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Devon is a county brim-full of colourful ceramics. This is partly due to its profusion of churches, whose interiors often combine medieval tile pavements with Victorian ceramic decoration. Tile production in the county began with the late medieval tileries of the Barnstaple and Bideford area, which  specialised in relief decoration and were active from the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth century. Their tiles are found in many of the county’s churches; the more notable examples are listed in the main text, with other locations included in the Devon Roundup. Torquay’s terracotta industry and the North Devon art potters flourished during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, while Candy & Co of Newton Abbot continued in production until the 1990s; however, in situ examples of these local wares are uncommon.

Victorian restoration was responsible for tile pavements being installed at many churches, particularly those rebuilt by the Barnstaple Borough Surveyor Richard Davie Gould (1817-1900) during the mid-nineteenth century. Other than church tiles, the prosperity of the smaller Devon resorts, for instance Ilfracombe and Exmouth, encouraged shops to use tile decoration to attract custom; fortunately for today’s tile-seekers, many of these towns did not become overdeveloped and thus retained their tiles. Indeed, one of the great highlights of the county’s tile locations is Ilfracombe’s High Street, with its four excellent tiled butcher’s shops. Where development was more intense, for instance at Torquay, much tiling has been lost.

Other important sites include the former Brannam’s Pottery in Barnstaple, a superb Minton encaustic tile pavement at Bicton Church, the wide variety of tiling at Exeter Cathedral and Haccombe Church, and the unusual external pictorial tile panels at Plymouth’s New Palace Theatre. A full list of locations of the ceramic plaques installed in 1994 as part of the Alphabet of Parishes Project, which celebrated local identity, may be found in the Devon Roundup. Suggested reading: Audrey Edgeler and John Edgeler, North Devon Art Pottery (North Devon Museums Service, Barnstaple, 1995); TACS Tour Notes English Riviera (1997). The Gazetteer entry for Devon covers the administrative areas of Devon County Council, Plymouth City Council and Torbay Council.


St James Church (mainly rebuilt 1846 by R. D. Gould), in the grounds of the National Trust property Arlington Court, has an unusual chancel pavement of black tiles bearing a white scrollwork design; they were apparently made by Powell’s of Whitefriars.


St Peter’s Church was rebuilt by R. D. Gould in 1854, although it was 1863 before the chancel was complete. Maw & Co tiles were used for the chancel pavement, and a decorative tiled reredos was also installed.[1]


Barnstaple was the home of North Devon’s art pottery industry during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Several substantial firms were involved, and Brannam’s Pottery, the largest works, can still be seen in Litchdon Street, just south of the town centre (Fig 29). It was owned by C. H. Brannam, maker of Barum Ware, and built in two stages during 1886-7; the architect was W. C. Oliver.[2] The jolly facade combines terracotta pictorial plaques (mainly of animals and birds) at first floor level above a carriage entrance below, with colourful bands of specially-made tiles on the showroom and office to the east. The showroom has a chamfered doorway supported by twin yellow floral ceramic columns, with a distinctive knobbly surface. The whole is very attractive, as it needed to be to encourage tourists, and the pottery only ceased production in 1989. The buildings were then converted to offices and shops, while Brannam’s moved to Roundswell Industrial Estate, on the southern edge of Barnstaple (just off the A39). The shed-like home of Brannam’s new works is enlivened on its exterior by three large, circular shaped-brick panels designed by the artist Jeffrey Salter (Fig 30). Before carving the unfired ‘green’ brick Salter documented the works using drawing and photography.[3] The finished panels, made from red bricks up to four times the normal cut brick size, show scenes from the old works and a royal coat-of-arms.

Back in the centre of Barnstaple, terracotta panels by Alexander Lauder, a rival of Brannam’s, may be seen on the facade of the Squire & Sons building (1903) in Tuly Street. Lauder was the architect of the building, which included ornamental brickwork from his Pottington works. As befits an agricultural supply merchants, it has a pair of terracotta reliefs of agricultural subjects high on its gables. Lauder also designed and built Ravelin Manor, well east of the town centre off Constitution Hill, in 1889; its lavish external terracotta decoration (including full-size figures) was the product of his own works, as was the artistic tile and terracotta ornament of the interior. Although it was designed for a client, Lauder eventually lived at Ravelin Manor himself.[4]

Several of Barnstaple’s streets still retain their Craven Dunnill blue and white encaustic tiled names, which date from the end of the nineteenth century. There is also some external tiling on houses in residential streets just north of Brannam’s works, but given the strength of the art pottery industry here (not to mention the presence of Barnstaple’s late medieval tilery on North Walk), the ceramic showing in the town is rather disappointing. However, tube-lined work (perhaps 1920s) is visible at Ayre’s butchers in Bear Street; its fairly plain exterior tiling is complemented by an interior panel of a pig’s head within an iridescent wreath, probably made at Wade’s Flaxman Tile Works, Burslem. Finally, the entrance hall of the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, The Square, has a sparkling encaustic tiled floor.


