Friday, November 20, 2015

King's Lynn, Norfolk

 The English pig again

I’ve noticed recently the creative use of decorative tiles in shops and on shopfronts in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, butchers being particularly drawn to tiles for their decorative and hygienic qualities. It’s a large field, which I need to look into in more depth, but meanwhile I can’t resist sharing one more example that I found recently, even though I know little about it. This is a shop front in King’s Lynn, which has a number of beautiful pictorial tiles, each featuring an animal or farming scene delineated in fine detail.

I do not know who made these tiles. I know Minton used this sepia palette (I once owned a house that had a fireplace adorned with lovely Minton sepia tiles), and they produced farm scenes with drawings by William Wise, although these in Lynn do not match the examples I’ve seen. Minton as well as other companies must have had various ranges to fulfil the no doubt heavy demand. These are particularly characterful, a strong pig’s head, confronting us full on with steady gaze and creased flesh; a well drawn cow or bull’s head with a lot of fine detail; and a group of sheep huddled together in a setting of grass, twigs, and picturesquely tumbledown fencing. The sheep, I think, are conventionally charming, but to my eyes the drawing of the two animal heads is particularly strong and effective.

That all this can appear on a mass produced tile a few inches square, set off with a band of bright geometrical tiles that are also very attractive, is a tribute to the Victorian marriage of art and industry, which at its best could be harmonious and more than just eye-catching. Advertising of a kind, it’s true. But the sort of advertising that stands the test of time.


Stephen Barker said...


Do you know the former butchers shop in Oundle? It has particularly fine glazed decorative panels on the front under the windows.

Philip Wilkinson said...
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Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes I do remember the shop in Oundle and very fine it is too. It's in my and Peter Ashley's The English Buildings Book, though for some reason this fact escaped my mind for a moment.