The History of Victorian Geometric Floor Tiles
The Victorians’ passion for geometric and patterned floor tiles is well known, but how – and why – did this love affair begin?
One thing that we all agree on here at the Period Property Store is that the Victorians knew a thing or two about floor tiles. Their colourful geometric and encaustic (or patterned) tiles are not only beautiful, but hard-wearing and functional too.
We are especially pleased to introduce Olde English Victorian-style geometric tiles to our customers because their story is interwoven with the history of our home base of Stoke-on-Trent and the Potteries of Staffordshire.
Available from the Period Property Store from Wednesday 28th October 2015, Olde English Tiles are manufactured in very much the same way as they were in Victorian times. With an almost limitless combination of shapes and colours to choose from, they are perfect for period properties – and they look great in contemporary settings too.
Clay floor tiles were originally produced by Cistercian monks in the twelfth century and in medieval Britain no self-respecting abbey, monastery or royal palace would have been without a tiled floor. Following the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1540s floor tiles fell out of fashion, demand diminished and the monks’ amazing skills might have been lost forever.
However, at the beginning of the nineteenth century archaeological excavations of medieval sites around Britain and an increasing interest in medieval architecture led to the Gothic Revival – and with this pivotal change in architectural fashion came an increasing interest in, and demand for, all things medieval – including floor tiles.
But it wasn’t until the porcelain manufacturer Herbert Minton of Stoke revived the lost art of making encaustic tiles (patterned tiles where the pattern is created by layering different colours of clay rather than being painted on the surface glaze) that the Victorians’ enthusiasm for floor tiles really took off.
Minton began experimenting in 1828 and in 1830 bought a half share in Samuel Wright’s patent for the production of encaustic tiles. By 1842 he was ready to supply his first major commission, for the Temple Church in London. He collaborated on this project with his friend, the architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, who was a leading force in the Gothic Revival movement. Pugin was also working on the Houses of Parliament in London and soon he was specifying Minton tiles for the Parliament buildings as well as his many other prestigious projects at home and overseas.
Minton’s success was assured when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert commissioned him to make an encaustic pavement for Osborne House, their home on the Isle of Wight.
Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before a number of other manufacturers started to produce geometric and encaustic tiles, including Maw & Co, Daniel Platts and Minton Hollins (now part of H &R Johnson), all based in and around Stoke-on-Trent.
From the 1860s geometric and encaustic tiled floors became more and more popular as they appeared in an ever-growing number of churches, grand Victorian villas and public buildings, including the hugely popular Victoria and Albert Museum. By the 1890s, tiled floors and pathways had become an essential feature in even the most ordinary Victorian houses from Dover to Aberdeen.
Although it’s not likely that Victorian builders gave much thought to the longevity of their work, many geometric and encaustic tiled floors and pathways have survived over 150 years of wear and tear. A walk around the nineteenth century terraced streets of Britain’s industrial towns and cities will quickly reveal examples of tiled garden paths and entrance steps, many looking as splendid today as they when they were first laid down.
Olde English Tiles are fully vitrified, which means that they are hard-wearing, frost resistant and so suitable to use inside or out and even for lining swimming pools. They are perfect for hallways, kitchens, bathrooms, decorative walls and splashbacks, conservatories and garden paths. Choose a traditional pattern or create your own bespoke design.
Here are just a few examples of the patterns we stock: