Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

The English pig

Going back a few years from my previous post and we reach around 1910 and the golden age for English tiled shopfronts, when the architectural ceramicists were still being influenced by the swirls and curls of the Art Nouveau style, and before World War I banished jollity. Welcome, then, to the premises of Jesse Smith, butcher of Cirencester, a company that has hung on to a lovely Edwardian shopfront and interior, one with tiles that beautifully celebrate the pig and what a butcher can do with it.

 It begins before we even get inside the shop, with a pig portrait in one door reveal and, low down in another (above: almost obscured by some barbecuing equipment last time I passed) a legend in curvaceous Art Nouveau lettering designed to make the pig fancier’s mouth water: Pickled tongues. The design on the right of this image, with its sinuous lines and mysterious semicircles (Do they evoke stylised flowers or seed heads?) would not look out of place in Vienna. The Secession comes to the Cotswolds for a short break.

Inside, porcine eyes follow you round the room as you contemplate cuts of pork and home-made pies. Around and above them swirl the arabesques so typical of Art Nouveau design, scrolls of foliage and tendrils that curl this way and that, describing those two-way “whiplash” curves that turn-of-the-century designers so loved. Was there ever a pig so jaunty as the specimen to the right of the interior wall in my top photograph, with nose upturned, one ear up and one ear down? It’s a characterful beast, but the one on the left (and enlarged in my photograph above) seems to me a more convincing specimen of pigginess: this is an animal, after all, that’s built to look down towards the ground and rootle.

As I come out clutching my pork pie, I reflect that I know few better architectural celebrations of the English pig. But I also reflect that the French know a thing or two too. Wasn’t Paris a cradle of Art Nouveau? And don’t they say that Tout est bon dans le cochon?


Peter Ashley said...

'Pickled Tongues'. Good name for a rock band.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: You have a point. And without putting your tongue in your cheek.

Anonymous said...


Do you have any close up photos of the green tiles making up the Art Nouveau vertical panels? They look very like tiles that were produced by Carters and Co of Poole in their New Art range.

Jo Amey

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hi Jo: Thanks for your comment. I have a couple of close-ups but they're not that good and they don;t reveal any Carter's name, as their tiles sometimes do. They do certainly look like Carter's tiles, and although I've not seen any online that match exactly, there are some that are quite close. I do intend to return to this shop and have another look at some point, now I know a bit more about Carter's than I did when I took the photographs.

Anonymous said...

Hi Philip

There's a photo of the tiles I think they are here on my Flickr stream - these are outside a shop in Pokesdown, Bournemouth which was a butchers and is now an antique shop.

The tiles from the Embossed range, which these are, don't have the Carter's name on the front (or even on the reverse) but they often put their name on the one-off painted panels.


Philip Wilkinson said...

Hi Jo: The Cirencester tiles are different, but similar. I shouldn't be surprised if they are Carter's. Thanks for the link to your Flikcr stream: you have some nice examples on there. I clearly need to go down to the south coast and look at some of the tiled pubs in the Bournemouth area – and also around Portsmouth.

David said...

If you ever visit Richmond Hill (Surrey), don't fail to look in at the hairdresser which was formerly dairyman J Clarke. Wonderful, evocative tile scenes of framing and dairying all around the walls.

David said...

And now I do what I should have done first and go looking for pictures!

Scroll down 2/3 of the way down this link (though it's all quite interesting) to the entry for 46/84 Hill Rise and there are pictures of two of the panels and one of the shop exterior thorough which you can see glimpses of others.

Philip Wilkinson said...

David: They look superb, thank you. I will make a note in case I am ever near there.