The Stockwell family have been involved in textiles at least since 1755 when Samuel Stockwell started his seven year apprenticeship to become a weaver of broadcloth, as did his son, John.
Samuel Stockwell’s indenture dated 1755
Note some of the terms of the seven year apprenticeship excluded ‘visiting ale houses’, ‘playing of dice’ and, of course any carnal activity!
My great grandfather was involved in carpets – probably working with oriental ones and my grandfather, another Samuel, started a very successful business in Manchester in the North of England. This covered the wholesaling of fabrics, carpets and furniture. His business expanded to Leeds and Preston.
My father, Frank Stockwell, worked for S.J. Stockwell and related strongly to the carpet side of the business.
He was a very organised man and disliked the marks that feet left in velvet pile carpets. He asked around several factories for a solution and ended up having some overspun yarn made into carpet.
Frank Stockwell was the first to introduce twist pile carpets to the world and mothproof carpets to the United Kingdom..
Meeting a great deal of resistance from Northern wholesalers and distributors, Frank took his business to London.
Stockwell Carpets showroom and offices from 1952 to 1972
This beautiful Georgian building at 16 Grafton Street was the London home of Stockwell Carpets for many years.
It was the installation of the Chenille Axminster carpets in this building by ‘ring and pin’ method which led to an American visitor introducing the tackless installation method to Frank Stockwell, who then introduced it to Europe.
Working closely with stylists from House & Garden magazine, the first range of decorator colours was introduced through the Grafton Street Showroom and House & Garden collaborated on many room settings on the 1st floor of this historic building.
In 1952, Oliver Messel commissioned a handmade carpet for the Penthouse Suite at the Dorchester Hotel. This was a hand tufted carpet made in Lancashire.
I joined S.J. Stockwell & Co in 1967, during Sixties London and we could hear the Beatles making their famous rooftop recording round the corner in Savile Row. Apparently,this was the last time they played together.
In fact, I remember Paul McCartney coming round with Linda in their trendy custom mini to order a handmade carpet from us, in Grafton Street. When they asked for a cigarette, I was summoned to offer them one and steadied my lighter with the wrist of my other hand, to which Mr McCartney commented ‘cool!’.
I became absorbed immediately in the handmade side of the business. At that time we worked with two great designers: Robert Wallace, an American and Gavin Hamilton, a Scot.
In 1973, Bertram Jacobs, author of ‘Axminster Carpets’ and “The History of British Carpets”, approached us to see if we could work with Francis Milward. Francis was the Chief Designer at the famous Wilton Royal hand knotting factory which had shut down in 1959 and had been working unhappily with some machine made carpet factories. This started a great relationship and set the high standard of design quality that we have always maintained since this period.
Francis worked on some great carpets with us as well as recreating some he had worked on in his days at Wilton, such as the long runner for the Ritz Hotel in London and the courtroom carpet at Trinity House, both of which we were to re-create, during the 1970’s and 80’s.
Francis was trained as a sculptor, became a Benedictine monk and then joined the tank regiment to fight for his country in World War 2. A memorable story of his was when his Sargeant Major said “You’re an artist, aren’t you? Paint the numbers on those armoured vehicles!” Francis used Roman numerals!
After the war, he was offered a job by a fellow soldier, as a designer for Solent Carpets which was the old Wilton Royal Carpet Company: the Company originated by Thomas Whitty in Axminster.
After Francis came Rob Holmes who was also a creative textile designer and who designed numerous collections for us.
Rob was succeeded by Sharon Reid, who continued the tradition of collections with a large number of textured designs.
One of the first slogans we used was: ‘Quality by Design’ and it is this design quality that makes any creative product exceptional.
It was in the 1970s that I met the late Fred Duckworth, an engineer who had set up a small factory behind his charming house in Craigie Village in Ayrshire. He called his company ‘Craigie Carpets’ and Fred and I had a very close friendship and a good business partnership with what was to become ‘Craigie Stockwell Carpets’, which was based in Irvine in Ayrshire.
It was during this time that we started to work with a local inventor in Scotland on fibre optics in carpets which led to us establishing the world patent for this.
I have some bad history over patents: my ex partner in London, Jolyon Hooley’s great grandfather (or may even have been grandfather) invented tarmac and something happened that made him earn about a thousand pounds from it before it was taken over by Tarmac – he is given a mention in the books about it! The second travesty was over the introduction of tackless gripper to Europe: my father did not notice that there was no European patent on ‘Smoothedge’ just one for the USA. My father’s salesman saw the opportunity and set up ‘Gripperrods’, becoming a multi millionaire and my father had to resign his directorship of Smoothedge Europe! This is why I probably grabbed at the fibre optic patent, but sadly, this was not to be the huge money spinner the others were, and I finally dropped the patent after exploring most possibilities for it!
We now work from a Georgian building at 81, York Street in Marylebone.
‘It is just so handsome and the colors are just right! I am really so pleased and cannot thank you and the team enough for making the rug that I envisioned. With such appreciation,’
Diane, Associate Curator of Decorative Arts, Monticello,
Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Virginia, U.S.A.