Inside Mr Greville’s delightful little Tea Room amongst the exquisite collection of furniture and delicate ceramics lies an extraordinary piece of hand woven textile measuring 3.63m in length and width. The majestic 19th century Indian carpet was made in either the great carpet weaving cities of Agra or Jaipur. The carpet is believed to be a gift presented by the Maharaja of Agra and Jaipur, Sahib Bahadoor during his visit to Polesden Lacey. The carpet previously lived in the study but was moved due to its delicate condition to the Tea Room where it is currently kept monitored behind a red rope.
A visually stunning piece of textile, the carpet’s beautifully designed abstract white central motif is dotted with small red petals. The navy blue background is showered with a multitude of interchangeable shapes linked with red or white lines. The 3 borders are covered with a detailed geometric design and filled with the primary colours of red, white and blue. The carpet sits comfortably with the interior’s feminine pastoral colours of soft pinks, creamy whites and yellows, refreshing hues of blues and greens and sparkling gold.
The history of the carpet is rather difficult to ascertain fully, predominately because we lack any primary material revealing its buyer or origin. What we have found is that the carpet was made in either Agra or Jaipur, two cities richly embedded in the textile industry for centuries. As the history of the region goes, when the great Mughal Emperor Akbar invaded India in the 16th century, he decided to import carpet weavers from Persia to establish carpet centres in Agra, Delhi and Lahore. Akbar instructed some of the weavers to teach the prisoners in jails, some carpet making skills, in order to quell unrest. The jail carpets were brought to lavish the grand Indian Palaces and were also more importantly, exported abroad as gifts. This is where our story of the Maharaja’s gift comes in. We believe that the carpet was given by the Maharaja of Agra and Jaipur Sahib Bahadoor who has been noted visiting Polesden in the summer between 1935 and 1937 and Charles Street with the Maharani on April 30th 1937.
However, there were several other noted individuals who also may have been the gift givers. The Maharaja of Kapurthula attended Mrs Greville’s famed dinners at Charles Street 8 times between 1927 and 1934 and Polesden Lacey once in 1933 and a weekend in 1934. As one of the richest rulers, the Maharaja of Mysore Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV could well have been the gift giver, although he was a less frequent visitor. The Maharaja was praised by many international statesmen including Lord Wellington who said that Mysore was ‘the best administered state in the world’. Another, the Aga Khan Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, racehorse owner and equestrian was also a frequent visitor at Polesden Lacey and at Derby during the summer. As you can tell, each individual possessed enough wealth to lavish his host with ostentatious gifts as a customary thank you. However, giving a carpet was not only equal in meaning to that of a Faberge egg or custom made brooch which reflected one’s status symbol and wealth in society. In fact, it also signified a cross-cultural relationship between two individuals of a very different background. The Tea Room carpet is a reminder of Mrs Greville’s friendship with the Maharaja and her own visits to his Palace when she travelled to India.
Sitting comfortably in the Tea Room, the Indian carpet is in a very fragile condition, particularly vulnerable to light damage. There is visible damage on the blacks of the borders which have particularly worn away and the warps and wefts are exposed. Underneath the legs of the Louis XVI gilt wood canapés are small round caster cups which create a stable base evening out the pressure on the carpet. To protect the carpet from light damage, black-out blinds are placed on each one of the French windows and the south-west window to block out the light. UV light has invisible components which can cause great damage to sensitive objects in collection. Because of its poor condition, the carpet is no longer in the position to be walked on. The level of footfall, amount of dust and general damage would eventually lead to swift erosion of the warps and wefts and beautiful colour.