Three Coade stone busts - Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Nelson and (perhaps) the Duke of Wellington - look down over the lush perfection of the Italian gardens from the orangery at Bicton Park. The busts, by Coade & Sealy, date from 1806.[5] Orangery and garden are but a small part of the extensive landscaped park largely created by John, Lord Rolle (1750-1842) and his second wife Louisa. Although their mansion (now an agricultural college) is managed independently of the park, the logic of their planning is still easily appreciated. At the southern tip of the grounds, in woodland beside the road, are St Mary’s Church and the Rolle mausoleum, both commissioned by Lady Rolle to commemorate the death of her husband. John Hayward of Exeter, an enthusiastic Ecclesiologist, was chosen as architect for St Mary’s, which was erected during 1848-50 next to the remains of a medieval church. Hayward’s gothic design is notable for its surprising display of fifty sculpted heads of kings and queens of England, from Edward I to Victoria, on the dripstones; the heads of Lord and Lady Rolle also feature on the north porch. Inside, the gloom is dissipated by a stunning Minton encaustic tile pavement running throughout the church, with a unique display of armorial and monogrammed tiles in the chancel and sanctuary (Fig 31). The sixteen-tile group showing the Royal Arms on a white background is the most eye-catching, but other, mostly nine-tile groups depict the arms of Lord and Lady Rolle (with a pale blue ground), Louisa Rolle’s monogram and - in the sanctuary - unusually ornate symbols of the evangelists. The risers of the two steps leading into the sanctuary are decorated with letter tiles in red on pale blue.

Just west of the church is the Rolle mausoleum, built by A. W. N. Pugin for Lady Rolle in 1850. The little mortuary chapel (as Pugin preferred to call it) with its steeply-pitched roof is attached to the ruins of the old church, which Pugin partially demolished to create the required background for the mausoleum. Inside, beneath the painted roof are monuments to John, Lord Rolle (by Pugin) and the baroque tomb of Denys Rolle (d1638), standing above a fine Minton encaustic tile pavement in mainly blue on cream, with white and maroon as secondary colours. The tiles were designed especially for the mausoleum; those bearing Rolle monograms and heraldic emblems alternate with plainer tiles in geometric patterns. Unfortunately there is normally no public access to the interior of this significant and thoroughly Puginian structure, but the church (generally open) may be entered through the grounds of Bicton Park.


The most unusual ceramic feature of St Bridget’s Church is the 28-tile plaque to be found on the north interior wall. It bears a list of previous rectors (latest date 1889), has a brown glazed ceramic frame and is signed Doulton of Lambeth; the church was restored around 1890. This type of list was intended to emphasise the continuity of the church, the incumbent during the Commonwealth being marked here as an ‘Intruder’. There is also interesting tiling by Maw & Co on the north and south walls of the sanctuary, including a series of oversize bright red tiles showing the instruments of the passion (Fig 32).


Several shops in the town’s High Street sport green glazed brick stall risers, and the baker’s has a good geometric pavement running from the porch right through into the shop, but G. & K. Sanders the fishmongers have the finest shop of all: its pale green, blue and yellow tiled facade has a central 12-tile panel below the window showing a nicely drawn fish, and a 16-tile porch panel of a sailing boat (Fig 33). The latter is signed Carter’s of Poole with a blurred date which could read 1957 or 1932. Unfortunately Carter’s records do not mention this site, but judging from the style of the panels 1932 would appear the more likely. 


The excellent green and yellow faience facade of the Dolphin, Market Square includes a column supporting the porch over a chamfered corner doorway (Fig 34). There is a ceramic advertisement for Star Ales (with a distinctive white star on red circle logo) produced by Plymouth Breweries Limited; the company was registered in 1889, thus the facade probably dates from the end of the nineteenth century.


St Gregory’s Church (Dawlish parish church) has a remarkable collection of opus sectile panels by Powell’s of Whitefriars. The chancel was rebuilt in 1874 but the reredos - an opus sectile depiction of the Last Supper designed by William Burton - was installed about 1879. Burton, who was born in London around 1831, spent some time in Florence during the early 1870s; the Last Supper reredos (after the Last Supper by Raphael in Florence) was his only recorded work for Powell’s. It shows Christ and the apostles at a table set upon a red and white chequerboard floor, with glinting gold mosaic arcading above. According to Powell’s records, the reredos was extended several times, and the fine evangelist panels at either side, including opus sectile symbols, much gold mosaic and floral tiles, would seem to constitute these extensions.[6]

Opus sectile panels of Isiah, Daniel,Ezekiel and Jeremiah were installed on the north wall of the chancel in 1899, while above the altar in the Lady Chapel is another large opus sectile reredos, in this case depicting the Adoration of the Magi; alongside are blue glass tiles of a floriate design often used by Powell’s. This reredos dates from 1914-15 and was designed by Guy Miller, a Powell’s studio employee who was a prolific cartoonist; the colours are considerably cooler than the main reredos. The total cost of opus sectile work ordered from Powell’s for St Gregory’s was well over £400; perhaps the benefactor was a visitor to the little resort.


The mansion known as Endsleigh Cottage was designed in 1810 by Sir Jeffry Wyatville for the 6th Duke of Bedford. The delightful site for this combination of family holiday home and evocation of English Picturesque taste was chosen by the Duchess, while Humphrey Repton designed the grounds (over 300 acres) in 1814; estate buildings included the Swiss Cottage and a Shell Grotto. In Repton’s Dairy Dell, north-west of the house, Wyatville designed Pond Cottage, which stands next to a dark pool, and the nearby octagonal Dairy (c1815). Its marble and tile-clad chamber ensured coolness; the marble was local while the tiling, by Wedgwood, was mainly plain white but with a delicate border bearing a trailing ivy design. Transfer printing, then a new technique, was used to produce the outline, which was hand-coloured.[7] The doorway to the dairy, with inset tiled archways, is particularly attractive. The dairy, which is now in the care of the Landmark Trust, was an early example of the picturesque tiled dairies which became popular in the early to mid-nineteenth century, the most exotic being the Royal Dairy at Windsor.


