This section is from the book "Tapestries; Their Origin, History And Renaissance", by George Leland Hunter. Also available from Amazon: Tapestries; Their Origin, History, And Renaissance.
The organisation of the Royal Windsor Tapestry Works in 1876 was due to Mr. H. Henry, art director of a London decorative firm, and to Prince Leopold. While Mr. Henry was on a professional visit to Boy-ton Manor, the Prince's country seat, the latter, who was examining a piece of old tapestry that hung in the hall, said: "Ah, they don't make tapestry now." "Only at the Gobelins and Aubusson," returned Mr. Henry. "Why don't they make it in England?" asked the Prince. "Why don't you start a manufactory?" "It ought to be a national thing," responded Mr. Henry. "If your Highness would only become president of such an establishment and give me your support, a committee might be organised who would carry the project out".
The Prince responded graciously and acted promptly, obtaining the sanction of his mother, the Queen, and becoming president of the committee, of which the distinguished sculptor, Lord Ronald Gower, was secretary. Among the members of the committee were the Duke of Westminster, Sir Richard Wallace, Mr. Cunliffe Owen, director of the South Kensington Museum, the Duke of Leinster, the Marquis of Bute, the Duchess of Cleveland. A small house was leased at Windsor on the other side of the Long Walk, and at the end of two years, eight looms were in operation (See page 106 of the Art Journal for 1878). For a series of panels picturing the Story of the Merry Wives of Windsor, the Windsor Works received a gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1878. Among the first tapestries woven at Windsor were a sofa covering for Queen Victoria; the Start for the Hunt, the Boar Hunt, the Finish of the Hunt; the Battle of Aylesford A.D. 455. Other tapestries woven at Windsor were the Four Seasons; a set of the Morte d'Arthur; Views of the Royal Residences, Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Balmoral Castle, Osborne House; four for the corporation of London entitled a Tournament on London Bridge, Queen Elizabeth Opening the Royal Exchange, the City Champion receiving the Banner of the City on the steps of Old St. Paul's, Queen Victoria visiting the Mansion House on the Occasion of her Jubilee in 1887.
Why the enterprise failed to achieve a lasting success was suggested by the late William Baum-garten in a lecture held before the Society of Antiquarians in the Art Institute of Chicago, March 25, 1897. He said:
"I had occasion in 1882 to visit the works for the purpose of inspecting the progress of the tapestries then being made for the hall and staircase wall frieze in the residence of Mr. C. Vanderbilt. This was intended for his new residence at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street which was then being erected, the first half of his present residence. The works were located in an old roomy country house surrounded with a large garden, shaded by vines and large trees, and the looms were distributed over the various rooms.......
"The works were managed by two different councils - the Council of Patrons under the presidency of Prince Leopold, and the Council of Artists, five in number, under the presidency of Mr. Henry. The duties of the Council of Patrons seem to have been chiefly to constantly provide funds for carrying on the works, and eventually to take a large part of the product at enormous prices. The Council of Artists held monthly meetings, discussing the weal and woe of the new industry, drawing large salaries and awarding to themselves the painting of the cartoons, at large compensations.
"Of course the result was that the productions became so high that the prices charged the noble clients and patrons were out of all proportion to their value, and while they allowed themselves to be victimised for a few years in the interest of national glory and in belief that, after a fair start things would mend in the way of economy, they at last became aware of the utter inability of the management to make the work self-supporting and virtually ceased their contributions from the Queen down, and the collapse was the immediate result. This occurred in 1887, after an existence of a little over ten years".
That Ireland had a tapestry factory in the XVII century is proved by the petition in 1689 of John Lovett, late of Dublin, who stated that he had been forced by troubles out of Ireland and brought with him thirty-eight pieces of tapestries hangings "of their Majesties Manufacture of Ireland containing 767 3/4 ells".