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‘Westminster’ tiles, along with Penn (Buckinghamshire) tiles the most common types of decorated medieval floor tiles found in the London area, were named after Westminster Abbey, where there are still several extant groups. At least some of the ‘Westminster’ tiles were made in London, but they were technically of much poorer quality than the thirteenth century Chertsey-Westminster tiles found in Westminster Abbey’s Chapter House. The production of ‘Westminster’ tiles ceased around the beginning of the fourteenth century, when the initial demand for floor tiles had been largely satisfied.

The next phase of London’s tile making began when the Antwerp potter Jacob Jansen (d1592) established a pottery at Aldgate in 1571, and was assisted there by six other Flemish potters; this produced tin-glazed earthenware, including floor tiles, and continued until about 1615. Other potteries making tin-glazed floor tiles were set up in Southwark around this time, the best known being the Pickleherring pottery, which acquired exclusive rights to the manufacture of tin-glazed tiles and earthenware for a twenty-one year period from 1628. Demand for fashionable delftware wall tiles led to the establishment of a works in Vauxhall by the Delft potter Jan Ariens van Hamme in 1676, and by the early eighteenth century tiles were being produced at several delftware potteries on the south bank of the Thames.[1] They were used mainly for fireplaces but few remain in situ, even in London, whereas Dutch-made tiles of the same period do survive in several London locations.[2]

In the early sixteenth century relatively small amounts of decorative terracotta had been used in the construction of Hampton Court (Richmond upon Thames), setting off a short-lived enthusiasm for the material, especially in East Anglia. However, London’s earliest large-scale producer of architectural ceramics was Coade’s, manufacturers of Coade stone, a type of stoneware. The business was established in Lambeth in 1769 by Eleanor Coade and her daughter Eleanor, the latter normally known as Mrs Coade (1733-1821). By 1799 her cousin John Sealy had become a partner, the firm then being known as Coade and Sealy, but after Sealy’s death in 1813 the business name reverted to Coade. The firm considered its best work to be the Nelson pediment (1810-12) on the King William Building at the Royal Hospital for Seamen in Greenwich, but there are many other examples of Coade ornament in London. J. C. F. Rossi, who at one time worked for Coade’s, modelled the terracotta caryatids at St Pancras New Church (1819-22, Camden); this early appearance of terracotta was followed from the 1860s by its use, along with faience, in the seminal buildings of South Kensington (Kensington & Chelsea). The terracotta of the Charing Cross Hotel (1863-5, Westminster) represents an early and extensive use of the material in a commercial building.

The first significant encaustic tile commission carried out by the Stoke-on-Trent tile manufacturer Herbert Minton was in the City of London at the Temple Church. Most of the designs of the pavement laid during the 1841-3 restoration of the church were based on those of the newly-rediscovered medieval tiles in Westminster Abbey Chapter House; the installation won general acclaim and resulted in much publicity for the firm. Equally influential in the secular rather than the ecclesiastical context was the encaustic tiling carried out at the Palace of Westminster, where the best of the Pugin-designed Minton pavements date from 1847 and 1852.

Although Minton tiles were used in a significant number of London buildings, the city’s major tile and architectural ceramics manufacturer was Doulton’s, established when John Doulton bought the Vauxhall Pottery in 1815. He went into partnership with John Watts, initially the pottery’s manager, and the firm traded as Doulton & Watts during 1820-58; they began producing terracotta building components in the 1820s, and by 1828 had moved to High Street, Lambeth. After the death of Watts, John Doulton continued in business with his sons John and Henry as Doulton & Co. The Lambeth Pottery finally closed in 1956, and only one corner of the works - Doulton House (1878, Lambeth) - survives, complete with a terracotta tympanum modelled by George Tinworth which shows Henry Doulton amongst his artists. The company’s headquarters between 1939 and 1971 was the art deco Doulton House (1938, architects T. P. Bennett & Son), which stood on the Albert Embankment. After the firm moved out, the building remained empty, still sporting its immense polychrome stoneware frieze modelled by Gilbert Bayes and entitled Pottery Through the Ages (1939). When the building faced sudden demolition in 1978 the frieze, comprising over 300 stoneware blocks, was taken down (in wintry conditions) by volunteers from Ironbridge Gorge Museum; it was restored at the Museum and eventually returned to London where it is on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum (Fig 139). Mounted on the side of Doulton House was the much smaller Dutch Potters stoneware panel, also by Bayes; this can now be seen at the Jackfield Tile Museum.

