- The story so far
- I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org (All work © Jan Patience)
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
While researching this Design Archives feature for the Sep/Oct issue of Homes & Interiors Scotland, I got really into the history of carpet-making in the west of Scotland.
Last week, I received a lovely letter in the post from 93-year-old Walter Yellowlees, a retired GP from Aberfeldy in Perthshire. The letter was followed separately by a copy of his book, A Time To Weep.
Dr Yellowlees told me he had read this article with interest, as his father, the late David Yelowlees had been managing director of AF Stoddards factory in Elderslie, Renfrewshire from 1918 until 1946. He describes his childhood growing up in Glenpatrick House in Elderslie with affection and clarity.
It's great when you get feedback like this - it made my day, in fact.
The history of carpet making in Scotland is threaded through with so much colour that should Titanic director James Cameron be looking for another epic to shoot, he could always turn his gaze in a westward direction towards an unlikely assortment of drawers and boxes stored in an old grain factory in Glasgow, Scotland.
For inside this inauspicious looking building, alongside stored items accumulated since the university’s foundation in 1451, you will find ancient pullout cabinets containing the original hand-drawn carpet designs.
The handwritten labels on the individual drawers give a hint of the exotic contents; Persian, Old English, Floral Design, Chenille Axminister, Spool Axminster, Wilton and Brussels and Contemporary. Elsewhere there are drawers labelled simply; Charles Voysey, Charles Rennie Mackintosh or Mary Quant.
Probably not as exciting to any student of good design are the boxes containing reams of paperwork relating to the administration of Templeton’s Carpets and Stoddard International plc. But delve inside, and you will be amazed by the facts and figures which back up the fact that the carpet industry in the west of Scotland played a huge part in the economic prosperity and social history of the area.
Kings, Queens, Maharajas, movie stars and presidents have all walked on stunning carpets designed and manufactured by workers at the Stoddard carpet factory in Elderslie, Renfrewshire and in the east end of Glasgow, where Templeton Carpets were based until 1980.
This unique archive of designs, patterns and carpets, including those made for the doomed Titanic liner, as well as the James Cameron film, was bought early last year by the University of Glasgow in conjunction with Glasgow School of Art and Glasgow Museums with the assistance of a £172,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.
The vital historical record of carpet design across two centuries became available after Stoddard International plc went into liquidation in 2005. By then, James Templeton & Co had already been absorbed into British Carpets Ltd, which was part of Stoddard International.
A team of archivists is currently working on the project, which should be completed by next year. This vast archive comprises 3,800 design drawings and patterns; 2,000 design sketches; a design library of 1,500 titles including books and journals; 226 carpet pieces and numerous albums of photographs, encapsulating the history of Scottish carpet manufacturing. It also includes complete carpets displayed at major international exhibitions, such as the Twelve Apostles carpet made for the Paris Exhibition of 1867.
Every item will be catalogued and made accessible with digital images available online alongside exhibitions and displays at Glasgow’s museums, the University and Glasgow School of Art.
Stoddard and Templeton were at the cutting edge of carpet design and manufacture for over a century, until both were forced out of business by the early 21st century. Between them, they supplied carpets for a host of historic buildings and occasions such as Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle, The White House, UK coronations and Royal weddings since the mid-19th century and the parliament buildings of London, Canberra, Wellington and Cape Town.
James Templeton & Co of Glasgow, whose iconic Bridgeton factory was modelled on the Doge’s Palace in Venice, was the largest manufacturer of quality carpets in the British Empire and the largest employer in Glasgow during the 1950s, with around 7,000 workers.
James Templeton (1802-1885) was born in Campelltown, Argyll, but left for Glasgow to seek his fortune as a young man. By 1829, he had established a shawl making business in Paisley and through this, became interested in the weaving of chenille when it was introduced into the Paisley shawl making industry in the 1830s.
An astute and creative man, he worked with a weaver called William Quiglay on a patent for an improved method of making chenille and spotted the potential in weaving a chenille carpet on a loom as an alternative to the labour-intensive production of hand-tufted Axminster carpets. After buying out Quiglay’s share of the patent, he left Paisley to concentrate on manufacturing from premises in Glasgow’s east end.
Templeton and his team revolutionised the mass production of carpet manufacturing by developing a method of weaving a complete seamless carpet on a power loom using a wide range of colours in the pattern. The finished product had a rich appearance, closely resembling traditional Axminster.
The company pushed out boundaries by developing new and cheaper ways of producing high quality carpets. By 1913, the firm was the largest carpeting manufacturer in the UK with a capital of £648,000, a sum only exceeded by John Crossley & Sons in Halifax.
Templeton carpets were considered the height of luxury. Lavish in-house books, published in limited editions to commemorate company anniversaries are available to view at the Archive Services in Thurso Street, Glasgow. They tell tale after tale about the places in which Templeton carpets were laid. Once story recounts how, in 1861, Mary Lincoln, the wife of Abraham Lincoln was criticised for being extravagant with state funds having articles made including, ‘a new carpet of Glasgow manufacture ingeniously made all in one piece which had a design of fruit and flowers in vases, wreaths and bouquets’.
Less well known is the tragic tale of how, in 1889, a fault in the design of the brick facade of the famous William Leiper-designed Templeton carpet factory caused it to blow over in high winds. In the ensuing mayhem, the facade tumbled onto adjacent weaving sheds, killing 29 women and injuring 22 others.
Just 13 miles away from Glasgow’s east end, in Elderslie, AF Stoddard & Son was founded by an American called Arthur Francis Stoddard in 1862. The silk merchant from Massachusetts had arrived in Glasgow in 1844, seeking refuge from an economic downturn in the United States. He came into contact with carpet making when he moved to the Renfrewshire village in 1953. During the 1850s, the nearby Patrickbank Mill had switched from making block-printed Paisley shawls to printed tapestry carpets when the market for the former declined, but price cutting from Halifax-based carpet manufacturer, J Crossley & Sons soon forced the owners into bankruptcy.
Stoddard took it over and by 1867, thanks to his contacts in the US, the firm was exporting 75 per cent of its products across the Atlantic. The company was driven forwards by his son-in-law, Charles Renshaw, who travelled the world establishing the company’s foothold in Asia and ‘the Colonies’.
The firm carved out an unrivalled reputation for tapestry carpeting, with its large design department ensuring a huge variety of carpet designs were available. Under Renshaw, the company began supplying other export markets, especially Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. In 1895, Renshaw incorporated the company as A.F. Stoddard & Sons, listing it on the London Stock Exchange.
The company expanded by taking over a number of smaller carpet manufacturers in Scotland over the decades.
The great and the good all walked over carpets designed and made at Elderslie, which included the carpet made for the wedding of The Queen to Prince Philip at Westminster. Famous names such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh, William Morris, Charles Voysey and John Byrne all earned a crust by contributing designs.
Paisley-born Byrne left school in the mid-1950s to work in The Slab Room at the Elderslie factory before becoming a designer with Stoddard’s. Years later, the slab boy turned artist and playwright set first part of his Slab Boys trilogy against the backdrop of ‘the small, paint-spattered dungeon where the apprentice designers mixed and ground colours for the design department’.
In fictionalising life behind the scenes of a carpet factory, Byrne reminds his audience that behind all beautiful objects lies a deeper truth of blood, sweat and tears.