Wilton Carpet factory
and its carpet weaving of today are very much bound up with the long and at times convoluted history of the town.
The original carpet factory now forms the centrepiece of the Wilton Shopping Village
close to Wilton House, the ancestral home of the Earl of Pembroke, also open to the public all the year round.
Wilton was founded by the Wilsaetes tribe Anglo-Saxons about 3miles (5km) of the present site of the city of Salisbury and gave its name to the County of Wiltshire. Wilton itself was established as a royal seat of the Kingdom of Wessex by the 9th century although later after the Danish Wars the seat moved permanently to Winchester. Wilton remained the administrative centre of Wiltshire until the 11th century.
The local downland was sheep rearing country and Wilton’s early trade was in wool and out of this grew cloth making. Wilton was settled on the confluence of two rivers, the Wylye and the Nadder, the use of water being essential in many of the cloth making processes. The industry at that time was very much a ‘cottage’ industry with many of these processes, ending with the spinning and weaving into cloth, being carried out in the workers own homes. This meant a large number of small processing operations scattered throughout Wilton within the homes or attached to the homes of the workers and master weavers.
In 1699 Charter to the Clothiers and Weavers of Wilton was granted by King William III which gave them privileges and entitlements. This included an official recognition of their seven year weaving apprenticeship enabling master weavers the monopoly to carry out their trade within a four mile radius of Wilton borough.
Carpet was first manufactured in England at Wilton in the early part of the 18th century. The original foundations of the weaving shed of the Factory date back to 1655. This was established to the west of the later factory. The 9th Earl of Pembroke had taken a great interest in carpet manufacture in France and Belgium and it is said that the earl arranged the smuggling of two French weavers, Anthony Defussy and Peter Jemaule, out of France to Wilton to teach the locals the new carpet weaving technique. This new technique was a variation of the original loop-in Brussels weave where the loops of the Brussels weave were cut to produce the characteristic pile of the famous Wilton carpet. The first Wilton loom was patented in 1741. In 1767 between 60 and 80 people were employed in the trade.
The new carpet rapidly became very popular and for a few years Wilton enjoyed the monopoly, but in 1749 the weavers of Kidderminster learned the method and began to compete with Wilton. By simple evasion of the patent laws of the time, Kidderminster competed with Wilton to become a centre of carpet manufacture.
Further competition emerged about this time when an Axminster clothier copied Turkish carpets and successfully produced the first, what came to be known as Axminster carpet using a new method of carpet manufacture. This had great implications for the Wilton carpets. A slump in demand for the Wilton product followed the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and increased competition from the continent and many Wilton carpet workers were thrown out of work. The carpet weaving firm Blackmores bought the present factory in 1835 and moved all its production here. The Axminster factory went bankrupt following a disastrous fire and all the hand-looms and expertise was bought by Blackmores and moved to Wilton.
Although it is difficult to establish how many weavers were involved in the production of carpets at the various sites in Wilton as opposed to cloth weaving it is known that production of Wilton, Axminster, Persian and Turkey were of very fine quality and highly valued.
During the latter part of the 19th century factory was bought by Yates and Company and very high quality Wilton carpet production became renowned. The Americans by that time were prepared to spend vast sums of money to acquire the most luxurious of carpets.
Once again problems hit the factory at the turn of the 19th century and a rescue was mounted by Sidney, the 14th Earl of Pembroke. A consortium of businessmen bought the carpet factory and it was renamed The Wilton Royal Carpet Factory. Both hand-knotted Axminsters and machine-woven Wiltons and manufacturing extended into various other sites within a 20 mile radius of the Wilton factory. Although production continued through the First World War it ceased during the Second and went over to providing materials for the war effort. Although hand knotted production resumed after the war production stopped in 1958. By this time machine woven Axminster carpets were being made at Wilton. Solent Carpets had taken over the company in 1944 and further upheaval and management changes occurred after that.
From the early 1950’s the carpet industry in the UK faced severe difficulties as cheap tufted carpets were being manufactured by companies such as Cyril Lord using imported technology from the United States. More changes occurred and in 1995 Coats Viyella, the new owners closed the factory and transferred the designs and brand names of the Wilton factory to other plants in the UK.
However, Wiltons long tradition of carpet weaving did not end here. Phoenix-like the factory was re-named back to its original name and re-opened immediately with 11 employees and one month later the first of the Axminster looms started. Soon after, The Earl of Pembroke very soon commissioned a new carpet for the private library in Wilton House.
Today the Wilton Carpet Factory
shop is next to the factory and the Wilton Shopping Village enhances the site and a wide variety of goods are sold in a selection of shops.
The pleasant riverside setting and original courtyards and factory outbuildings has seating and restaurants which combine to make an enjoyable family day out. Please clickon the link below for Wilton Shopping Village in the ancient Wiltshire town of Wilton Wilton Carpet Factory