A functional carpet mill stood behind the spectacular facade of the Templeton carpet factory. James Templeton from Paisley patented a chenille Axminster process by which he could manufacture more densely patterned and richly coloured carpets. He went on to become one of the most successful carpet manufacturers in Britain, producing carpets for state occasions, great houses, luxury liners including the ‘Titanic’, as well as domestic use.
The City turned down two designs for a major extension to his factory for this sensitive site on Glasgow Green before Templeton commissioned a leading Scottish architect, William Leiper (1839-1916), to tackle the project. His design is directly inspired by the late medieval Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) in Venice but Leiper would also have been aware of the colourful phantasmagoria of designs being used for the pavilions in Glasgow’s 1888 International Exhibition showground in the west end. The flamboyant glazed brick, vitreous enamel tiles, red brick and terracotta of the facade evokes the rich Oriental-influenced patterns of the carpets the factory produced.
Work began in 1888 and was completed in 1892 after a major interruption caused by a terrible accident possibly caused by inadequate scaffolding and tying-in of the new building with the existing one behind it. On 1 November 1889, part of a wall collapsed under construction during high winds, trapping over 100 women working in the weaving sheds at the back; 29 were killed.
During the nineteenth century there was quite a taste for building industrial and trading premises with exotically styled exteriors which proclaimed the company’s pride and ambition while concealing the industrial processes within. Classical and Italian Renaissance designs and Egyptian motifs were especially popular. Venice was particularly admired, thanks in part to the writings of John Ruskin. His Stones of Venice was a best seller and his writings on architecture were enormously influential. In Glasgow the ‘Ca’ d’Oro’, a surviving building in West Nile Street, designed by John Honeyman in 1873 as a carpet warehouse, was also inspired by Venetian architecture.
The late Gothic Doge’s Palace in St Mark’s Square with its broad diaper patterned red and white brickwork facade and elegant white marble colonnades inspired a number of imitations, including several in Britain. Templeton’s is probably the most spectacular. Several additions and extensions were made to the building during the 1920s and 30s, and again in the early 1960s but all defer to some extent to Leiper’s original design.