Axminster Carpets have helped the National Trsut to restore an antique rug at Saltram House in Plymouth. 

Axminster Carpets, founder, Thomas Whitty, wove the original carpet in the 18th century and now two partial copies have been made that will be laid over the original. 

The full-length protective reweaves, each covering two-thirds of the carpet’s width, will be regularly rotated. Initially, one copy will be placed along the fireplace wall; after 18 months to two years, it will be cleaned, repaired and stored by bespoke flooring specialists Linney Cooper and the second copy will be laid along the opposite wall. This approach will allow the original carpet to rest and extend the life of the reweaves to up to 30 years.

Axminster Carpets’ six-week reweave involved 22 thread colours and 96,130 changes of bobbin (the cylinder on which the yarn is wound), each change taking from three hours to one day to complete.

John and Theresa Parker asked the fashionable Scottish designer and architect Robert Adam to design every detail of the Saloon at Saltram, near Plymouth, in around 1768. He designed a huge 13.5m x 5.9m one-off carpet to echo the pattern of the exquisite plasterwork ceiling above, with festoons of flowers and ribbons, bands of diamonds and fans in pinks, blues, browns and greens.

The carpet reweave is the final stage of a major Saloon conservation project which began in 2017 and gave visitors the opportunity to watch the work in-situ. This included cleaning and consolidating the plaster ceiling by Cliveden Conservation and cleaning and repairing the original carpet, undertaken by a team of local textile conservators. The conservation project was funded by the National Trust and the Wolfson Foundation.

Most of the wool was British, specially dyed to give an appropriate antique appearance. Gary and his team made more than 50 visits to Saltram to check thread colours against the original carpet

Curator Zoe Shearman said: “For a long time the fragility of the carpet stopped visitors from entering all but the edges of the room. Rolling one end protected the carpet but meant people were passive observers of the room and could not see the carpet in its entirety.

“Then, we commissioned a drugget, a protective floor covering for part of the space. This allowed visitors to walk the length of the room but obscured the beautiful central medallion of the carpet’s design.”

“The Saloon was part of a scheme of fashionable improvements at Saltram, a space for extravagant entertaining, laughter and making social and political connections. And the carpet was at its heart, with the chairs, tables and torchères all arranged around the edges to allow the 3D-effect of the design to really shine.

“It wasn’t until the 1750s that carpet factories were set up around London and in Axminster, providing wealthy homes with warm, colourful and luxurious floor carpets. With its sheer size, beauty and novelty, the Saltram carpet must have been a truly impressive sight – and it still is today.”

Axminster Carpets’ Design and Innovation Director Gary Bridge said: “Building the 15ft loom was a huge task that took 20 months. It is the largest 8-pitch mechanical loom in existence, allowing for a fine, detailed weave on a great scale.

“In more than 40 years in the industry, this is the most complicated weave I have ever worked on – and I believe the most complex ever attempted.”

“The original carpet was woven at Thomas Whitty’s Axminster factory, probably by his wife and children, who would have sat alongside each other as they hand-knotted the wool.