Minton Tiles in the Churches of Staffordshire

Front cover of cumming report

Summary of a report by Lynn Pearson for the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society (TACS) on a research project funded by the Cumming Ceramic Research Foundation

A summary of the report follows below, but to download the complete 50-page report as a pdf file, just right-click on Minton Tiles in the Churches of Staffordshire Report (PDF). You can then open the file and read it, or use the save option to download it to your computer. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to open the file – it’s free from the www.adobe.com site.

Introduction

An appreciation of Herbert Minton published in the Annals of the Diocese of Lichfield for 1859, the year following his death, revealed that between 1844 and 1858 Minton presented tiles to a total of forty-six Staffordshire churches and parsonages. Minton also presented tiles to churches and allied institutions in other areas and indeed other countries during 1844-58, but the Staffordshire gifts amounted to a third of his total donations. In addition, it is known that one gift of tiles was made prior to 1844: Holy Trinity Church, Hartshill, was built and endowed by Minton in 1841-2. Although the identity of most of the churches to which Minton made donations has been known since 1859, the fate of the tiles themselves has never previously been pursued. The list of locations published in the Annals had never been checked to establish what remained in situ, and very little was known in respect of tile designs in specific churches.

The object of this research was therefore to investigate the location and design of the inlaid (commonly called encaustic) floor tiles donated by Herbert Minton to the churches of Staffordshire. Research began with an analysis of the list of locations in the Annals in order to determine the status of the tile donations, followed by visits to the churches which retained their Minton donations to photograph the tiles and investigate their design. Each location was properly documented. The relationship between tiles made for the restoration of existing churches and those made for newly-built churches was examined, and – in the case of restored churches – an assessment was attempted of the degree to which the Minton tile designs were copied from tiles already in place, or whether existing stock designs were used. The tile designs throughout the series of donations were then analysed and compared with designs donated outside Staffordshire, and designs at locations where tiles had simply been purchased from Minton’s.

Analysis of the Minton Donation List

Including Hartshill Church, mentioned as a prime example of Minton’s generosity in the introduction to the list of donations published in the Annals of the Diocese of Lichfield for 1859, there are 173 separate donations, a few of which took place over two or more months. The vast majority of recipients were churches, but there was also a good sprinkling of parsonages as well as a few schools and other bodies. Geographically the range was worldwide, with gifts being sent to destinations as varied as Gwalior in India’s North-Western Provinces and Geelong in Australia. However, these more exotic donations were few in number, only a total of seven compared to the 159 English gifts; Scottish, Welsh and Irish gifts also numbered merely seven.

The process of donation began with Hartshill in 1842, then St Mary’s Stafford, Trentham and Walton Churches (all Staffordshire) in 1844. After this the number and geographical range of donations increased, with an average of eight donations per year during the late 1840s and 16 in the 1850s. The peak years were 1852, with 25 donations, and 1854 (20 donations), with an unexplained drop to eight in the intervening year, 1853. Comparing these figures for the donations as a whole with the spread of the 58 Staffordshire donations, the pattern is much the same, although Staffordshire locations comprised almost half the total number made in the 1840s.

The 58 Staffordshire gifts comprised a third of the total number, and were divided between 48 churches and parsonages, a school and an asylum. Disregarding the school, asylum and parsonages, the Annals list shows that Herbert Minton made 44 gifts to 38 separate churches between 1842 and 1856. This represents one tenth of the total number of Anglican churches and chapels in Staffordshire. Of the 38 churches, three had been demolished and one was derelict; all these were located in Stoke-on-Trent. Tiles had been removed from two further churches and had been covered over in seven more, leaving 25 churches in which the Minton donation tiles were visible and more or less intact. It is interesting to speculate that if the survival rate for the tiles in Staffordshire churches, that is 25 out of 38 sites extant, was repeated throughout England, around 80 further Minton donation sites outside Staffordshire would be predicted as being extant.

The Minton Donation Tiles

The overall impression of the Minton donation tiles was of one of high quality and tremendous variety. The highest quality tiles were found at the churches where donations had been made during the 1840s rather than the 1850s, with no apparent preference for new or restored churches. The earliest of the churches to which Herbert Minton gave tiles of the highest quality was, of course, his own Holy Trinity Church, Hartshill, Stoke-on-Trent, built in 1842 at Minton’s expense and designed by George Gilbert Scott. The variety of tiles is immense, with many designs being shown in both Minton’s Earliest Pattern Book and the firm’s first printed catalogue of 1842. Trentham Church was built in 1842-4, almost adjoining Trentham Park, the newly-constructed home of the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland. Minton donated tiles throughout the church, but the sanctuary tiling is the most unusual, with elements from the Sutherland coat of arms set in a striking combination of black, buff and red designs. Only a month after the Trentham donation came another important gift, to the newly-rebuilt Church of St Mary in Stafford. It was one of George Gilbert Scott’s earliest restorations, and caused much controversy at the time. It is not known whether Scott had a hand in the design of Minton’s donation of tiles for the chancel and reredos; the pavement increases in complexity towards the east end, culminating in a glowing reredos displaying Christian symbols in gold.