A tile tour of Exeter must begin at the wonderfully colourful Cathedral, whose impressive array of vaults and chapels is paved by tiles ranging from medieval (a chapel on the north side) to Victorian encaustic, mainly installed during restoration by Sir George Gilbert Scott during 1870-7. There are good displays by Godwin’s in several side chapels (especially the Lady Chapel) and notably in the choir, where the tiles - some with uncommon designs - are combined with local marble work.[8] In the Oldham Chantry, at the east end of the south aisle, is a small Minton encaustic pavement, while a Powell’s opus sectile panel depicting the Good Shepherd may be found in the choir aisle.

Head west from the Cathedral precincts into Broadgate, swiftly bearing right into the High Street to find the St Petrock Centre, formerly St Petrock’s Church. Inside, the walls of this strangely configured space house a series of ceramic memorial plaques, each lozenge-shaped but all set within tiled borders thus making a band of tiling midway along the wall. Dates on the tablets cover 1857 to 1925; the time of their installation is unknown, but such commemorative tablets appear to have been fashionable during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, particularly in the midlands. A little way north along the High Street is the Guildhall, where a substantial chimneypiece installed during its 1887-8 restoration, in celebration of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, is tiled in white with symbols of Queen and city (crown and castle) in yellow and black; the imagery is repeated in the stained glass of the main hall (Fig 35). To the rear of the Guildhall is the Guildhall shopping precinct; in its centre is the 22’ by 9’ Exeter Millennium Mosaic (2000), designed by Garry Plastow and Sam Watts and entitled A Moment in Time. It was made from identical tiles which were given to local people and groups who created their own designs; the completed tiles were then assembled as a wall installation.

South-east of the city centre, on the pediment of the red brick Wyvern Barracks (1804), Barrack Road, is a large (about 12 ft by 10 ft) and brightly-painted Coade stone Royal Arms, marked Coade and Sealy, 1806; this is one of a series of Royal Arms made by the firm for various barracks and similar locations. Also in Barrack Road is the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, where Exeter Health Care Arts has developed a programme of artworks including several ceramic installations. The fish-strewn Swim Fountain (1997) by ceramic artist Kate Malone stands in the Bramble Courtyard; its pools have semi-submerged rainbow-coloured fish dotted around deep blue-tiled walls. Yet more fish line the walls of the Hydrotherapy Pool (Reptile Ceramics, 1997), while the Brick Sofa (1999) by Rodney Harris is patterned with imprints of hearts and lungs.

In Newtown, the polychromatic interior of St Matthew’s Church (1881-90) includes colourful tiling and a partly terracotta pulpit of 1891.


The medieval Church of St Michael and All Angels, Dawlish Road was restored in 1876-8. The work, carried out by the local architectural practice Hayward & Son, included rebuilding and extending the east end of the church; this new section was floored with Godwin tiles.[9] The window recesses along the south aisle have memorial tiles made by Doulton, their dates ranging from 1898 to 1919.


In the middle of Exmouth, Spindals in Rolle Street has a most unusual facade, with hefty faience pilasters in dark olive green, plus an open porch tile panel depicting a large and unsmiling sun, symbol of the Sun Fire Office (Fig 36). The shop appears originally to have been the base of a firm of builders and contractors, who were also agents for the insurance company. Julie’s Restaurant in Exeter Road sports a good, complete faience facade in grey, green and yellow; two large lettered panels at first floor height advertise fish and vegetables respectively.


The Church of St Blaise, in the grounds of Haccombe House, has an excellent range of floor tiling, including twenty-nine different designs of medieval inlaid tiles in and around the chancel; the designs appear to have developed from those produced in Exeter around 1280. Some bear the arms of the Archdeacon family, who inherited the manor in 1330, thus the tiles probably date from the mid-fourteenth century, perhaps soon after 1335 when a college was established at St Blaise. There are also green glazed white tiles, likely to have been imported from France or Spain in the early fifteenth century, and 1860s patterned encaustic tiles in the north aisle.


The quiet market town of Hatherleigh has much of ceramic interest, including an attractive ceramic mural on a gable end above the central square (opposite the George Hotel) erected to mark town’s millennium in 1981. There is also a collection of public artworks resulting from the Hatherleigh Project, which began in 1994 when West Devon Borough Council and the townspeople combined forces in an effort to attract more visitors to their then-declining town and to raise the profile of the region’s artists. Locations given ‘the Hatherleigh treatment’ included various seats and bridges, and there is a ceramic map with a difference on the side of the supermarket in the main street; this was created by local children and the artist Roger Dean in 1996. The Church of St John the Baptist has Barnstaple tiles around the font at the rear, and a lozenge-shaped unglazed memorial tile dated 1877 on a north window sill at the east end of the church. The east wall of the chancel is decorated with an odd arrangement of encaustic tiles dating from around 1840, and there is a large area of mosaic floor; it is altogether a rather strange church.


This little town, tightly squeezed into crevices of the rocky coastline, became an important seaside resort after the arrival of the railway in 1874. To its attractions was added in 1997 the two-and-a-half white brick ‘cooling towers’ of the Landmark Theatre on the Promenade, replacing the Victoria Pavilion Theatre (1925) which had been damaged in a storm (Fig 37). The striking design was by Tim Ronalds Architects, and the bricks - over 30,000 of them - were made from German clay fired in Belgium.[10] Close to, the brickwork is rather banal, with some discolouration, but viewed from Capstone Hill the grouping is delightfully picturesque. The contrast between inside and outside is instructive: the bland exterior turns out to house wonderful curving, airy spaces defined by strong colours and forms. This homage to nautical style might have been enhanced by the use of black brick, even glazed black brick, rather than mimsy white. But perhaps a black cooling tower on the seafront would have held less appeal.

