Richard Barnett Whytock was born in Dalkeith, Midlothian and was the son of a minister. In 1806 Whytock opened his first business, a haberdashery in Edinburgh, with his brother William. By 1810 Whytock had changed business partners and was now in a furnishings and upholstery business with Robert Grieve. Initially this business was more concerned with sales rather than the manufacture of these goods. However, by 1818 Whytock and Grieve began to make decorative fringes for furniture and employed skilled workmen from London which showed their transformation from sales to upholstery manufacture.
It was during this time that Whytock took on a new partner in Henry Henderson. It was this partnership that can be seen as the foundations for Henry Widnell & Stewart Ltd. The premises of Whytock and Henderson's new business were in Queensberry House in the Canongate which had been the previous residence of the Duke of Queensberry. In 1827 Whytock and Henderson took on another partner by the name of William McCrie. McCrie was a wallpaper stainer and from this partnership it was possible to see Whytock and Henderson's interests in different forms of decorative arts. By 1828 Whytock had become a Burgess of the Canongate.
In 1830 the Board of Trustees asked Whytock to go to Brussels to see how the Manufacturers of the Netherlands produced their carpets. Whytock returned to Edinburgh unimpressed by what he had seen. Around this period Whytock became interested in the process of carpet manufacture which led him to invent and patent the Tapestry carpet loom in 1832. This loom differed from the Brussels and Jacquard looms as its process allowed one thread to be used rather than five or six. The single thread could then be dyed a variety of colours in half inch blocks depending on the pattern. By dying the thread different colours it meant that there was no dead pile left in the carpet from any of the other coloured threads that were not used. This also meant that an unlimited number of colours could be used compared to only five or six that were available in other loom processes. Whytock's loom was also one third the size of the Brussels loom. Contemporaries believed that Whytock's invention would supersede all other looms including that of the Jacquard loom.
By 1833 Whytock had patented his new invention and the company had grown. Whytock and Henderson took new premises at St Anne's brewery at Lasswade in Midlothian along the banks of the River Esk. It was here that the company produced Persian and Turkish style hand knotted carpets. During these years Whytock's carpets gained much notoriety. In 1838 Whytock became Patent Carpet Manufacturer to the Queen.
By 1846 the company entered a new era and with that came a new name and partner. During 1846 Richard Whytock left the carpet manufacturing business to concentrate on the development of fabrics and returned to the selling of carpets. Henry Henderson gained a new partner in Henry Widnell and the company became Henderson and Widnell. Henry Widnell had previously been involved in carpet manufacture in Kidderminster which had been a central town for carpet production in Great Britain. Henderson and Widnell continued to produce high quality carpets and at the Great Exhibition of 1851 the company won a medal for the quality of their carpets and their designs.
The next stage of the company came in 1856 when Widnell took complete control of the company. Henderson and Widnell became known as Henry Widnell & Company. By 1859 the company was in financial difficulty and Henry Widnell (son of the aforementioned Henry Widnell) took complete control of the company's stock which was now bankrupt. Eventually things improved for the company financially and in 1868 a new site was rented out at the Old Bleach Works at Roslin in Midlothian. The company now had two sites of manufacture including that at St Anne's in Lasswade four miles away.
By 1873 Henry Widnell (Snr) had passed away. It was around this time that George Stewart of Stewart Brothers of Eskbank became a partner in Henry Widnell & Company. However, the two manufacturers continued to trade as two separate companies in competition with each other. Harry H. Widnell, Henry Widnell's (Snr) son, became a new partner in the company between 1873 and 1878. However, his involvement in the company was short lived and Harry H. Widnell passed away in 1879 leaving the company in the hands of George Stewart. George Stewart was joined by his sons George Stewart (Jnr) and John George Stewart in 1882.
In 1895 both Stewart Brothers of Eskbank and Henry Widnell & Company were sold to Henry Widnell & Stewart Ltd for £270,000. The company continued to manufacture a variety of carpets until being disrupted by World War II. Between the years 1939-1945 the sites were put to use for the war effort. The Lasswade site was used to make cotton cloth for the army, the Roslin site was used as a food store, and the Eskbank site was used to produce Ever-Ready batteries.
The final stage of Henry Widnell & Stewart Ltd began in 1955 when the company held talks concerning A F Stoddard & Co Ltd taking over the company. However, the take over was not completed until 1959. Although A F Stoddard now owned the company it still traded under the name of Henry Widnell & Stewart Ltd until 1983 when the company finally closed its doors for business for good.