The surprisingly weird world of Wetherspoons' carpets




This article appears in Issue 16 of Umbrella 
Beauty can exist in the most unlikely of places – and your local JD Wetherspoon is no exception. Turns out the famously-affordable pub chain pays particular attention to its floor coverings. 
Far from simply being camouflage for spilt drinks, each carpet is a carefully considered piece of design. Some feature abstract patterns, others are inspired by the history of the building, its name or location – all are bespoke and unique to that particular pub.
Writer Kit Caless travelled the country, visiting as many Wetherspoons as he could, to record the diversity of these designs. We caught up with him to discuss his unusual obsession...
Umbrella: Hi Kit. What inspired you to start photographing carpets?
Kit Caless: In March 2015 I was heading back to London from Canterbury but I missed my train. There’s a Wetherspoons, The West Gate Inn, right near the station, so naturally I bought a pint and finished a book I was reading at the time, The Way Inn by Will Wiles.
Its main character always stays at the same mid-range hotel chain every time he goes away. One day, he notices all of the corporate art outside the lifts, when matched up, makes one big canvas which unlocks the nefarious secrets of the chain. 
After I finished the book I stared down at the carpet, for want of anything better to do. Then I thought, what if all the carpets added up to make one big tapestry across the country? So I took a picture on my phone.
U: Then what happened?
KC: A couple of days later I was in Baxter's Court, a ’Spoons in London, and remembered that photo. Looking down at the carpet I noticed it was completely different to the one in The West Gate Inn. So I took a photo of it. And the hypothesis changed, what if <all> ‘Spoons carpets were different across the country? 
Over some time I gathered about 15 photos of different pub carpets, all different, all weird and all wonderful. I invited the public to send me a picture of their local carpet and it grew from there. 
The book is a selection of my favourite carpets and the towns in which they sit. Also, it inspired me to take proper photos rather than half-drunk mobile phone shots at 10pm on a Friday night!
U: Were you surprised at the response to your blog?
KC: Yes and no. I was surprised how many people responded so quickly, but in reality, millions of people drink in Wetherspoons so there was plenty of scope for it to blow up. I think the surprising thing was how invested people got in the quest to find a replica carpet (i.e prove the hypothesis wrong). Some people visited as many as ten pubs in their area and would send photos whenever they were somewhere new.
U: So what was the weirdest carpet you found?
KC: I couldn't pick a weirdest, most of them are bonkers! But I think the weirdest pub has to be the Admiral Collingwood in Ilfracombe – it has a huge dome in the middle, like the Reichstag in Berlin and the carpet is a massive circle design to complement that. It's breathtaking on the one hand, and on the other, you think, why on earth has so much effort been put into this?
U: What was your favourite?
KC: I have a few. The Queen's Hotel in Maltby, for example. It’s in a former mining community and the carpet design there is inspired by the colliery. A mine shaft's pit-head sits on top of a cross-section of layers beneath the earth's surface. Horse heads represent the pit ponies that would’ve hauled coal from the face to the main road. What's more, there’s groups of hexagons with circles inside linked by lines and squares as an illustration of the molecular structure of coal.
Then there’s the Mossy Well in Muswell Hill, or the Bishop's Mill in Durham… but I think currently my absolute favourite is the Rochester Castle in Stoke Newington – because this one was laid down in my honour! The book launch was at that pub and the old carpet was pretty tatty. Two days before the event they installed an entirely new floor tapestry – I'm not sure many writers can claim that!
U: Where are the carpets made?
KC: Two places, Wilton's in Salisbury and Ulster Carpets in... Ulster. I visited Wilton's in Salisbury to take photos and find out a bit more. They've been weaving carpets there for over 400 years, including commissions from the House of Lords and other stately places. All the wool and the dyes are made in the UK, which is rare these days. They really take pride in the quality of their carpets, most weaving in the Axminster design, and they were very happy – though slightly bewildered as to why – I visited.

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