Opposite the Landmark is the first of Ilfracombe’s unexpectedly large collection of ceramic shops, most built at the time of the main resort expansion in the 1890s but these, on the Promenade, date from the 1880s. This terrace of small shops has a single course of Minton Hollins picture tiles in brown on white (some from the signs of the zodiac series) along its stepped facade, surprisingly effective given that the individual images are far too high, at well above first floor level, to be seen clearly. Then east to the Quay and the harbour, whose 1952 entrance, all flyaway white fins, is marked by a colourful 1994 ceramic roundel showing several boats. It was made by Devon potter Harry Juniper and installed as part of the Alphabet of Parishes project which commemorated local distictiveness, in this case using Q for the Quay.[11] Back in Broad Street, the former Crang’s Pharmacy has many original fittings and an excellent geometric tiled floor, with a brown encaustic pavement in the doorway bearing the pharmacy name.

Round and uphill to the High Street, and the multiplicity (a shambles?) of ceramic butcher’s shops: first, on the left, is Turton’s, which probably dates from the 1890s. It has a Craven Dunnill interior tile panel showing a large brown animal which, according to the butcher, has the front end of a cow and the rear end of a bull. Outside is a broad vertical band of white tiling with lettering on a pale blue ribbon, and a bull’s head below. The lettering reads: ‘W. H. Andrew Purveyor & Family Butcher Estd. 1855’.

Oddments of encaustic pavements and wall tiles pop up here and there throughout Ilfracombe; even the street names are tiled, in white on blue ground. Many of these are relatively modern replacements, especially the nicely crafted ones showing the acorn sign of the South West Coast Path, but look for the large gloved pointing hand on the Minton Hollins originals. A newer hand is in the alleyway leading from High Street (opposite a large shop with the remains of lime green tiled pilasters) down to the seafront. A series of pretty tiles and small plaques bearing colourful seaside images can be found in the alley running parallel to the High Street and just to its north; these were installed by Ilfracombe Civic Trust in 1993.

Towards the west end of High Street is Ilfracombe’s most spectacular ceramic shop, Scarrett’s the butcher’s (formerly Mogridge & Sons). Its tiling dates from 1896 and was carried out by a Barnstaple firm, probably either Brannam’s or Lauder’s, who were the largest tile producers in the town (Fig 38). The interior is totally tiled, in white above a blue and white art nouveau dado; even the wooden cash booth has a tiled dado. There are two mostly blue picture panels, one of sheep and one of cows. Outside, a new name board has been fixed over the fascia, although fortunately this does not obscure a pair of bulls heads. Although some of the internal tiling is obscured by shop fittings, little has been changed permanently; this is an excellent shop interior, and a fine illustration of the profitability of the town’s late Victorian tourist trade.

Just a few doors west is a complementary interior: a Dewhursts, with at least ten examples of the Carter’s four-tile Farmyard series of animals and birds designed by E. E. Stickland around 1922 and used for many years in this chain of butcher’s. This, too, is well preserved. High Street eventually becomes Church Street where the Angel Restaurant occupies the fourth ceramic butcher’s. Here, the interior is tiled floor to ceiling: a blue and white patterned dado is topped by a maroon and white anthemium frieze, while set in the white tiling above are two superb lozenge picture panels showing bull’s heads in ornate borders. This pretty scheme is set off by geometric paving in the adjacent hallway.


Coleton Fishacre (NT) was built in 1923-6 for Rupert D’Oyly Carte, the second generation of the family which managed production of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas; the architect was Oswald Milne (1881-1968), once assistant to Sir Edwin Lutyens. The calm, stone-built exterior hides a more modern interior, with details including jazzy bathroom tiles designed by the young Edward Bawden for Carter’s of Poole.


In the south porch of St Mary’s Church is an unsigned 3 foot high by 2 foot wide turquoise-framed ceramic plaque, bearing a list of previous rectors (‘intruders’ during the 1649-60 interregnum are in red lettering) within an ornate border (Fig 39). The latest date on the plaque is 1892, so it was probably added in 1893 when the south transept was built. As to the maker, it could well have been one of the many late nineteenth-century firms specialising in church decoration.


The most immediately impressive feature of the interior of St Mary’s Church is the large figurative mosaic work above its chancel arch. It was designed by Selwyn Image in 1903 and made by Powell’s of Whitefriars who also installed it; the mosaic, which was given to the church by Dr G. B. Longstaffe (churchwarden 1878-1916) in memory of his wife, was unveiled in 1905. There is an encaustic tile pavement in the chancel, the most decorative section being in the choir where there are two royal coats of arms; the plainer sanctuary pavement appears to be of a different date.


Begin toward the eastern end of Queen Street, the main shopping street, and head west, soon passing St Joseph’s R. C. Church (1915) with its colourful opus sectile and mosaic tympanum showing Mary, Joseph and their donkey; the panel is showing few signs of wear despite its unusual exterior situation. At the corner of Courtenay Street and Queen Street is Drum Sports, whose gable carries a large ceramic plaque in green and yellow with the name ‘Invertére Buildings’. Turn right then left to find the groovy Pompidou-style multistorey Car Park opposite the Market Hall in Sherborne Road; it sports a ceramic wall mural (1995) by Taja entitled Dartmoor Landscape, with rugged images of sheep and cows, and the names of assorted sponsors.

