One of the most interesting places in the West of England is the quiet little town of Wilton, situated on the junction of the rivers Wily and Nadder. It is of great antiquity, and as the capital of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex, gave name to Wiltshire, and was the scene of many stirring events in ancient times. In the year 871 the great Alfred here defeated the Danes in a pitched battle, which procured him a peace of two years’ duration ; but in 1003 the Danes had their revenge, when, under Sweyn, they burnt the place to the ground. Wilton, however, recovered from this disaster, and continued to flourish down to 1224, when it received the blow which proved fatal to its importance, in the diversion of the great wester road, which formerly passed through it on its way from Old Sarum. The place has acquired some celebrity in modern times in connection with Wilton House – the princely seat of the Pembroke family, which stands on the site of a nunnery of the Benedictine order, and is famed for its marbles and pictures – and also for its splendid Lombardian church, erected by the present Lord Herbert in 1844. The name of Wilton has also been associated with the making of carpets, which is still the staple trade of the town.
The present proprietors of the Wilton Carpet Factory are Messrs, Blackmore and Lapworth, who have often been honoured with manufacturing carpets for Her Majesty, for a large number of the aristocracy, and for many of the European monarchs and nobles. They have attained a high reputation for Axminster, Brussels, Persian, Turkey, and Wilton carpets, so much so, indeed, that the manufactory is known and appreciated in all parts of the civilized world. There are at present employed at the Wilton Carpet Factory about three hundred men, boys, and females, most of the latter being young girls from the town and neighbourhood.
An historical interest attaches to the factory at Wilton from the circumstances that in this town was manufactured the first carpet that was ever made in England, under the direction of Anthony Dufossy, who was brought from the French Netherland, by the ninth Earl of Pembroke, for the purpose of teaching “the art and mystery” of carpet weaving. Prior to this time rushes, twisted and then joined together, did duty for the present elegant carpets. There is a tradition that Duffossy was secreted in a large barrel, and was thus brought over from France to England. The first loom is said to have been set up in a lane leading from the Market-house to the Square, on the site of a house now occupied by a person named Blake. In 1699, a guild, or company of carpet weavers and clothiers, was incorporated by Royal charter, for Wilton and a district within four miles. The charter was obtained of King William III. through the joint interest of the Earl of Pembroke and John Gauntlett, Esq., M.P. This charter may still be seen in the Town-hall. It is kept in a very curious box, and has an immense seal attached to the parchment. About the year 1740 a patent was granted to the Wilton carpet manufacturers for the exclusive privilege of making carpets in England, but the “strict letter” of this patent was soon evaded by a firm at Kidderminster, who, having made themselves acquainted with the process used, soon established looms upon the same principle, and, substituting the :bobbin and ball” for the “bobbin and anchor”, thus kept on the “windy side of the law” and proved formidable rivals to the original patentees. The Corporation of Weavers are now a benefit society, and still continue to celebrate their annual festivities.
The Wilton Carpet Factory is pleasantly situated by the side of a running stream. It occupies four sides of a quadrangle, in the centre of which is a pleasant flower garden, the productions of which are useful in furnishing colours for the different designs. The premises are very extensive, and include rooms for the manufacture of the various carpets, the dye-house, and shearing loft.
The yurn of which the carpets is manufactures is purchased in the same state in which it comes from the mill. The grease is scoured with sods and soap, it is then dyed on the premises, and afterwards dried, when it is ready to be put into the loom. A very curious and ingenious attempt was made at Kidderminster three of four years ago to print the worsteds while in the process of weaving. A patent was taken out, and the object was partially accomplished, but there are so many difficulties to encounter, that it is scarcely probable the plan will be brought into general use. We now approach that tiny part of the operations in which the spun and dyed yarn is about to be woven into the form of a carpet ; the warp threads to be attached to the “harness” and “treddles” of the loom, and the weft threads to be wound on the pin of the shuttle. Various different arrangements of the weaving apparatus are necessary to produce the different kinds of carpets, as will be seen from the following observations.
