Sunday, August 19, 2018

Poole, Dorset

Carter's cavalcade (4): Showpiece

Here’s one last piece of outstanding tiling from my recent visit to Poole, and in many ways, it is the greatest star of them all. The Swan Inn is a pub of 1906, built to designs by the architect C T Miles, who had a long-established practice in Bournemouth (in which he was soon joined by his son, S C Miles). The facade would be a fairly standard turn-of-the-century design, were it not for the tile cladding, which covers the entire ground floor level.

The Swan is one of three surviving late-Victorian tiled pubs in Poole and is the most decorative. That is thanks not just to the strong tiled lettering giving the names of the brewery (Marston’s) and the pub, in brown on a cream background, not just for the two-tone green of the wall tiles, not even for the telling details such as egg and dart moulding or the little dolphin in the keystone of arch, but above all for the pair of beautiful swans to each side of the entrance archway. Each bird’s cloud of plumage floats among lakeside plants and its beak holds one end of a swag, the other end of which is tied to one of the letters of the pub’s name. This bit of whimsy links the realistic drawing of the swan and its setting to the graphic world of the lettering. That lettering itself has an element of whimsy – the ornate capitals and overlapping strokes recall the sort Art Nouveau lettering I noticed on another Carter’s panel.

This building has been empty for a while. A few years ago a proposal was made to demolish it and redevelop the site, citing a ‘statement of significance’ that declared it to be of ‘little historic or architectural interest’. Fortunately this has been overruled (after objections from the Victorian Society, among others), and the frontage will be retained. The building’s historical value is clear – it’s an outstanding pre-World War I tiled pub facade, a stone’s throw away from the works where the tiles were made. It is also of architectural interest in the way the architecture and ceramics are artfully integrated. You can’t separate the architecture of this period from its decoration. The architectural work of designing spaces, creating plans, and visualising elevations was done, in a building of this type, with the architect collaborating closely with the decorators. The architect, C T Miles, would have liaised closely with Carter’s and their artist over the layout and appearance of the tiles, just as architect George Skipper did with ceramic artist W J Neatby of Doulton when designing the great Royal Arcade in Norwich. That lovely swan means much more here, in the place it was designed for, than it would in a museum.

Workers from Carter’s and Poole Pottery must have passed this pub every day, and many of them no doubt drank here. Managers could bring clients here and say, ‘This is the sort of thing we do’. They were probably proud of the examples of their firm’s work that they saw here and on other buildings around Poole. And if they were proud, they were right to be.

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