Continuing westward and round into Bank Street, a surprise awaits in the form of the Passmore Edwards Public Library, Science, Art and Technical School. The huge structure, restored in 2004 and now Newton Abbot Library, uses bright ochre terracotta on the grand scale; masses of grey local limestone contrast with the eyecatching terracotta dressings to make a memorable exterior. It was designed by the Truro-based architect, politician and businessman Silvanus Trevail (1851-1903), who was responsible for several libraries (in similar robust style) funded by the philanthropist John Passmore Edwards, and was built in 1901-4 using terracotta supplied by Dennis Ruabon.[12] The library was one of the last works carried out by the unfortunate Trevail, who committed suicide in 1903, soon after his fifty-second birthday, in a Great Western Railway train passing near Par in Cornwall. Trevail’s assistant, Alfred Cornelius, completed the library largely to the original design.


The collegiate Church of St Mary was rebuilt from 1342 by Bishop Grandison of Exeter, the design being modelled on Exeter Cathedral. The original furnishings were lavish, and included encaustic tiles, some of which remain in the ambulatory, behind the altar (although they may have been moved from the chancel). Dissolution and Victorian restoration changed the appearance of the interior, although the 1977 repainting attempted to revive its medieval colouring. The Surrey architect Henry Woodyer restored the Lady Chapel in 1848, paving the floor with tiles; its tiled reredos, which depicts the Annunciation, was installed in 1881.[13] A moderately decorative tile pavement runs throughout the chancel and into the minstrel’s gallery beyond, but more unusual are the wall mosaics in the south transept, which was restored by William Butterfield in 1878 for the Coleridge family. Butterfield designed the mosaic tiling, which is mainly in grey and red with dark patterns; the work was executed by W. B. Simpson & Sons of London.[14]


Note: this text was written before the Armada Way underpass was filled in during late 2004. The grand scale of the Armada Underpass Mural, dating from 1987-90 and designed by Edward Pond, is appropriate for a city so dramatically reconstructed following the Second World War (Fig 40). Technical aspects of the Armada Way mural, which depicts the naval history of Plymouth and the ships which took part in the battle with the Spanish Armada, were handled by Kenneth Clark Ceramics, whose team included Joanna Espiner.[15] The words beautiful and underpass do not generally coexist happily but here they most certainly do; the quality of the glazes, the exciting colours and the complexity of the design all make this a wonderful mural. Black vitrified tiles were used for the outer wings with standard commercial earthenware tiles in the 300 foot long underpass. For the subterranean section, the designs were outlined in trailed black glaze, then coloured glazes added by brushing and tube-lining. The density of colour in the outer wings was achieved by tube-lining on top of light-toned glazes, followed by the addition of yet more coloured glazes.[16] The signature of Edward Pond can be found at the north end of the mural on its west side. Here, all the original tiling is still intact, and dramatic, swirling lines and deep blues and greens cover the flanking walls. Alas, at the southern end of the underpass, both flanks of the mural have been replaced by insipid pale blue industrial tiling. The remaining upper section, with its three coats of arms, gives only a small clue as to the lost design, which included many ships as well as further coats of arms representing the various Plymouths from around the world. The partial loss of this groundbreaking mural is nothing short of a ceramic tragedy.

Heading west of Armada Way, at the west end of New George Street is a row of 1960s shops with striking blue, yellow and black geometric tiling (probably by Carter’s) on their first floor facades. Further west still is the city’s most spectacular ceramic building: the former New Palace Theatre and adjoining Great Western Hotel in Union Street. The theatre was built in 1898 then reopened in 1899 after a fire; the architects were Wimperis & Arber. The facade, by W. J. Neatby for Doulton, is of brown faience and buff terracotta with much maritime symbolism. The finishing touch is a pair of semicircular tiled panels showing scenes from the Armada after paintings by Sir Oswald Brierly: Spanish Armada leaving Ferrol and Defeat of Spanish Armada. Like most other examples of nineteenth century exterior tile paintings in Britain, these vitreous enamel panels have lost much of their original colour.[17] Across the street is a tiled pub, now the Theatre but originally the Grand, named for the Grand Theatre, built in 1889 and demolished in 1963.

Just south-east of Union Street is Millbay Road and the Duke of Cornwall Hotel (1863-7), a showy gothic grand hotel built for passengers arriving on the Great Western Railway; it was designed by the London architect Charles Forster Hayward. The hotel was one of a series of early 1860s buildings in which the use of terracotta, in this case by Blashfield, was increasingly evident.[18]


In Devonport, west of the modern city centre, are two good late Victorian ceramic pubs, the Kings Arms on Pembroke Street, with heraldic faience panels and good lettering, and the Royal Naval Arms on Saltash Road, with an ornate, columned facade of deep green and brown faience.


Medieval St Michael’s Church was largely rebuilt for the high church Garratt family in 1844-5 by the Exeter architect and Ecclesiologist John Hayward, who went on to design Bicton Church shortly afterwards. It remains an untouched example of early Tractarian village church design; the decorative scheme includes a tile pavement throughout (incorporating symbols of the evangelists in the sanctuary), tiled stair risers and a tiled east wall.


