The Bell Carpet
The Hall contains a number of items precious to the Company, principal among which is the magnificent Indian carpet known as The Girdlers Carpet, one of the most sumptuous textiles surviving from a period when the East was especially famed for the luxury and splendour of its decorative arts.
The carpet was presented to the Company in 1634 by Robert Bell, Master in 1611. His position as a prominent member of the East India Company allowed him easy access to “rarities” and “curiosities” (of which carpets were especially coveted examples) which could be brought home in the Company’s ships, and its records show that he ordered the carpet in the spring of 1630.
The carpet was originally designed and used as a covering for the Court Room table. However, by 1898 its condition was described as torn and ink-stained (some of the ink-stains still being visible today); it was then cleaned and restored in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum and henceforth displayed in a wall-frame in the Livery Hall.
It has been threatened with destruction on two occasions, and each time was saved only by the initiative and foresight of the Company’s officers. The first occasion was the Great Fire of 1666 when, although the Hall was completely destroyed, the fire did not reach the Hall until the third day. By then the carpet had been rescued by the Clerk, who stored it in his country house.
The second occasion was during the Blitz on London in the winter of 1940-1, when it was taken from the Hall by the then Master and placed in the vaults of Westminster Bank in Lothbury only a few weeks before the Hall was destroyed by enemy action.
Following the rebuilding of the Hall in 1961, the carpet was reinstalled on the wall of the Livery Hall. In 1997, it was loaned to New York’s Museum of Metropolitan Art, where it was exhibited for 4 months, to the delight of some 180,000 visitors. While it was away, a new hermetically sealed display cabinet was constructed for the Livery Hall wall, in which it is now housed.