Thursday, 19 January 2012

By royal appointment

WHEN Harry Dutfield passed through Axminster on a train in the 1930s and wondered whatever happened to Axminster Carpets, little could he have imagined that one day his ambitions to revive the town’s carpet-making tradition would receive royal patronage and approval.

The news this week that Axminster Carpets had been granted a Royal Warrant is good news indeed - not just for the carpet factory but for the town of Axminster.

Harry Dutfield, who started weaving carpets in the attic of his Kidderminster home after leaving school, founded Axminster Carpets Ltd in 1937, following the tradition set by Thomas Whitty in the 18th century. The company was founded with the support and goodwill of some local businessmen and a capital of £15,000.

Carpets woven by Axminster’s early weavers still adorn some of this country’s finest houses and Harry Dutfield went on to put Axminster on the world map with the “Axminster from Axminster” slogan always being considered a marketing gem.

A royal warrant is the ultimate recognition of quality and comes at a time when Axminster Carpets, like so many other businesses, are having to adjust to the ravages of these difficult trading days.

Harry Dutfield died in 1991, having achieved legendary status in his adopted town. He had handed on the baton to his son Simon, who continued to develop the family firm and now Harry’s grandson, Josh, a young man with a very shrewd head on his shoulders, is responsible for the day-to-day running of the business.

Over the years the Axminster factory has made carpets for palaces, castles and country houses, just as Thomas Whitty had done back in the 18th century. After fire ravaged Windsor Castle, new carpets came from Axminster. They can be seen too in Osborne House, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s family home, and the Royal Albert Hall.

In receiving the honour Axminster Carpets joins a very exclusive club, membership of which includes some of the top trading names in this country.

The warrant granted by the Queen should also be seen as a tribute to the hundreds of designers and weavers who down the years have consistently produced carpets of such high quality.

Carpet making in the 21st century is a very different business to that in the Thomas Whitty days. But quality is not a passing fad - it’s the thread that links Whitty’s pioneering methods with today’s digital processes.

Good news in business is a rare occurence at present - so let’s all raise a glass to Harry Dutfield whose foresight nearly 80 years ago has finally got the royal seal of approval.

I AM reliably informed that great progress has been achieved in recent months in the establishing of a heritage centre in the fomer Thomas Whitty carpet factory in Silver Street, which later was used as a drill hall.

An announcement will soon be made which will lead to the culmination of many years work to create, under one roof, a centre that represents the complete history of the town.

There have been many setbacks along the way but to bring such a project to fruition in the current economic climate is a fantastic achievement.

A happy band of panto players

PANTO SEASON WEEK TWO: In recent years Axminster Drama Club has emerged as one of the area’s most ambitious and talented stage groups, always challenging themselves.

And one of the most refreshing things about this society is their success in bringing through young performers.

This is much in evidence with the staging of their annual pantomime, Aladdin, at Axminster Guildhall this week.

I saw part of the production at the dress rehearsal on Tuesday evening and attended the full performance to do a review for next week’s Weekender last night (Thursday).

I don’t what to pre-empt my review, but from taking a few photographs of the first half for this week’s paper it seems that the panto has all the hallmarks of another typically successful Axminster show, with superb staging.

I was particularly pleased to see Eleanor Waterhouse, from Rousdon, taking the leading role. I know Ellie from the Lyme’s Got Talent shows which I have organised over the past two years. She has a beautiful voice and it is good to see her extending herself into an acting role.

In attending the dress rehearsal it was quite noticeable too that the club has brought together a happy and enthusiastic band of performers who really enjoy themselves.

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