Monday, August 28, 2017

Broseley, Shropshire

A short trip to tile heaven

With a bit of time on our hands in Broseley, the Resident Wise Woman and I had a wander around, heading in the direction of an interesting-looking spire as rain clouds gathered overhead. Suddenly, between houses, we spotted a tiny shopfront covered with a surprisingly colourful and rather miscellaneous collection of tiles. More tiles, more random still, covered the interior walls, glimpsed through the window. It looked like a butcher’s shop, but ‘M. DAVIS’ seemed no longer to be in business.

It crossed my mind that we might be looking at a recent assemblage of late-Victorian tiles, gathered together by a modern collector, but the condition of the tiles, the shop name, and the interior layout, seemed to suggest that they been there a long time. What could their story be?

An answer came thanks to Lynn Pearson’s excellent Tile Gazetteer (Richard Dennis, 2005). Apparently a local man, Matthew Davis, emigrated to South America in the 1890s, but thought better of it, returned home in short order, and set up as a butcher. He went to Maw’s factory in nearby Jackfield (heaven for tile worshippers), bought up a load of tiles from a heap outside the works, and employed someone to attach them to the front of the shop. The tiles may were no doubt from Maw’s equivalent of the bargain basement or seconds counter and this may explain their somewhat miscellaneous quality. The randomness, it’s said,* was made more random by the fact that the tiler often got drunk.

The result, says Lynn Pearson, is ‘happily eccentric’. I agree. The sight of this colourful shop front certainly improved my mood as the rain clouds gathered.

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* Lynn Pearson credits the archive of Michael Stratton, industrial archaeologist and one-time director of the Ironbridge Institute, for information about this building.


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

This is brilliant! Although tiles after a few years can also fall off walls randomly, the inspiration to put them there in the first place shows a keen aesthetic sense and that wonderful human characteristic, creativity. I suspect a lot of the psychological problems of the world are caused because we won't let that creativity and sense of fun prevail. I know it's an old comment from me now, but I still think all too many buildings going up now have no sense of the romantic yearnings of the human heart, or of a healing sense of humour.

Stephen Barker said...

Following Joseph's comment. I wonder how much regulation limits what is done to the facade of a shop particularly in conservation areas. Looking at photos from the past of shop and commercial buildings I struck by the amount of painted signs and posters covering the exteriors of buildings. The same is true of enamel signs which covered some shops and early garages like a rash of measles. Now that these have largely disappeared we treasure the survivors as part of our heritage.

Having given a talk on shopfronts I was surprised by the reaction of people in the audience who were long time residents saying that they had not noticed the detail of the buildings. I am afraid for many people a well designed shopfront would go unnoticed.