today, English Axminster carpet includes three different kinds of broadloom carpet construction. These include hand knotted, tufted, and machine woven rugs. Carpet that’s woven by machine will last around 20 or 30 years. Woven Wilton carpets and Axminster rugs still remain popular in areas where design flexibility and longevity are major deciding factors for people who want to purchase these rugs. Places such as leisure venues and hotels almost always choose these kinds of carpets and people use Axminster rugs in their homes for design statements.
Machines That Are Used for Cutting and Re-rolling English Carpets
Wilton and Axminster carpets are machine woven and used gigantic rug weaving looms that weave carpet yarn and backing together using bobbins. The end result is intricately patterned high performance machine made English rugs. People also like to use tufted carpets in their homes. They’re quick, cheap and easy to make because the pre-woven backings of each carpet have yarns tufted into it. The yarn is pushed through the backing with needles which are held together with underlying loopers.
Tufted English carpets can be designed using velvet, a loop pile, or a twist pile. Twist pile carpets twist one or many fibers into the tufting process so that the finished carpet looks as if it were bound together. Velvet pile carpets have a tighter construction and a shorter pile, which gives them a smooth and velvety appearance. Loop pile carpets include squares that are hand-knitted by experienced weavers. These more commercial carpets are some of the highest quality in existence. Traditional rugs include deliberate, but beautiful, mistakes by the weavers to guarantee their authenticity.
The Lansdowne group is composed of six English Axminster’s carpets. Their tripartite design includes flower baskets and reeded circles in the carpet’s central panel which are flanked by diamond lozenges on the sides. Axminster Rococo designs include birds from contemporary engravings with a brown ground. Most of the people in the town (made up of 55,000 residents) still work in this industry. Another town, Wilton, Wiltshire is also famous for their carpet weavings which date back to the 18th century.
Around the middle of the eighteenth century, the Brussels Loom was introduced to the English rug weaving trade. This marked an entirely new era in the carpet weaving industry. Pile carpets could now be woven mechanically. The piles that consist of rows of loops were formed over wires that were inserted weft-wise and withdrawn subsequently during weaving. Brussels was one of the first kinds of carpets that could be woven in a loom that incorporated the jacquard pattern. By 1849, power was given to the loom by Biglow in the USA.
Once bladed wires were established, the pile loops were separated from the blade wires, producing a carpet known as the Wilton. The loom was then known as the Wilton loom, which applies to loop-pile and cut-pile carpets. These kinds of carpets are also known as the round wired jacquard, the loop pile Wilton, the round wire Wilton, and the Brussels-Wilton. The manufacturing methods such as weaving, preparatory procedures, and design principles are the same for the Wilton and Brussels carpets. The main difference between the two is that Brussels loop-piles are adequately secured by inserting two picks of weft to every wire (a 2-shot), while the Wilton cut-piles are woven with three picks of welt to every wire (a 3-shot) to make sure that the tufts are secured firmly to the carpet backing.
Brussels carpets have a lightly ribbed surface that’s smooth, while their patterns are well-defined. This is one of the carpet’s characteristic features. The closeness of pile instead of the height is what contributes to their hard-wearing properties as well as their neatness, but they do not mimic the luxury of carpets that use cut-pile.
Brussels Wilton carpets are made by using 27-inch (3/4) looms and are sewn by hand. The looms were able to combine up to 5 frames with a variety of colors, allowing patterned or figured carpets to be manufactured. Skillful and judicial planting of colors were used in the frames, increasing the number of colors to around 20. This meant that more complex designs could be produced. However, as these carpets cost more to make due to added labor costs, they were produced for the bespoke market only.
After World War I, the antique English carpets were manufactured for the luxury end of the general market using popular colors and designs. The middle class started to grow during the 20th century, which meant that more people were able to afford to purchase Wilton carpets for their “best” rooms. Even while industrialization was starting to reshape England, the places where Brussels Wilton carpets were made became centered in the Midlands around the towns or Kidderminster, Wilton, and West Yorkshire where John Crossley and Sons in Halifax was becoming tantamount to carpet manufacturing.
Smaller areas such as Durham and Scotland were also manufacturing carpets. As different manufacturing methods and looms were being developed to produce more carpets, more people started changing the decor in their homes regularly. This, of course, increased the demand for antique English rugs.