What period style did Nigel Ellis choose as the decorative theme for our Park Road office? Well, it was rather done for him as no 205 was originally a grocery store, attached to the dairy which used to work from premises behind the Victoria Stakes. As such, the shop was beautifully tiled in original 1900s, Art Nouveau inspired, faïence tile panels – why would anyone want to change that? Nigel added a stunning trio of Electroliers dating from 1906 and bought locally to complete the look. Do pop in for a closer look if you are passing.
The history of tile making in the Victorian era is fascinating – here is a summary of the the main elements of change from the Tiles.Net website my thanks to them:
The crucial invention which allowed the mass-production of tiles was made in 1840, when Richard Prosser discovered that it was possible to compact dust clay using a press, and thence to make tiles, rather than using damp plastic clay. The tiles were less moist, giving a faster drying time, and warped less during firing.
The great Victorian tile boom began around 1850 and continued until the end of the century. Many tilemaking firms were involved, and tiles appeared in almost all types of building and even on furniture, for instance wash-stands and dressing tables.
Minton’s of Stoke evolved into several other firms including Minton Hollins, while another major concern, Maw & Co, moved to Jackfield, Shropshire in 1883; the Craven Dunnill works were already there. Doulton’s worked from Lambeth in London, and Burmantofts was the trademark of a Leeds firm.
These firms made not only tiles but glazed faience, a type of glazed ceramic slab which could be manufactured in shapes to suit varied buildings; it was often used on pubs and – in this case – shopping arcades. Burmantofts were particular specialists in this ware.
And then there was terracotta, also made in large blocks for exterior use but unglazed, and coming in colours ranging from buff through salmon-pink to deep reddy-brown. Specialist terracotta makers included two Ruabon firms, Dennis and Edwards, as well as Hathern from Loughborough, although many of the larger tile manufacturers also produced both glazed faience and terracotta.
There was a vast range of techniques available for decorating tiles, from hand-painting (with its many variations) through printing, which included transfer printing and even photographic methods as well as silk-screen, to relief decoration (including tube-lining) and more besides. The exact technique used can be difficult to identify.
Tiles were used both inside buildings and outside, as a hard- wearing surface and as a decorative wall or floor covering. Buildings ranging from pubs to offices to hospitals to shops to theatres and practically anything else were decorated with tiles around the turn of the century. Tilemaking was an important industry, with many manufacturers having significant overseas trade.
And tiles (or, indeed terracotta and glazed faience) could easily be personalised, given the logo of a company or the initials of a person; this made them most attractive to, for instance, brewers, who could brand all their own pubs using distinctive ceramic facades rather than simple signs. Shop chains, for instance butchers, fish shops, dairies and florists also used ceramic logos.
From about 1895 to 1910, Art Nouveau tiles became popular, with most of the larger manufacturers making tiles or panels in the style. In a radical departure, designer W. J. Neatby of Doulton’s produced several Art Nouveau ceramic facades and interiors in striking colours, including Harrod’s and Bristol’s Everard Building.
Following the First World War, plain tiling became more fashionable than pictorial tiles, but some firms, such as Carter’s of Poole, continued to specialise in decorative designs. Duncan’s of Glasgow, established in 1865, produced a huge number of tube-lined panels for local shops, almost all of which have now disappeared, although this 1920s Buttercup Dairy panel survives.
A few smaller firms also managed to prosper between the wars, including Dunsmore of London, who produced unusual stencilled and sprayed tiles showing birds and fish. This example was used to enliven the exterior of a housing development in Camden.