Knotted pile carpet weaving technology probably came to England in the early 16th century with Flemish Calvinists fleeing religious persecution. Because many of these weavers settled in South-eastern England in Norwich the 14 extant 16th and 17th century carpets are sometimes referred to as "Norwich carpets". The first English carpets were adaptations of two styles:

  • Anatolian carpets with strong emphasis on geometric shapes in their design
  • Indo-Persian designs employing Elizabethan-Jacobean scrolling vines and blossoms

Like the French, English weavers used the symmetrical knot. There are documented and surviving examples of carpets from three 18th century manufactories:

  • Exeter (1756-1761, owned by Claude Passavant, 3 extant carpets)
  • Moorfields (1752-1806, owned by Thomas Moore, 5 extant carpets)
  • Axminster (1755-1835, owned by Thomas Whitty, numerous extant carpets)
An English Needlework Table Carpet

Exeter and Moorfields were both staffed with renegade weavers from the French Savonnerie and, therefore, employ the weaving structure of that factory and Perrot-inspired designs. Neoclassical designer Robert Adam supplied designs for both Moorfields and Axminster carpets based on Roman floor mosaics and coffered ceilings. Some of the most well-known rugs of his design were made for Syon House, Osterley Park House, Harewood House, Saltram House, and Newby Hall.

Six of Axminster carpets are known as the "Lansdowne" group. These have a tripartite design with reeded circles and baskets of flowers in the central panel flanked by diamond lozenges in the side panels. Axminster Rococo designs often have a brown ground and include birds copied from popular, contemporary engravings. Even now a large percentage of the 55,000 population town still seek employment in this industry.

Antique English Needlepoint Carpets

The Arts & Crafts by William Morris Movement

Arts&Crafts by William MorrisThe Arts and Crafts Movement was an international design movement that originated in England and flourished between 1880 and 1910, continuing its influence up to the 1930s. It was instigated by the artist and writer William Morris (1834-1896) in the 1860s. The movement advocated truth to materials and traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and often medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration. In 1861, Morris founded a design firm in partnership with the artist Edward Burne-Jones, and the poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti which profoundly influenced the decoration of churches and houses into the early 20th century. His chief contribution to the arts was as a designer of repeating patterns for wallpapers and textiles, many based on a close observation of nature. He was a major contributor to the resurgence of traditional textile arts and methods of production.

Antique William Morris Carpets

Morris & Co designs were influenced by traditional carpeting designs from around the world. There are constant flower and wildlife images that are recognizable linked with the native Persian carpet industry for example, of which Morris was a particularly keen and avid fan. Morris was also committed, as were many leading designers of the mid-nineteenth century, into producing design work that was basically graphic in nature, as opposed to that of the three-dimensional qualities that were commonplace amongst the more fashionable designs of the period, two examples of which are shown below.

William Morris Carpet Designs

These extremely popular carpet designs were produced for both effect and status. Carpet manufacturers had seen a large increase in their market with the expansion of the 19th century middle class. This class had only recently started to expand in numbers and many were still unfamiliar as to role that their heightened position in society had given them. Many were keen to portray their new wealth and status by procuring instant possessions.

Morris was convinced that a flat, graphic quality to the design, particularly with regard to textiles, was more fitting to the flat nature of the medium. He saw no real gain in employing mock three-dimensional trickery in order to produce a realistic image, where none was needed. He felt that much of the contemporary decorative qualities in carpet and rug design served no purpose other than to jar the ambiance of a planned interior, and felt that much could be learned from traditional surface pattern techniques, particularly those used within the Islamic world.

Although Morris carpet designs were very often complex, the color palette and compositional work produced by him and his company, was never heightened to the detriment of an interior. As far as Morris was concerned, the carpet was supposed to compliment the furnishings not dominate them. Morris, along with many others in 19th century Britain, felt that the newest and latest members of the by now burgeoning middle class, needed to be educated towards a better management of their interiors. It was assumed that taste was something that could be taught. The constant publication throughout the century, often by self-proclaimed connoisseurs of taste, of books and articles dealing with the achievement of taste and refinement, and their undoubted and obvious popularity, showed that large sections of the general public had an appetite for these lessons and were more than willing to be taught.

Sources and inspiration: Bérinstain, Valérie, et al. L'art du tapis dans le monde (The art of carpets in the world),. Paris: Mengès, 1996. Print.; Jerrehian Jr., Aram K.A. Oriental Rug Primer. Philadelphia: Running Press, 1980. Print.; Herbert, Janice Summers. Oriental Rugs, New York: Macmillan, 1982. Print.; Hackmack, Adolf. Chinese Carpets and Rugs, Rutland and Tokyo: Tuttle, 1980. Print. ; De Moubray, Amicia, and David Black. Carpets for the home, London: Laurence King Publishing, 1999. Print.; Jacobsen, Charles. Oriental Rugs A Complete Guide, Rutland and Tokyo: Tuttle, 1962. Print.; Bashir, S. (n.d.). Personal interview.; Web site sources and dates of consultation vary (to be confirmed). Without prejudice to official usage.