Design Archive: Brintons Carpets

Est. 1790

Location: Kidderminster, Worcestershire (UK).

The original Brintons archive dates back to the 19th Century. In 2004 Brintons added the archive from neighbouring carpet manufacturer Woodward Grosvenor with artefacts dating back to the 1790s. They have also integrated the archive from US carpet manufacturer, Alexander Smith and Sons of Yonkers, New York. The three archives together comprise one of, if not, the largest textile archive in the world and includes original design papers from the company of William Morris (Morris & Co), original hand painted designs from Voysey and Lewis F Day and work from Robin Day.

The Brintons factory in 1870

18th Century & 19th Century

The origins of the company can be traced back to the opening of the first mill in 1783. A carpet factory was established in Kidderminster in 1819. In 1876 a head office opened in Exchange Street, Kidderminster and in 1881 Brintons became a limited company - John Brinton and Son.

Brintons owns a large archive of unique early design papers dating from this period. These precious papers, with delicate inscriptions on the back, give a rich insight into the creative inspiration and technological innovation of the period and trace the history of the carpet industry in Kidderminster.

The company supplied many distinguished residences including Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, the Royal seaside palace of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The interiors of the house abound with opulence in both architectural and decorative designs commissioned by the Royal couple to reflect their love of the arts. Brintons holds the original design papers for the carpet at Osborne House, including one with Albert's signature on the back, revealing that the Prince himself was personally involved in the commissioning and signing off of the design. The carpet can to this day still be seen in the sitting room at Osborne House.

Osborne House & an archive document bearing Prince Albert's signature

Brintons owns one of the world's largest collections of Katagami (Japanese paper stencil patterns) - nearly 900 in total. Originating in the Nara Period (710-794), Katagami were first used for applying designs in dye to leather goods such as stirrups and warrior helmets. They later came to be used for dyeing textiles and made great advances with the development of the kimono culture. The designs in the Brintons Katagami collection date from the 19th century. Some of the items from the collection were recently exhibited at the 'Katagami Style' exhibition in Tokyo and designs have also been loaned to the V&A museum. The archive is extensively used as inspiration for new collections.

1890 marked a significant moment in the Brinton's history when, after six years of development, the company patented the gripper Axminster loom which revolutionised the production of carpet patterns.


The 20th century

In 1904 the Brintons Engineering Department was established. From this day forward the company made all its own looms, with the first broadlooms being built in 1909 (previously they had used 27" narrow looms).

Louis Silas - 1931

In 1933 Brintons celebrated their 150th anniversary with an order to supply carpet for the Queen Mary, the flagship of the Cunard Line in the 1930s and 1940s and one of the most legendary ocean liners ever built.

During the second world war the company's war efforts were not confined to textiles. As well as making webbing and blankets for the army the company also made machine tools, Oerlikon Gun Mountings, 20mm Marine Gun Mountings, 4 gallon petrol cans (“Jerricans”), Incendiary Bomb Clusters and 300 miles of roller conveyor with 118,000 adjustable stands. They were granted a license to recommence the manufacture of carpet in 1944.

In the 1950s, Brintons invented the 80 per cent wool 20 per cent nylon blend which is now the global standard for axminster around the world. This blend combines the comfort of wool with the strength and durability of nylon. The blend continues to perform excellently and it is used in Brinton products to this day, woven on looms designed and built by the company.

A Royal Warrant was received during the 1950s, and as well as supplying carpets to Buckingham Palace, Brintons has also made high quality carpets for Downing Street and the White House.

A design by Robin Day

A further plant was established at Telford in 1970 and the expansion of this in 1975 made it the largest carpet yarn plant in Europe.

In the 1970s Brintons became the first company to introduce Computer Aided Design (CAD) for carpets, and in more recent years the invention of electronic jacquard has driven revolutionary changes in the world of woven carpet in relation to manufacturing and maybe more so in design. Gone are the days when carpet patterns were restricted to short repeating patterns, a limitation of standard jacquard weaving mechanisms. Now designers have unbridled freedom to create patterns of amazing scale and proportion that can be manufactured into stunning woven carpet.

Brintons introduced electronic jacquard initially to make the weaving and planning process easier for detailed design work. This technology soon became the driver for key design trends, especially relating to large repeating patterns and over-scaled designs.

At Brintons, the full utilization of electronic jacquard technology really came to the fore in the mid 1990’s and was largely driven by the hospitality and convention centre markets in the USA.

Brintons advertising campaign. Designs by Vivienne Westwood, photography by David Bailey.

In 1993 Brintons launched their first ever advertising campaign for which Vivienne Westwood designed a series of iconic costumes made from the company's carpets. A second Westwood designed campaign followed in 1995, based on dress styles from 1783, the year the company was founded. The photography for both campaigns was by David Bailey. A third campaign was launched in 1996 and in 2000, British designer Anthony Price created evening gowns constructed from carpet for a campaign photographed by Patrick Lichfield.

Anthony Price gown photographed by Patrick Lichfield

In 2006 the Brintons archive was used for the renovation of Kew Palace. The Historic Royal Palaces organisation, responsible for the renovation, selected four original hand-painted point paper designs from the archive and commissioned them into carpet for the property. It was the use of these genuine Georgian period carpet designs that gave the property its remarkable authenticity. Without the archive resource this would have been very difficult to achieve.

In 2007 Brintons collaborated with leading design duo Timorous Beasties to create "First Weave", a collection of designs which are large in scale and go against almost every conventional rule. The collection was nominated for the Elle Deco "Design of the Year 2007".

Timorous Beasties

In 2011 Brintons supplied carpet to the newly-opened St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London, the location used in their 1999 brand campaign. Brintons also supported the Campaign for Wool by producing a bespoke runway carpet that formed part of the ground-breaking ‘Wool Modern’ exhibition.

St Pancras Hotel

After remaining in the same family through six generations, Brintons was acquired by The Carlyle Group, a global alternative asset manager in 2011. Brintons have always invested in developing their own innovative  weaving technology, yarn blends and in design creativity. The new company continues to invest in these differentiating features, the latest advanced multi colour looms represent state of the art weaving technology that is unique to the company, designed and made in the Midlands to offer clients ever more imaginative floorscapes.  

Connecticut Convention Centre, USA

Obsessionistas would like to personally thank John Bain, Global Design Director and Yvonne Smith, Company Archivist of Brintons, for allowing us access to the company’s unique and historic collection of archive designs.

Visit the Brintons website here

All images © Brintons and published with kind permission.