Axminster carpets are now manufactured only at Wilton. They are made in one place, according to the dimensions of the room for which they are required. The warp or chain is of strong linen, placed perpendicularly between two rolls or beams which turn round and enable the chain to be rolled off from one beam and on to the other, as the weaving of the carpet proceeds. Small tufts or bunches of different coloured worsted or woollen are tied to or fastened under the warp ; and when one row of these tufts has been completed the shoot of linen is also thrown in and firmly rammed down. Another row of tufts is then arranged in such a manner as, by a change of the colours, to form a further portion of the pattern. To guide the weaver as to the position of the colours, a small paper design, or drawing, constantly hangs before her, from which she works. The tedious nature of this process, and the quantity of materials which it consumes, renders this kind of carpet very expensive. Real Turkey carpets (so called to distinguish them from those of Brussels, the patterns of which are made to imitate them) are manufactured in a similar manner, and they are regularly imported, though not in very large quantities. Finger, or town-mule, and Stormont rugs, are also formed with tufts put in as they are in Axminster carpets, but the warp, of chain, is laid horizontally, and a common loom, with its usual appurtenances of treadles, gearing, reed to the batten, &c., is made to assist in the process. In all these, the warp and weft, or, as they are called, chain and shoot, which are both of linen, are altogether concealed from the upper surface, the tufts of worsted or woollen carpet being the only part that is visible. The largest Axminster carpet ever only part that visible. The largest Axminster carpet ever manufactured in Europe was lately made at the Wilton Factory. It was in one piece, and measured 98 feet long by 45 wide, and weighed 2 1/2 tons.
The Brussels carpet is a mixture of linen and worsted, but, like the Turkey carpet, the worsted only is shown on the upper surface. The basis, or cloth, is a coarse linen fabric, and between the upper and under threads of the weft, several (usually five) worsted threads of different colours, are firmly bound in. The pattern is produced by drawing to the surface, between each reticulation of the cloth, leaving a portion of the worsted thread, of the colour required at the spot, to produce the pattern ; these updrawn portions are formed into loops, by being turned over wires, which are afterwards withdrawn, and the loops thus left standing above the basis, form the figured surface of the carpet.
The Wilton carpet is made like the Brussels, but the wire has a groove in its upper surface, and, instead of being drawn out, it is liberated by passing a sharp knife through the worsted loop into the groove, and thus making a velvet felt surface instead of the looped thread.
Most carpets, after having been woven, require to have the surface sheared or cut, for the removal of loose fibres, and for regulating the length of nap in those which constitute pile carpets. This shearing is effected by a very ingenious machine, in which a screw, whose worm or thread forms a cutting edge, revolves so that this edge shall come in contact with a straight horizontal edge, and thus cut like a pair of scissors. The carpet is so adjusted as to be drawn between these two edges, by which the surface is shoared all over, the quantity cut off being dependent upon the adjustment of the two cutting edges.
We may here remark that the principal excellence of the Wilton carpets consists in their being made of superior materials – of brilliant fast colours – of proved excellence in patterns, and in scientific shading, or arrangement of the various colours employed, and last, though not least, in the workmen being the best that can be obtained, and in all workmen using the best that can be obtained, and in all Wilton carpets being hand made. It is also worthy of note, that in Wilton Factory, Iac – the most permanent dye that can be obtained – is largely used, for the purpose of fixing colours. When a person has had a Wilton carpet for ten of fifteen years, it can be sent to Messrs, blackmore and Lapworth’s shearing-house, and by taking as little as the sixteenth of an inch from the surface, the colours will appear as bright as they originally were. The process of shearing may be repeated until the carpet is entirely worn out.
In conclusion, we would observe that there is no establishment in the West of England to which a visit may be made with more interest than to the Wilton Carpet Factory.