History detectives use royal rug as inspiration for Saloon carpet redesign

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Painstaking detective work led to the design of the luxurious vibrant circular carpet which transforms the floor of the Saloon.

The carpet is one of the most lavish and complicated ever woven by Axminster Carpets, who hold a Royal Warrant, in their 250 year history.

Incorporating 20 dragons, 100 sun rays and 274 lotus leaves, the design was almost lost forever when Queen Victoria decided to sell the Royal Pavilion in 1850 to the town of Brighton.

Victoria ordered all the furniture, fittings and carpets to be transported to Buckingham Palace to be used by the Queen and her household. Unfortunately the original carpet designed by Samuel Whitty in 1822 for Axminster was not needed and as Queen Victoria was very thrifty, it was chopped up to make rugs for the royal London residence.

Nearly 200 years later RPM Decorative Artist and Glass Conservator Anne Sowden used the one fragile portion of the carpet which still exists today.

Using this as the starting point, she researched the saloon using an aquatint, an early type of etching by John Nash of the room in 1822-3 and a rare image of part of Robert Jones’ designs for the room originally commissioned by King George 1V and a detailed description in the Royal Pavilion inventory of 1828.

Sowden who has worked at the Royal Pavilion for 30 years and was previously a designer for Royal Doulton then created an intricate line-drawn and painted design which was then turned into a digital version of the design by Axminster which took seven months to complete.

The result is an exotic, vibrant carpet which has taken months to make complete with a central garland of flowers inspired by those which bloomed in summer in the early 19th century Royal Pavilion Garden.

The original carpet cost £620 to produce. The new carpet which is designed to be hard-wearing to cope with heavy footfall will cost £59,500 and take fleeces from 80 Cheviot, Blackface, Welsh and Heavy X-bred sheep, to produce. It has been funded through grants, donations from the public and private donations.

Keeper of the Royal Pavilion David Beevers said; “The work our conservator Anne Sowden has done on the Saloon carpet is remarkable. It has been laborious and time-consuming, as she’s plotted the motifs from evidence gathered from research by curators and conservators amongst archives held at the Royal Pavilion, the National Archives at Kew, and the Royal Library and Print Room at Windsor.

“Crucially we have on loan from the Royal Collection a piece of the original 1823 carpet which has also provided invaluable information.

“The resulting design is a triumph – beautiful, vibrant and historically informed.”

Interviews and articles

We can offer you a glimpse of the Saloon before it is re-opened to the public on 8 September 2018. You may also wish to interview some of the team who have restored the room or focus on an individual element of the restoration process.

Please contact Caroline Sutton if you have ideas on how your publication would like to cover the Saloon.

We can provide a series of hi-res images to accompany your article.