Burmantofts of Leeds produced large blocks and slabs of glazed and unglazed faience from the early 1880s, but this was intended for internal work, as the material was not resistant to frost damage. Their coloured faience made frequent appearances in London’s clubs and restaurants during the 1880s, but the first major interiors were at the National Liberal Club (1884-7, Westminster). The same material appeared on the exterior of 47 Maddox Street (1892, Westminster), but it was really Doulton’s development of frost and pollution-resistant Carraraware in 1888 which allowed faience to emerge into the daylight, an early example of its use, and the most extensive ever, being the polychrome Carraraware-clad Birkbeck Bank (1895-6, demolished 1965) near the north end of Chancery Lane.[3]

From the mid-nineteenth century Doulton’s had a close relationship with the licensed trade. This resulted in the installation of hand-painted pictorial tile panels in many turn-of-the-century London pubs, for instance the St James’s Tavern (Westminster); similar work from the tile-decorating firm W. B. Simpson & Sons survives at the Ten Bells (Tower Hamlets). Simpson’s was founded in 1833 and from 1868 was based at premises in St Martin’s Lane, where the upper floors were used as a tile painting studio and for the production of stained glass and opus sectile panels. The stained glass firm Powell’s of Whitefriars were the most important producers of opus sectile work, which was generally found in churches such as St Mary’s, Balham (Wandsworth). Outstanding examples of ecclesiastical tile murals are at All Saints Margaret Street (Westminster) and St Augustine (Kensington & Chelsea), both by William Butterfield.

Into the twentieth century, colourful faience made up the facade of a series of London Underground stations, but as these share many characteristics they are summarised below, along with the London-wide Blue Plaques scheme, a pleasing ceramic byway. It is interesting to note that the use of decorative ceramics on the Underground network never appealed to architectural critics, despite its success in creating a brand image for the various lines. The Dutch modernist faience-clad Holland House (1914-16, City of London) proved uninfluential, and it was cinemas such as Southall’s Palace (1928-9, Ealing) which kept architectural ceramic innovation alive between the wars. Victor Pasmore’s groundbreaking 1951 mural at the Regatta Restaurant was lost along with all the other Festival of Britain buildings, apart from the Festival Hall, although the Susan Lawrence School (1951, Tower Hamlets), part of the Festival’s ‘Live Architecture Exhibition’, survives with its well-publicised Peggy Angus pattern-making tiles.[4] In the capital, postwar ceramic mural work tended towards corporate imagery and public art projects of varying degrees of sophistication; a notable example of the latter is Jean Powell’s mural at Stepney Green School (2002, Tower Hamlets).

Blue Plaques

The Blue Plaques scheme for the erection of plaques to commemorate famous people was founded by the Society of Arts in 1866, their first ever plaque, to Lord Byron, being erected in 1867.[5] This was lost due to demolition in 1889, and the oldest surviving plaque is for Napoleon III (1808-73), which was put up in 1867 in King St, St James’s, Westminster. It is a circular, sky blue encaustic plaque with white lettering, but the manufacturers, Minton Hollins, found these hard to produce and most pre-1901 plaques were chocolate-brown in colour, as these could be made more easily and cheaply; an example is the Michael Faraday plaque at 48 Blandford Street, Westminster, which dates from 1876. The Society of Arts erected 35 plaques (of which only 13 remain) before the scheme passed into the hands of London County Council (LCC) in 1901.

