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A Brief History of English Carpets, and the Stourvale Mill

The town of Kidderminster, Worcestershire, lies about 20 miles southwest of Birmingham in the English industrial midlands. It has been a center of weaving for many centuries, and in the mid - late eighteenth century began to specialize in new forms of carpet weaving, rightfully coming to be called the carpet capital of Britain. The historic Stourvale Mill on Green Street was built in the early 1850's under the guidance of Henry Woodward, who had started his company in 1790, and who was joined by Benjamin Grosvenor to operate the first steam powered carpet mill in Britain on the site. The firm of Woodward Grosvenor & Co. Ltd. remains the major weaver of Brussels and Wilton carpets, and is the only firm with a complete design archive extant that covers over 200 years in business and over 10,000 patterns. J.R. Burrows & Co. are the agents in the United States for historic designs from this archive, which is marketed as the "Stourvale Mill Collection."

Kidderminster Carpets are a reversible flat weave carpet popular from the 18th century to the early 20th century. This form of carpeting has no pile and the pattern is shown in opposing colors on both faces, making it possible to turn the carpet over when one side was worn or soiled. In North America these carpets were commonly called Ingrain Carpet. None are woven today in the town of Kidderminster, but they are made still in small quantities in the United States, including designs by William Morris.

Axminster Carpets are the main product of Kidderminster today, but this product is a relative newcomer from the late 19th century. Taking the name of an earlier form of hand-knotted rug (the finest and most expensive English carpets), Chenille Axminsters, developed in 1839 by James Templeton of Glasgow, simulated the rich quality of the hand-knotted rugs and could weave room size seamless rugs (sadly, these are no longer made anywhere). Spool and gripper Axminsters were a later development that made a durable machine woven carpet with a thick pile, but of a more modest expense than other woven carpets. These are still made in large quantities for hotels, pubs, and residential use. William Morris and C.F.A. Voysey were among the famous designers who drew patterns for Axminster carpets.

Brussels and Wilton carpets are today just a small percentage of the overall production of the town of Kidderminster, in the early 19th century they were the major product of the town. Brussels carpets are a level loop carpet where the wool not exposed as pile is carried in a dense backing - colors are drawn to the surface as needed for the pattern, and up to five colors can be used in a single row. By alternating colors, or 'planting the colors' in the rows, many more accent colors can be skilfully introduced into the pattern. Brussels carpets were first woven in the early 18th century, and by the late 18th century Kidderminster was the main center of production for Brussels. Wilton carpets have the same structure as Brussels but the pile is cut open and sheared, producing a velvet-like quality. Although increased mechanization has equalized the pricing, in the 18th and 19th century the velvet pile of Wilton was roughly double the cost of Brussels. During the Regency (in the U.S. the Federal period) Brussels carpets were the height of luxury for all but the wealthiest homeowners, and Wilton carpets were an extra luxury that few could afford. By the mid-nineteenth century it became common to make the best showing with a Wilton carpet in the best parlor or drawing room , and to use the less expensive Brussels carpet in the lesser rooms of a dwelling.