“It began in a pub, like all great things that have ever begun.” So begins Spoon’s Carpets – An Appreciation, Kit Caless’ new book dedicated to the distinctive flooring of JD Wetherspoon pubs.
The familiar story behind the hardwearing pub carpet is one of practicality; they are designed in such a way as to hide the spills – busy patterns, bold colours help to obscure the aftermath of dropped pints and knocked-over red wine (not to mention food and some of the other less inviting fluids).
Yet while this may be partly true of your local Spoon’s, in fact each carpet in each of its 900-plus pubs in the UK is completely different. And moreover, as Caless explains, each design relates to the location of the particular establishment, its name or even the building’s own history.
The intriguing nature of Wetherspoon’s textile design first caught Caless’ attention while he was sitting in The West Gate Inn near Canterbury West train station. Back home in Hackney, he noticed that the carpet of his local, Baxter’s Court, had an entirely different design. “Are they all unique?” he wondered.
With his interest piqued, Caless started to photograph the carpet whenever he found himself in a different Wetherspoon’s. And, soon enough, a Wetherspoon’s Carpets blog was born and people began sending in photos of the carpet in their local from all over the country.
Caless’ book puts 70 of these carpets in context – and by context, Caless means that he has visited each and every one, taken a picture of the carpet (often his shoes as well), spoken to locals and even met some of the people who originally sent him a photo. Each carpet is introduced with a short text, with details of its location, time of photo and a sprinkling of ‘local knowledge’.
There’s also a section on the pub chain’s carpets that relate to famous writers and people from the world of cinema, followed by a brief summary on what makes the ‘perfect’ ‘Spoon’s carpet – use dark colours, reference local history and don’t use human faces, apparently – it’s weird and not a little frightening in a pub environment.
Caless even talks to some of the people who make Wetherspoons carpets and visits a factory that manufactures many of them – Wilton Carpets in Salisbury, who continue to employ the Axminster tradition (all of Wetherspoon’s carpets are made this way).
For Caless, the carpets do more than simply make each pub in a huge chain unique; they channel local history and function as a kind of public art. There’s the strange-looking carpet in The Queen’s Head in Maltby which references the town’s mining history, for example, or the vibrant design of the one used in The Forum, Hexham that incorporates elements of the historic art deco cinema that the pub sits below (both shown, above).
Pub carpets “capture the wonderful eccentricity and creative innovation the UK is famous for,” Caless writes. Its “history [is] so rich it can be overwhelming, yet we often overlook the strangest bits because we don’t pay attention to the details.”
Spoon’s Carpets is published by Square Peg; £8.99. See penguin.co.uk