A Brief History of Carpets and the Carpet Industry

Steve Newman Writer
12 min readJun 14, 2018
The Ardebil Carpet. Victoria & Albert Museum London

There was a time when the carpet industry, and the history of carpets, was taken seriously, and was well documented, with those involved writing books and learned articles on the subject, most notably C.E.C. Tattersall’s and S. Reed’s huge, The History of British Carpets, which first came out in 1934, with an updated edition re-issued in 1966 by F. Lewis & Co.

Many years ago I was a carpet buyer for a couple of department store groups, and in the 1980s I also came across Afghan rugs that depicted the Russian occupation of that country. I bought hundreds of the things and created quite a stir when I got the press and TV involved. I also managed to get the wonderful Afghan writer, Amina Shah, sister of the novelist, Idries Shah, involved in helping to publicize the rugs, which were eventually sold at auction to raise money for Afghan refugees.

Most of Britain’s and the US’s long established industries — especially those reliant on heavy plant, and relatively large work forces — have gone through periods of huge growth, development and optimism, followed by even longer periods of downturn, stagnation, and demise. The carpet industry is no exception to this pattern but has managed, by mergers and takeovers, to keep on going, just.

But perhaps one of the biggest changes the carpet industry has suffered over the years — especially in the UK — is the decimation of its once proud geographic base. Go to Kidderminster today (once the very heart of Britain’s carpet industry) and you’ll soon discover that most of the carpet factories are now long gone, with most of the sites turned into the ubiquitous shopping centre, multi-storey car parks, or housing estate. It’s also rather ironic to observe that one of the many new roads built in Kidderminster’s town centre is called ‘Carpet Trades Way’, which you might consider to be something of a tribute until you discover it’s a dead end.

Travel a hundred miles or so north to Halifax in Yorkshire and you will discover that even the awesome Dean Clough Mills — once the blackened, and bustling 24 hour home of John Crossley & Sons, and a place of carpet manufacture since the 1820s — has become a sandblasted smoke free heritage centre.