Stoke & Staffordshire

Potteries tile trail uncovering 'hidden history' of ceramic industry

Danny Callaghan
Image caption Danny Callaghan got inspiration for the Tile Trail on a visit to New York

An artist is tracing the "forgotten stories" of the tile industry in Stoke-on-Trent after coming across a piece of the area's history while in New York City.

After seeing the Minton tile ceiling at the Bethesda Terrace Arcade in Central Park, Danny Callaghan decided he wanted to find more about other places around the world that tiles had been used.

"I was incredibly proud that this piece of the Potteries exists in the middle of one of the most amazing cities in the world, but I suspect there are a lot of people in Stoke who don't know about it," he said.

"These stories behind tile making are forgotten or not well told and we want people in the city to know there are pieces of history hidden all around the world, some which are 200 years old."

The project, called the Potteries Tile Trail, is being carried out with the Tiles and Architectural Ceramic Society and is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

It is recruiting 12 people to research the city's tile-making history and hopes to build an exhibition, uncovering stories from local people to include in the city's archives.

Here are some of the buildings which they will be looking at as part of the project:

Bethesda Terrace Arcade, New York

Image caption The Minton tiles at Bethesda Terrace Arcade were restored in 2007

The roof of the Bethesda terrace arcade in Central Park, New York was installed in 1869, using about 15,000 patterned encaustic tiles made by Minton.

Encaustic tiles are made of individual coloured clays which are pressed and fired into the tile to form the design.

Over the years, the 50-tonne ceiling weakened and some of the tiles began to deteriorate.

The Central Park Conservancy carried out a restoration project with Tunstall-based firm H&R Johnson Tiles, who had taken over Minton Tiles in 1968.

The arcade reopened to the public in 2007.

Danny Callaghan said: "Four thousand of the tiles were remade, so nearly 150 years on from the original historic commission, those tiles, those skills behind tile making are still to be found in the city and still recognised internationally."

The arcade is the only place in the world where Minton ceramic tiles are used for a ceiling.

Palace of Westminster, London

Image caption Encaustic tiles were used extensively throughout the Palace of Westminster.

The old Palace of Westminster in London, was virtually destroyed by fire in 1834 and construction of the new building started in 1840.

Architect Augustus Pugin designed many of the interior fittings and enlisted the help of Herbert Minton and his company to create tiles for the floors.

It is believed Pugin sketched the designs for a number of the tiles while travelling on the train to see him in Stoke-on-Trent.

Tile company Craven Dunnill Jackfield, which has factories in Ironbridge in Shropshire and Burslem in Staffordshire, is currently replacing many of the floor tiles in the Palace.

Former H&R Johnson worker, Brian Sage, who is working on the Tile Trail history project said the tiles were hard wearing but would deteriorate over time.

He said: "The pattern will never wear off because it's like a stick of rock, it's embedded deep all the way through."

"You start with the clay and pour in different slips to get the different patterns and colours but that wears at a different rate over years with people walking on it, which is why you eventually need to replace the tiles."

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC

Image caption H&R Johnson made replacement tiles for the floor in the institute in 1999

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington originally had Minton-style tiles on some of its corridor floors, but they were copies made by a company in America in the 1870s.

The institute spent about £230m on a restoration project in 1999 and approached H&R Johnson to make authentic replacements.

Brian Sage said the tiles were cast using the original moulds.

"The company started reproduction of many of these tiles after moulds were found when they took over the Minton Hollins factory in Hartshill in Stoke-on-Trent," he said.

"The reproductions were done mainly for contracts in America, for museums and big public buildings, because there was still a lot of interest from there and this city was one of the few areas that had the skill base to carry out the work."

Capitol Building, Washington DC

Image caption There are 17 miles of tiled floors in the Capitol building

The original Minton tile floor in the Capitol building in Washington was laid over five years from 1856.

In the 1920s, the tiles which were in the corridors in the first and second floors of the house wing were replaced with marble tiles.

During the 1970s a new restoration project was launched when it was decided that the building should be restored to how it used to look.

Stoke-on-Trent firm, Maw and Company hand made many of the replacement tiles at its factory in Burslem.

The company also made flooring for two churches in the Washington suburb of Georgetown, and for the Houses of Parliament in London.

State Parliament of Victoria, Melbourne

Image caption The circular arrangement of tiles took four months to lay and cost about £2,000

Minton tiles were laid in the Parliament House buildings, the State Parliament of Victoria, in Melbourne in 1879.

The circular design covered an area of 44 square feet.

Danny Callaghan said that countries around the world were envious of the look of the Palace of Westminster so many imported Minton tiles for decorative flooring.

"The floor in Westminster was basically a shop window for Herbert Minton and his products began to get interest all around the world," he said.

"That's why when you visit churches in India, Australia and Canada or buildings that are associated with power, like parliament buildings, you'll often find Minton tiles and Pugin designs."

Tiles by Minton and Maw and Co. were being imported regularly to Australia by the end of the 1860s, and were used at St Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne and Sydney's Great Synagogue.

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