St Peter’s Church is notable for the romantic nautical stone carving of the Greenway Chapel and an astounding brass candelabra dating from 1709. At first glance the tiling - an encaustic choir pavement - is unmemorable, but behind the drab grey cobwebbed curtain covering the east wall is a colourful encaustic tile dado stretching the width of the sanctuary. The tiles, probably by Minton, include roundels of the four evangelists and a lamb of god, along with various monograms; they were installed when the chancel was rebuilt by the Exeter architect Edward Ashworth in 1853-6. The awful fawn carpet covering the sanctuary floor also hides a tile pavement which dates from 1895 (when the floor was raised). If revealed, the richness of the chancel tiling would enliven the interior and certainly complement the stone carving; it is sad that the church authorities still appear so ashamed of their Victorian tilework.


Several shops in Fore Street have tiled stall risers. At number 74, there are white and cream tiles with a blue floral border and good lettering reading ‘Established 1835’. The cheese shop stall riser is obscured in the centre, but still visible are a cow’s head at one end and a sheep’s head at the other, both in pale blue on white tiles. Finally, the butcher’s has a complete blue glazed brick exterior.


At the centre of Torquay’s sea front on Princess Parade is the splendid Pavilion, opened in 1912 and saved from the threat of demolition in the early 1970s (Fig 41). The initial plan for the Pavilion appeared in 1906, but this was redesigned in 1908-11 by Major Henry Augustus Garrett, Torbay’s Borough Engineer and Surveyor during 1890-1932; the Pavilion was finally built in 1911-12 by local contractor R. E. Narracott. The intention behind its rather late appearance at the resort was to attract more visitors by providing the cultural attractions of music and theatre combined with an enjoyable meeting place in the tea garden and café. The Pavilion’s style is an Edwardian Baroque version of Art Nouveau, and the steel-framed building is clad in white Doulton Carraraware with some pale green banded decoration. There are numerous swags, urns and assorted flowery faience decorative elements. The long, elaborately plastered barrel-vaulted theatre has an especially attractive facade facing the bay, with twin domed corner canopies at first floor level. Pretty ironwork, and a central dome topped by a figure of Britannia, completes the picture. The original interior contained a theatre, with a music hall-style balcony around three sides of the auditorium.

The building was a success, and became home to the municipal orchestra; the 1920s and 1930s were the Pavilion’s heyday, and it was extended to the east in 1939. In the 1950s the orchestra was disbanded and the Pavilion eventually fell into disrepair, although the 1960s saw it used for roller skating and bingo, amongst other disparate entertainments. The Friends of the Pavilion saved it from demolition in the 1970s, and it was listed grade II in 1973. The Pavilion was remodelled in 1986-7 as a shopping centre and restaurant; the 1939 extension was removed, and the eastern facade - with a new entrance - was reconstructed in faience blocks specially manufactured by Hathern. The new use is a great success; while entertainment buildings at other resorts continue to disappear, the Pavilion shows what can be done. And the glistening white Carraraware is still very attractive.

Standing high above the harbour, and visible from most of Torquay, is the church of St John the Evangelist in Montpellier Road. It was designed by G. E. Street and erected - over four building campaigns - during 1862-85, the tower being completed by Street’s son A. E. Street after his father’s death in 1881. The major building material was limestone, quarried on the site. The church was one of the leading centres of late nineteenth-century Anglo-Catholicism, thus there are rich furnishings including north aisle mosaics by Salviati showing scenes from the life of St John, stained glass by Morris & Co, and an extensive (although not terribly decorative) Minton tile pavement. There is also a fine display of colourful South Devon marbles, which are tough and highly polished limestones. They are very varied, and have been used in a decorative context throughout Devon, although their most lavish use was in local churches.

Not far from the town centre, at the west end of Babbacombe Road, is Torquay Museum, built for Torbay Natural History Society in 1874-6 by William Harvey, one of a family of local architects and builders responsible for much of Torquay’s early development. Its facade displays an attractive pair of allegorical scenes - the arts and nature - in local buff terracotta, above the first floor windows. Inside, hanging above the tiled floor of the entrance

hall, are a dozen or so interesting tiles and ceramic plaques, one early Persian and very unusual, another dating from the 16th century.

Throughout Torquay, although mainly east of the centre amongst the villa-laden hills, are ceramic street names in blue with white lettering. Each letter has its individual tile, and some display the pointing finger, for instance the sign for Lincombe Drive, which leads off Higher Woodfield Road opposite a villa which was the retirement home of Herbert Minton. The villa, built on Lincombe Hill in 1835 and originally known as Belmont (now Mintons, no public access), was acquired by Minton in 1856; following his death in 1858, it remained in the Minton family until around 1890. The verandah is paved with Minton’s geometric and encaustic tiles, and the hall has an attractive black and white pseudo-mosaic, with a glazed maroon and green dado. In the former kitchen are Pugin-designed block-printed blue and white wall tiles, while the bathroom has red and green block-printed tiling, also ascribed to Pugin. On the fire surround in what is now known as the butler’s pantry are Mintons China Works tiles dating from the mid to late 1880s.

Outside in the garden, looking towards the sea, is a pretty hexagonal gazebo with pierced, blue-glazed ceramic seats, some now replaced by poor concrete copies (Fig 42). Round its exterior, just below roof height, runs a series of colourful majolica plaques, while the inside has a mosaic floor and three large wall panels of cuenca tiles; in the centre of the ceiling is a single hexagonal majolica tile. The gazebo probably dates from the mid-1870s, and the house has undergone many alterations, including the installation, in the late 1980s, of around sixty medieval inlaid tiles in the floor of the conservatory. The tiles, which mostly retain their glaze and have clearly recognisable motifs, originated in Shropshire.

