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A Very British Museum: Jackfield Tile Museum, Ironbridge

October 10, 2008 Leave a comment

What do pubs, butcher’s shops, hospitals, underground stations and toilets have in common? As Martyn Oliver discovers, it’s tiles.

Craven Dunnill, director's lavatory
© Martyn Oliver 2008

Tiles have been used both for decoration and for their durability since at least Roman times. Hard-wearing, easy to clean and thus hygienic, they’re found not only in the home and in areas of high public traffic, but also where there is a special need for cleanliness – in food shops (butcher’s and fishmonger’s, for instance), kitchens and especially hospitals. The Jackfield Tile Museum, situated by the river Severn at Ironbridge in Shropshire, contains examples of all these applications.

Famous as a centre of ironworking, the Ironbridge Gorge is rich in water and good pottery clay; and the river – and later the Severn Valley Railway – provided transport links south to Bristol and north to Liverpool and Manchester. By the middle of the 18th century earthenware and glazed pottery were being made commercially in the Gorge, and a hundred years later Jackfield and nearby Broseley had become internationally known for the high quality of their tiles and bricks. In 1877 Broseley tileworks made tiles for the floor of London’s Royal Academy, and in 1892 supplied tiles for the residence of Spain’s King Alfonso XII. Read more…