James Templeton (1802-1885) was born in Campbeltown, Argyll & Bute, Scotland. He began his career in a small wholesale draper in Glasgow, Scotland, before working for a merchant house in Liverpool, England. He spent 3 years in Mexico on the company's behalf, then returned to Scotland where he gained experience in the Glasgow cotton industry before moving to Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland. Here he established a shawl-making business in 1829 at the age of 27. He became interested in the weaving of chenille when it was introduced to the Paisley shawl-making industry in the 1830s and in July 1839, he and William Quiglay, a weaver in his employ, obtained a patent for an improved method of making chenille. Templeton realised the possibility of applying this to make a new type of carpet and in December of that year bought out Quiglay's share of the patent.
Chenille carpets were a cheaper alternative to hand tufted Axminster. Producing Axminster was a slow process as each piece of yarn constituting the pile had to be tied to a pair of warp threads by hand. The chenille carpet was woven on a loom like cloth and subsequently cut into narrow strips that resembled striped caterpillars. The strips, each constituting a line of pile, were then woven in a setting loom to the warp threads which formed part of the base of the carpet; it was possible to weave a complete seamless carpet and to use a wide range of colours in the pattern so that it had a rich appearance closely resembling traditional Axminster. Production was therefore much quicker and more efficient although two separate weaving concerns were needed.
Templeton left Paisley to concentrate on chenille carpets and began production in King Street, Glasgow, where he produced fitted carpet to specific dimensions and also strips of carpet that could then be fitted together to produce a whole carpet. His brother, Archibald, and his brother-in-law, Peter Reid, joined him in partnership as James Templeton & Co in 1843. James remained in control of the business while Peter handled the accounts and Archibald moved to London around 1850 to manage the London office and warehouse.
Whilst the company made a loss for the first 3 years, it subsequently made consistent profits. By 1851 the company was employing some 400 people and the firm's capital exceeded £14,000. When the firm's patent ran out in 1853, competitors arose but the firm continued to prosper, employing a large number of designers and exhibiting at international trade fairs where they frequently won prize medals.
The company's original factory was destroyed by fire in 1856 but a former cotton mill was acquired in William Street, later renamed Templeton Street, in Bridgeton in the East End of Glasgow. In 1860 the firm's capital exceeded £35,000 and over the next decade rose to £102,000 as profits were reinvested.
Templeton also diversified his output, producing the cheaper and more popular Brussels carpet during the 1850s. In 1855 production for this business was transferred to another factory on Crownpoint Road, Glasgow, controlled as a separate firm, J & J S Templeton & Co in which he was partnered by his eldest son, John Stewart Templeton. This firm became one of the leading British producers of Brussels and Wilton carpets. John Stewart Templeton remained in charge of that side of the business for 30 years but also became a partner in James Templeton & Co along with his younger brother, James, in 1866.
The 1870s saw the market falter. Sales declined and Templeton experimented with the mechanisation of chenille carpet production although by his retirement in 1878 mechanisation had still not fully been achieved. By this time, chenille carpets accounted for 5 per cent of the carpet industry's total production with James Templeton & Co the second largest chenille manufacturer with approximately 25 per cent of the market.
On their father's retirement, John and James jnr took charge of the business with James taking control of the finances while John travelled widely in Europe and North America acting as the firm's spokesman and policy maker. John also continued the mechanisation programme for chenille begun by his father with new machinery being installed at the Templeton Street factory. A major breakthrough came in 1882 when William Adam, a former employee and partner in Tomkinson & Adam of Kidderminster, patented an improved setting loom which initially wove carpet up to one yard wide. Templeton applied for a licence, and was successful alongside two other firms. Together, the four firms met as the Association of Axminster Manufacturers, fixing prices to maintain profits. By 1882, Templeton had installed 120 of the new looms and, along with Tomkinson & Adam, was far outstripping the production of the other two firms.
In 1878 Tomkinson & Adam had obtained the rights to a 'Royal Axminster' loom but Templeton's commitment to mechanised chenille weaving had prevented him from taking a licence. However, in November 1887 John Templeton obtained the rights to a new spool Axminster power loom from the American company, E B Biglow. Thirty looms were to be installed and a new factory built. However, the partly completed factory, with its exterior modelled on a Doge's palace, was blown over in strong winds in 1889 and it was only in 1891 that production of the Albert Axminster commenced in any quantity. John Templeton began a campaign to reduce the high pricing policies of the Axminster carpets within the industry but met fierce competition from Tomkinson & Adam licencees. Many of these companies resisted the price cuts as they also produced the cheaper Wilton and Brussels carpeting, which like Axminster, appealed to the higher end of the market. Templeton succeeded and so when cheap imported American Axminster entered the market in 1893 the firms were able to compete. In March 1895 Templeton's new factory was working night and day shifts, with women weavers working day shifts and men the night shifts producing spool Axminster. By 1900 over 16,000 people were employed producing chenille and Axminster and a further 300 on Wilton and Brussels carpets. The combined capital of the company exceeded £330,000.
The Templeton brothers withdrew from active involvement with the company and John's son-in-law, D H L Young, succeeded them, having been a partner since 1887. Under his direction the firm continued to grow until the outbreak of the 1914-1918 World War. By 1913 the firm was the largest carpeting manufacturer in terms of output in the UK and had a capital of £648,000, a sum exceeded only by John Crossley & Sons Ltd of Halifax.
As well as producing carpets James Templeton had taken an active interest in his work force. He made substantial donations to the works' Benevolent Trust and helped establish a factory savings bank.
In 1938 James Templeton & Co was incorporated as a private limited company. The company provided the carpets for the 1911, 1937 and 1953 coronations in Westminster Abbey as well as providing carpets for the House of Commons, Cunard and P&O steam cruise liners. By 1955 the company had a total of six factories in Glasgow and agencies throughout Europe, the USA and the former British colonies.
In 1968 James Templeton & Co Ltd acquired the entire share issue of Gray's Carpets & Textiles Ltd, carpet manufacturers, London. In 1969 Guthrie Corporation Ltd of London acquired the entire ordinary share capital of James Templeton & Co Ltd and became its holding company.
James Templeton & Co Ltd was renamed British Carpets Ltd in 1974. Guthrie Corporation Ltd acquired £1.5m of shares in Stoddard Holdings Ltd, carpet manufacturers, Elderslie, Renfrewshire, Scotland, in 1980. As part of this deal, Guthrie Corporation Ltd transferred all British Carpet Ltd subsidiaries to Stoddard Holding Ltd and in that year production transferred to Elderslie and the Doge's palace factory in Bridgeton closed.
British Carpets Ltd was dissolved in 2006 as part of the liquidation of Stoddard International plc, the successor company to Stoddard Holdings Ltd.