Herbert Minton made over 150 donations of his firm’s tiles to churches during the 1840s and 1850s. One recipient, amongst several similarly fortunate Devon churches, was St Mark’s Church, St Mark’s Road, only half a mile from Minton’s home. The church was built by Anthony Salvin in 1856-7 on a site given by the Palk family; the central tower collapsed in 1856 and was rebuilt lower than its architect originally intended. Minton, a parishioner, gave the tiles for the nave pavement in 1856. St Mark’s Church was converted in 1986-7 to the Little Theatre, which was built within the nave; its raked floor thus conceals the original floor. It is especially sad that Minton’s gift to his very own and final church is no longer visible, if indeed it is extant beneath the seating. Also unknown is the fate of the Powell’s art nouveau tiled dado in the sanctuary, dating from its 1890-1 restoration. Minton also presented tiles to St Mary’s Church in Marychurch, three miles to the north, but this was rebuilt in the 1950s after war damage and again the tiles have been lost.

Finally in the west of central Torquay there is an excellent tiled butcher’s shop: Terry Prentice at 78 Belgrave Road (at its north end, almost opposite Church Street). The interior is fully tiled with plain white tiles and a gold and maroon border, but both porches display picture panels of a bull’s head; the scheme is probably interwar.


All Saints Church, Cary Avenue was built for £10,000 in 1865-7 (the east end and tower 1872-4) by William Butterfield, and the typically polychromatic interior includes chancel mosaics by Salviati and unusual wall tiles high up in the nave; there are patterned encaustic tiles around the font. It is one of Butterfield’s most important churches, built for the booming resort, but the gloomy interior is unencouraging. The diaper motif is everywhere, along with fifty varieties of the local marbles; although one can eventually discern a feast of colour, the ceramic contribution is relatively insignificant.
Just south of All Saints Church in Reddenhill Road is a taste of how shop fronts in Babbacombe used to be. There are several examples in green glazed brick, especially fine being ‘Traces Dairy and Creamery’, proclaimed in white lettering on the green brick below the windows. There is also a tiled butcher’s shop, W. A. Eastley at number 118; no picture panels, but (probably interwar) cream, yellow and brown tiling inside and out.


The Church of St Mattias, on Babbacombe Road and St Mattias Church Road at Ilsham, is one of the rare Torquay churches which is usually open to the public, often through the adjacent church centre. Salvin’s church of 1858 was much extended by J. L. Pearson in 1882-5; there is an extremely lavish and attractive sanctuary of 1882, with much marble and mosaic, and encaustic tiles paving the chancel steps.


Torbay Hospital, a couple of miles to the north of the centre, off Newton Road in Shiphay, was built in 1926-8; its children’s ward originally contained 21 tile picture nursery rhyme panels by Simpson’s, each measuring 2 ft 6 in by 4 ft 6 in. There were extensive alterations to these wards in 1977, resulting in several panels being obscured or painted over, but eight are still visible. A large new addition to the hospital was made around 1968, and in the Outpatients Entrance is a colourful ceramic mural by Arthur Goodwin, called Tree of Life; the design is based on a simple tree form and includes references to Torbay.[19]


St Peter’s Church was almost completely rebuilt by the inventive architect Robert Medley Fulford in 1882-4; Fulford, the son of a vicar, gave up the profession when he was ordained in 1891. The Craven Dunnill dado and floor tiling forms part of its wholly intact decorative scheme, making the little church a fine example of Victorian design.


St Michael’s Church has an unusual collection of tiles. Encaustic memorial tablets to the Reverend Peter Johnson (d1869) and his wife Gratiana (d1845) are set in the tiled floor of the porch; it is unclear when they were installed. The nave floor includes some seventeenth century green-glazed relief tiles, moved from elsewhere, while the chancel floor is paved with Victorian patterned encaustic tiles.