The first LCC plaque was put up in 1903, and the Council continued erecting plaques at a rate of about eight per year until the First World War. Although retaining Minton Hollins as manufacturers, the LCC made many experiments with design and materials, and some of the most distinctive examples date from the Edwardian period, for instance William Wilberforce at 111 Broomwood Road (Wandsworth, 1906). This is a square, encaustic-tiled plaque in white on brown with an ornate border. By 1921 the LCC’s architect had decided that glazed Doulton stoneware would be cheaper and easier to clean than the encaustic plaques, and a circular Doulton plaque in blue with a wreath surround became the norm, for instance William Ewart Gladstone at 11 Carlton House Terrace (Westminster, 1925). A simpler design, minus the wreath border, was proposed in 1938 and continues in use today. Doulton’s produced the plaques until 1955, when their Lambeth factory was on the point of closure, after which Carter’s of Poole took on the job. Doulton’s made over 200 blue plaques for the LCC, each costing around eight guineas.[6] In numerical terms, some of the rarest surviving plaques are those made by Carter’s for the LCC, which was only putting up a handful every year by 1965, when the scheme was taken over by the Greater London Council (GLC). Two such are to Sir Charles Stanford, 56 Hornton Street, Kensington (1961) and the plaque marking the historical associations of Essex Street, off the Strand (Westminster, 1962, re-erected 1964).

The GLC installed an average of 13 plaques per year; Carter’s produced them in their Faience Department at Hamworthy until 1977, when the work was transferred to the East Quay site where over 70 slip-trailed faience plaques were decorated by Cynthia Bennett, Julie Williams and Hilda Smith before 1981, when Carter’s ceased making them.[7] The Gerald Du Maurier plaque at 14 Cannon Place, Hampstead (Camden, 1967) was made by the Faience Department, while the East Quay was responsible for Wilfrid Scawen-Blunt’s plaque at 15 Buckingham Gate (Westminster, 1979) and George Orwell’s at 50 Lawford Road, Kentish Town (Camden, 1980).

After 1981, production of the blue plaques, with their distinctive lettering designed by Harry Hooper, was taken over by independent craftspeople; the first was Alan Dawson, who had previously worked for sanitaryware manufacturers Armitage Shanks. By 1985 the number of commissions had increased to the point where Dawson could not fulfil them alone, and some of the work went to Frank and Sue Ashworth of Blackheath, London. In 1986 the scheme itself passed from the GLC to English Heritage (EH), who produced their own font for the plaques and commissioned Dawson to make them. Following Dawson’s death in 1994, the Ashworths continued the work, with Richard Wildblood of Burton upon Trent being brought in to share production.

An example of an EH design is the Jimi Hendrix plaque at 23 Brook Street, Mayfair (Westminster, 1997), made by Frank and Sue Ashworth; on average it takes two months to produce a standard glazed ceramic plaque, which is 50mm thick and 495mm in diameter. By 2004, EH had erected about 400 new plaques in London at a rate of around 20 per year, bringing the total to over 760, with the scheme being extended into the English regions from 2004. Bloomsbury (Camden), particularly Bedford Square and the adjoining section of Gower Street to the north, is an excellent area for plaque-spotting with 11 ranging in date throughout the whole of the twentieth century and erected by the LCC, GLC and EH. There are plaques by all three of the major manufacturers as well as the post-1981 makers, including a rare LCC/Carter’s - Thomas Wakley, 35 Bedford Square (1962) - and William Butterfield’s 1978 plaque at 42 Bedford Square.

London Underground Stations

The world’s first underground passenger railway was opened by the Metropolitan Railway in 1863, its steam-operated track connecting Paddington and Farringdon Street; what is now the Circle line was completed in 1884. The development of electric traction and improved tunnelling techniques led to the construction of deep-level ‘tube’ lines, the first of which - the City & South London Railway - opened in 1890. In 1900 came the Central London Railway (CLR), running between Shepherd’s Bush and Bank (now part of the Central line), the surface buildings at each station being designed by architect Harry Bell Measures (1862-1940) and faced in pinky-brown terracotta produced by J. C. Edwards of Ruabon.[8] It seems that the terracotta was only partly fired in order to achieve the colour required; this led to the relatively rapid deterioration of what one critic described as ‘wretched terracotta structures, apparently cast from one badly detailed mould’.[9]

