A Magnificent Carpet For The Music Room At The Royal Pavilion In Brighton.
As well as creating modern carpets and carpets based on traditional designs, Craigie Stockwell is often asked to replicate worn out or missing old carpets, and sometimes these are of considerable historic importance, such as the carpet we supplied for the Music Room at The Royal Pavilion in Brighton.
Curiously, it was Fate that brought us and the Pavilion together: it all started with a friend drawing my attention to an article in ‘The Times’ which said ‘A special hand made carpet is to be made for the Music Room at The Royal Pavilion in Brighton’, saying “I suppose you are making that!”, and, as we were the only specialist company for this kind of work at that time, I, telephoned the Pavilion and asked to speak to the person in charge of the carpet project, really to ask why, as the experts in this field, we had not been approached to make this important carpet, and to make sure they weren’t making a big mistake. “I am so glad you rang” he said “– we honestly didn’t know which company could undertake this unique project, and it is obviously you!”
This started a good eighteen months of painstaking work on research and design. Robert Holmes, my chief designer at the time, and I, attended several meetings in Brighton, working with the incredible team that look after this historic building. We met specialist joiners who had come to understand the ‘hand’ of all the different craftsmen who had been involved in the original building and how they could recreate the work of each one. We learnt how a certain level of humidity was maintain to preserve the fabric of the building and how much modern science and techniques had helped them to do this. Overall we marvelled at the high levels of craftsmanship involved in this fantastic building.
Before we could do anything, we took down our expert to measure the room and then we and the curators and historians at the Pavilion began a long research process.
The Victoria and Albert museum had been given a fragment of the original carpet by Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, apparently really disliked this brash blue ‘decadent’ carpet which The Prince Regent had commissioned for his exotic Palace on the South Coast. Queen Victoria had it removed, bleached into a light beige colour and then had it cut up to be used in a guest bedroom at Buckingham Palace. This was later given to the Museum for their historic carpet collection.
The original carpet had been made by Thomas Whitty and his daughters (apparently cheap labour!) around 1820 in his factory in Axminster in Devon. It was Whitty who had made a great number of the stunning carpets for Robert Adam and James Wyatt in the late eighteenth century.
The fragment had a great deal of design information, but, sadly, one of the magnificent ‘beasts’ was missing and the various watercolours depicting the room did not show the detail properly. We painstakingly photographed the carpet fragment and then built up the artwork around it.
Robert had to re-invent it to a brief by the Curator and other experts at the Pavilion which was basically: ‘we will recognise it when you show it to us’! We made a number of sketches. “The tail is too thick!” Finally we got approval of our design, and the next problem was to get the colours agreed.
Again, there were a number of drawing references we referred to, but, right at the last moment, a watercolour was found in the Library at Windsor Castle and this confirmed the very bright blue ground colour.
We looked at the construction of the original hand knotted carpet: interestingly it was made using a thick yarn comprising a large number of strands of worsted wool and using a coarse knotting of just sixteen knots to the square inch (four by four). It gave the impression that the original carpet had to be made in a great rush, or there were budgetary considerations: the fewer the knots, the faster the production. Earlier this year we sold some fine silk Persian carpets (you can find examples on our website) that have 400 knots to the square inch! This knotting provided its own challenge as we had to make a quality good enough to withstand the wear from all the visitors to the room but keeping to the original specification, as part of our brief was to create a carpet that the public could walk on. Again, this was achieved through the thick yarn we also used for the carpet.
As with any hand knotted carpet, our artists had to put the design onto graph paper, with each square representing one knot of the carpet, before the weaving commenced. This graph paper was then cut up and used by the weavers, so they could follow the pattern precisely.
The ancient loom we found to produce this historic piece had originally come from the Whitty factory and was forty foot wide. It had been moved from Axminster to Wilton and then when the Wilton factory closed down in 1959 it was moved to Ireland where we had the work done. Coincidentally, our head designer from 1972 to 1984, Francis Milward, was the head designer at the Wilton factory from 1947 to 1959! There is a photograph of him standing by this loom in the book on Axminster (hand knotted) Carpets by Bertram Jacobs.
The yarn quantities were calculated, the yarn dyed, and finally the loom was set up with the warp threads and the weaving commenced.
We also shipped the fragment to help with aspects of the design, which caused a nightmare with insurance: just how much was this worth? It was priceless!
I sent my old school friend, John Greenwood, now a professional photographer, over to photograph the carpet being made: a little tussle with Irish customs in Belfast when they looked at the bazooka like tripod cover: “I know what you are going to say” said John, “would you be having some livestock in there, sir?” came the reply! (Chickens? A snake?).
Finally the carpet was finished and shipped to Brighton where our specialist, John Fage, was able to find well over twenty strong men to help handle the carpet into the room and our installers to fit it perfectly, sewing the sides onto the carpet, which had been woven separately, because the room was over forty feet wide!
The fitted carpet looked, and still looks, splendid!
During the ‘Great Storm’, a minaret was blown off the roof of the Pavilion, through the glass dome and was held and prevented from doing major damage, by none other than the carpet!