Devon Roundup

St Stephen’s Church (1882), Ashill has a tiled sanctuary pavement and dado. The 1848 rebuilding of the chancel of St Mary’s Church, Bickleigh, near Tiverton included the installation of Minton tiling in the sanctuary. St Bridget’s Church, Bridgerule has a Godwin encaustic tile pavement in the chancel. At St Andrew’s Church, Buckland Monachorum is a Maw encaustic tile pavement and a Powell’s opus sectile reredos (1891, cartoon by Drake). The 1888 renovation of St Michael’s Church, Chagford included the installation of colourful east wall relief tiling depicting a peacock. The architect James Crocker (1850-1922) of Exeter restored St Matthew’s Church, Cheriton Fitzpaine during 1883-5, installing a chancel pavement of encaustic tiles by Maw & Co. St Mary’s Church, Chulmleigh has a few late medieval tiles and a decorative sanctuary pavement dating from around 1880. On the Tarka Trail in the East Yarde area are four ceramic sculptures in the form of large seats, whose forms reflect characters from Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter; they were made around 2000 by the artist Katy Hallett in collaboration with pupils from local schools. St Michael’s Church, Gittisham has a colourful chancel tile pavement dating from the 1860s. There is a complex sanctuary tile pavement dating from 1887 at St Andrew’s Church, Halberton. St Thomas Church, Kentisbury has an elaborate tile pavement running through the chancel and sanctuary; it dates from the 1873-5 rebuilding of the chancel. St Peter’s Church, Lamerton has an opus sectile reredos designed by Charles Hardgrave of Powell’s and depicting the Last Supper; it was installed around 1879, during rebuilding of the church following a fire. The construction of St Peter’s Church (1882), Noss Mayo was financed by the banker Edward Baring; it has a richly decorative interior (completed by the early 1890s) including a partly-tiled reredos designed by the Plymouth stained glass firm Fouracre & Watson. St Mary’s Church, Morchard Bishop (whose tower is visible for miles around) has dado and floor tiling dating from its restoration in 1887-91. Lloyd’s Bank, Paignton, (Palace Avenue/Torquay Road), has terracotta urns on its balustrade and a marble and mosaic porch pavement with the word ‘Bank’ and (in the corner) ‘Diespeker’s Patent’. Christ Church (1878), Parracombe has encaustic tile pavements by Maw & Co in nave and chancel.[20] The Courtenay Memorial Chapel in the south aisle of St Clement’s Church, Powderham has interesting tiling by Godwin of Hereford. There are particularly good Barnstaple floor tiles at St Andrew’s Church, Sutcombe. Apart from its fine fifteenth century stone screen, St Mary’s Church, High Street, Totnes has a Godwin encaustic tiled chancel pavement, probably dating from the 1867-74 restoration; outside is a ceramic church name board erected in 1966. The Minton tiled reredos installed around 1875 at St Mary’s Church, Upton Hellions includes the signs of the zodiac in blue. The floor tiles for the sanctuary and chancel of Holy Trinity Church, Weare Giffard were supplied by Maw & Co in 1863, when the church was restored by the architect Edward Ashworth.[21] The polychromatic interior of St Peter’s Church, West Buckland mostly rebuilt by R. D. Gould in 1860-3, unusually includes tiling on the chancel arch and tile banding in the nave as well as a patterned tiled reredos. There are medieval Barnstaple tiles with uncommon designs at St Peter’s Church, Westleigh. The elaborate chancel tiling at St John Baptist Church, Witheridge dates from restoration carried out in 1882-3. The interior of St Bartholomew’s Church, Yealmpton, rebuilt by William Butterfield in 1850, displays his typical constructional polychromy as well as colourful chancel tiling.

Apart from those mentioned above, the following churches have Barnstaple or other medieval tiles in situ: Abbots Bickington, Alverdiscott, Alwington, Ashreigney, Black Torrington, Bradford, Bradworthy, Broadwood Kelly, Cadeleigh, Clawton, Coldridge, Cookbury, Frithelstock, Horwood, Huntshaw, Instow, Monkleigh, Newton St Petrock, West Putford.

Twenty-six Alphabet of Parishes commemorative ceramic plaques, made by Harry Juniper from designs provided by local communities, were installed in 1994 at locations in the following towns and villages: Atherington; Beaford; Berrynarbor; Bishopsnympton; Brendon; Burrington; Cheldon; Chittlehamholt, Warkleigh & Satterleigh; Chulmleigh; Combe Martin; Fremington; Frithelstock; Great Torrington; Holsworthy Hamlets; Ilfracombe; Landkey; Molland; North Molton; West and East Putford; Rose Ash; Shebbear; Sheepwash; South Molton; Taddiport & Little Torrington; Winkleigh; Yarnscombe.


1.^         The Builder, 4th July 1863, vol 21.
2.^         Audrey Edgeler and John Edgeler, North Devon Art Pottery (North Devon Museums Service, Barnstaple, 1995).
3.^         Gwen Heeney, Brickworks (A & C Black, London, 2003), pp116-8.
4.^         Audrey Edgeler, The Art Potters of Barnstaple (Nimrod Press, Alton, 1990).
5.^         Alison Kelly, Mrs Coade's Stone (Self Publishing Association, Upton-upon-Severn, 1990).
6.^         Dennis W. Hadley, James Powell & Sons: A listing of opus sectile, 1847-1973, (2001).
7.^         Tony Herbert and Kathryn Huggins, The Decorative Tile in Architecture and Interiors (Phaidon Press, London, 1995), pp38-9.
8.^         Victoria & Albert Museum, Victorian Church Art (HMSO, London, 1971), p174.
9.^         The Builder, 3rd August 1878, vol 36.
10.^       Tim Ronalds, Swimming against the tide: The Landmark, Ilfracombe, in Shaping Earth, (University of Wolverhampton, 2000), pp82-87.
11.^       Alphabet of Parishes, (Beaford Arts Centre, Winkleigh, 1995).
12.^       Dennis Ruabon Catalogue, (1903).
13.^       John Elliott and John Pritchard, eds. Henry Woodyer: Gentleman Architect (Department of Continuing Education, University of Reading, Reading, 2002), p161.
14.^       The Builder, 5th October 1878, vol 36.
15.^       Lynda Relph-Knight, 'Art Under the Arches', Building (Supplement), 253 (1988), pp34-35.
16.^       Kenneth Clark, The Tile: Making, Designing and Using (Crowood Press, Marlborough, 2002).
17.^       Paul Atterbury and Louise Irvine, The Doulton Story (Royal Doulton Tableware, Stoke on Trent, 1979), p80.
18.^       Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, Devon, Buildings of England (Penguin Books, London, 1989), p665.
19.^       John Greene, Brightening the Long Days (Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society, 1987).
20.^       The Builder, 9th November 1878, vol 36.
21.^       The Builder, 31st October 1863, vol 21.

The Tile Gazetteer is Copyright © 2005 Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society and Lynn Pearson, Richard Dennis.