Thursday, February 21, 2013
Although its roots can be traced back to the 1700s, it was Harry Dutfield, born in 1908, who created a luxury brand trusted the world over.
The carpet industry had been lost to Axminster for a century when, in 1936, a young and passionate manufacturer called Harry Dutfield, of Kidderminster, wrote to the then town clerk, Cecil Forward, asking if the townspeople would be interested in reviving the industry.
Mr Dutfield, born in Glasgow in 1908 and the son of a head Wilton designer, was to receive a swift and positive response.
Within weeks, he was in Axminster and secured capital of £15,000, including his own investment of £7,500, to found Axminster Carpets Limited.
Mr R J Luff, one of the few local people prepared to take a financial risk, owned fields that the factory was to be established on.
Mr Dutfield personally mixed and laid the foundations of the factory’s boiler house.
He went on to win a £5 bet - by producing a carpet by Coronation Day.
It was the first carpet to be manufactured in Axminster for 102 years and, such was its significance, it was displayed in Potter’s window.
Mr Dutfield was later to recall: “It was a great day for Axminster.”
Looms were installed at the rate of one every six weeks and the factory started to flourish, producing top quality carpet.
In 1940, fate averted tragedy.
Mr Dutfield volunteered for the Royal Navy Patrol Service and was offered a commission skippering a patrol craft from Falmouth to Brixham.
The boat was blown up by a magnetic mine off Torbay, but, thankfully, he was not on board - his business partners had asked the Board of Trade to cancel his commission as, they felt, the factory would not be able to function without him.
Carpet manufacturing was forced to temporarily cease, when the factory was engaged in production for the war effort.
The company assisted its employees, returning from the war, with self-build homes in Dragons Mead and went on to extend the factory to accommodate wide looms circa 1947.
It faced a continuing shortage of woollen yarn but, in 1950, bought a spinning mill near Newton Abbot.
Keen fisherman Mr Dutfield was later to joke: “Some unkind people said I would never have bought Buckfast Mill if the salmon fishing rights weren’t included in the deal.
“I must say that, if there had been any doubt in my mind, those fishing rights would have affected my thinking. Certainly, I caught a lot of salmon down there.”
In 1959 the foundations were laid for the opening of a factory in New Zealand, later to be known as Marlin Carpets - named after a fish Mr Dutfield regarded as a prize catch. The company was sold in 1968.
He went on to get involved in the breeding of Drysdale sheep, saying the animals “produce the finest carpet wool in the world”.
Although Harry Dutfield revived Axminster’s carpet industry, he attributed his success to the people around him.
He always recognised that it was the dedication and passion of the work force, and especially those he placed in positions of trust, that put Axminster Carpets at the very top of its game: an internationally recognised brand and a byword for quality.
Speaking when he was 75, the late Mr Dutfield said: “Any boss worth his salt thinks of his workers and staff at least as much as himself.”
Today, his grandson, Josh, is at the helm of the business as it fights for its future following a prolonged economic downturn.
Josh is as passionate as his grandfather was about the carpet making industry and there can be no doubt that thoughts of Harry’s lifelong work to make ‘Axminsters from Axminster’ a world class product will not be far from his mind.