In the following year, 1845, Minton donated an ornate tile pavement to Penkhull Church, Stoke-on-Trent, where his nephew Samuel Minton was the incumbent; Herbert Minton also paid off the debt which his nephew had incurred during the construction of the church in 1842. Large panels of an Agnus Dei and a pelican in her piety dominate the choir, and a series of small, sky-blue tiles bearing Christian symbols lie across the sanctuary. Penkhull was only one of four significant donations made during 1845. At Gratwich, Minton gave tiles for the choir in the form of a large Latin cross of red and buff patterned tiles, bordered by a black tile showing an eight-pointed star. This motif was to recur in later donations, as was the combination of four-tile groups in the Gratwich nave tiling, which included the rose window design originally copied from the Westminster Abbey Chapter House floor.

At Armitage, where the first of three donations occurred in 1845, the Latin cross design is again present, but here it encloses a more complex pattern including roundels of the evangelists. Armorial tiles are the main element in the pavement at All Saints, Church Leigh, which was rebuilt in 1846. Audley Church benefited from four Minton donations, the first being made prior to 1846. The result was a lavish ceramic display, the chancel dado being especially rich and using repeats of a fleur-de-lys tile. A donation was made to Elford Church in April 1849 which included a terracotta reredos similar to that of Church Leigh. Elford was rebuilt by Salvin in 1848-9 with the object of restoring its fourteenth-century appearance; during the construction work, medieval tiles were found beneath the brick floor. They appear to have been relief tiles with a geometric pattern composed mainly of intersecting circles. Minton’s made a new nave pavement for the church replicating their design in line-impressed tiles using brown and buff grounds.

Amongst the churches with donations of the middling quality, Blithfield is of interest as its donation, a chancel pavement given in July 1852, followed the reconstruction of its chancel by Pugin in 1851. The new work was supposed to have faithfully reproduced the original design of the chancel, but it is not known if this applied to any medieval floor tiles which may have been present. Normacot Church, where the donation was made in 1847, has – like several other churches - a relatively unremarkable sanctuary pavement with roundels of the four evangelists. It boasts twin coats of arms in the tile pavement near the north entrance, those of the Duke of Sutherland and the Earl of Lichfield. The churches at Colton, Pensnett and Newcastle St Giles and St George all have substantial amounts of patterned
tiling, although with designs commonly found elsewhere.

Overall, the most lavish and early donations tended to include a wide variety of tile designs from Minton’s first printed catalogue of 1842, as well as specially made armorial or other symbolic tiles. Lesser gifts, usually of floor tiles rather than tiles for a reredos, displayed a smaller range of tile designs with fewer ’specials’, and often incorporated a pavement including roundels of the evangelists. Although it is clear that the most prestigious gifts were made during the 1840s, the range of tile designs given during the 1850s and the sheer number of donations made in that decade ensured that, as a whole, the later donation churches also present a significant display of Minton tiling.

Designs, Complexity and Motivation

As shown above, the quality of tile donations made to newly-built churches and to restored or rebuilt churches was much the same, with a roughly equal spread of high and lower quality gifts. High quality and unusual designs could be predicted where there was a personal connection between Herbert Minton and the church in question, for instance at Penkhull, where the incumbent was Minton’s nephew. The tiles donated to Staffordshire churches were not necessarily of a better quality than the designs donated outside Staffordshire. A comparison can be made between tiles which were donated, and those at locations where tiles had simply been purchased from Minton’s, the general products of the factory at that time. It turns out that there are no notable differences in quality between the two groups.

It appears that there is no appreciable difference in quality or design between tiles tiles donated by Herbert Minton and tiles bought from Minton’s factory, between tiles given to churches inside and outside Staffordshire, and between tiles given to new and restored churches.

There is very little evidence available concerning the design process for the Minton donation tiles, either inside or outside Staffordshire. It seems probable that the complex tile layouts seen in many of the tile donation churches were due to the work of the Minton factory artists rather than the architects of the churches concerned.

Regarding Herbert Minton’s motivation for giving away a substantial amount of his factory’s products during the 1840s and 1850s, it is possible that the increasing success of Minton’s tile business during the 1850s influenced his actions in making a greater number of donations during that decade than in the 1840s. It is also possible that Minton became increasingly concerned with the church at that time, although his donations were not restricted to churches.

Of course, whatever the prime purpose behind the donations, and their undoubted cost to the factory, they gained much positive publicity and acted as prestigious advertising.

Conclusion

The church eventually became Minton’s most important purchaser of encaustic tiles. The significance of the tile donations by Herbert Minton to the Staffordshire churches lies in the fact that these tended to be earlier and more lavish donations than his gifts in general. Although the overall pattern of donations during 1842-58 is roughly similar throughout England, there is a definite bias towards donations in Staffordshire during the 1840s. Thus the substantial corpus of 1840s Minton tiles to be found at the extant donation churches in Staffordshire represents a significant display of early, top-quality Minton encaustic tiling. It also provides an illustration of the high standard of work carried out by the factory’s artists in that period, in terms of the general layout of church pavements.

It has been suggested that around 80 Minton donation churches outside Staffordshire might still be extant. Given that some of these are likely to be churches where donations were made during the 1840s, it is clear that further research should concentrate on locating these possible early survivors with their potentially high-quality donations.