Tuesday, March 8, 2016


 A riot of tiling

The sun caught the facade of the Imperial Inn in Gloucester’s Northgate Street as I passed the other day, so out came the camera. At last. I’d been meaning to photograph this tiled frontage of 1904 for years, but the building passed often is least often studied closely, and I’d not got round to it.

I was surprised to find out that the architects were Knight and Chatters. I’d linked this old Gloucester firm with serious stuff – church restorations, big Gothic vicarages, Cheltenham’s monumental neo-Jacobean Public Library and the same town’s cemetery. So I’d not have guessed that Knight and Chatters designed this building – pubs were often the work of specialist pub architects, figures whose careers are described in Mark Girouard’s fine book Victorian Pubs.

However, the senior partner, W H Knight, is the one I most associate with the libraries, churches and other ‘serious’ work and he died in 1895, so could have had nothing to do with the Imperial Inn. And the design of a pub facade like this has as much to do with the people who produced the glass and the tiles as with the architect. And finally it’s likely in any case that a busy provincial practice like Knight and Chatters could turn their hand to all kinds of architecture, letting their hair down to create lively pub frontages when the demand arose.
 This small building is a riot of tiling and bright red brickwork. The face of Pan peeps from the tiles running between the main windows, as if hinting at revelry within. Patterns of scrolls twirl their way across the etched glass. A more restrained and rather art nouveau effect is produced by the stained glass over the door, with its shapes of hearts, its a hints of leaf and bud, and its whiplash curves. Burning gas mantles would no doubt have made this frontage very enticing of an evening in the early years of the 20th century. No doubt the enticement still works, helping to ensure the facade’s fortunate survival.


Hels said...

Your timing is perfect! What was the Edwardian love affair with tiles?

This morning in class I wondered why The Hippodrome Circus in Great Yarmouth, also completed in 1903-4, had a terra cotta front. I know it was designed with three bays and four towers, but now I am thinking there were probably tiles as well.

Peter Ashley said...

I went to the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth in the 50s. At half time the ring was flooded and a galleon of clown pirates attacked a palm-tree'd Island at the centre. An amazing treat for a small child along with the rocking Noah's Ark on the seafront.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you Hels: more links to tiles soon.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you Mr Ashley. As usual you bring the past back vividly.