The CLR platform tunnels were lined with functional white tiles, unlike those of the deep-level tube lines built in 1906-7 by four companies which eventually came under the control of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London, normally known as the Underground Group; these now make up the central sections of the Bakerloo, Northern and Piccadilly lines. The architect Leslie William Green (1875-1908) designed over 40 stations for the Underground Group, using bright, fully glazed Burmantofts oxblood red faience for the exterior of the surface buildings, green wall tiles for the booking hall and coloured tiling in distinctive geometric patterns on the platforms; it seems, however, that Green had little influence on the design of the subterranean areas, with the tile fixing contractors probably taking much of the responsibility.[10] The wall tiling came from several firms including George Wooliscroft & Sons, Craven Dunnill and Maw’s, the latter products being supplied by W. B. Simpson & Sons, who fixed the tiles. About 1.5 million 9” by 3” tiles were used along 94 platforms at 43 stations, the general scheme comprising a white or cream ground with horizontal bands of different coloured tiles at bottom, top and waist level. Vertical coloured bands were introduced at fairly regular intervals, and the station name was generally shown in 15” high letters on three panels.[11]

Of Green’s 43 stations, 12 are still operational but have lost most of their original features, while 6 are disused but retain largely intact facades. The 25 operational stations with original features include Tufnell Park (1907), where the tiling - as at the disused Aldwych (1907) - was by the Permanent Decorative Glass Company, a small concern which ceased to function in 1913. The best of Green’s surviving stations is Russell Square (1906), where the tiling is by Wooliscroft’s, with several original direction signs and a trade tile on one of the bridges connecting the lower lift landing with the platforms. Regent’s Park (1906) is the oldest station to have survived at platform level, and a Maw’s/Simpson’s trade tile can be seen at the lower lift landing (Fig 140).

In conjunction with Green’s work on the Piccadilly line, several stations on the District Railway were rebuilt by the architect Harry Ford (1875-1947), who also specified faience for the station facades, but in more muted brown shades. Hathern’s light brown vitreous faience was used by Ford at Earl’s Court (1906), its duller finish now sometimes being confused with that of Burmantofts oxblood faience following cleaning with hydrofluoric acid, which destroys its glazed surface. The deep buff and chocolate coloured faience frontage of Ford’s Barons Court (1905) has also lost most of its glazed finish through over-zealous cleaning.[12] The Metropolitan Railway and its architect Charles W. Clark began modernisation of its stations in 1914, the work being interrupted by the First World War. Farringdon (1923), Edgware Road (1928) and Great Portland Street (1930), amongst others, were rebuilt in conservative neo-classical style using pale buff Gibbs & Canning faience.

Interwar platform tiling tended towards the relatively bland, with large areas of white or cream tiles and minimal coloured banding which often highlighted entrances and exits; much of this was supplied by Carter’s of Poole.[13] A variation was introduced at the instigation of the administrator and design reformer Frank Pick (1878-1941), who began working for the Underground Group in 1906 and ended his career in 1940 as vice-chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board. In 1936 Pick commissioned Harold Stabler (1872-1945) to design a series of eighteen London-themed tiles with low-relief moulded decoration which were produced by Carter’s. These were installed as random ornamental insets at Aldgate East and St Paul’s (where they can still be seen today) in 1938 and were in use until 1947; the Aldgate East tiling is the most complete remaining scheme, but was threatened by proposed refurbishment in 2005. The Builder considered the tiles to be ‘an excellent notion, and one which will certainly arouse popular interest’, but the architectural critic J. M. Richards felt they represented ‘a kind of arti-craftiness’ out of character with the Underground’s modern standardised detailing.[14]

The Victoria line, connecting Victoria and Walthamstow, was first mooted in the 1930s and finally opened in stages during 1968-71. Its twelve stations were designed ‘in-house’ under the direction of the London Transport Design Panel, one of whose members was the industrial designer Misha Black. Apparently at Black’s suggestion the platform tiling (by Carter’s) was largely grey, but with colourful seat-back alcoves whose designs reflected the locality; the artists involved were Julia Black (Walthamstow), Hans Unger (Blackhorse Road, Seven Sisters, Oxford Circus and Green Park), Edward Bawden (Tottenham Hale, Highbury & Islington and Victoria), Tom Eckersley (Finsbury Park, King’s Cross and Euston) and Alan Fletcher (Warren Street). Platform tiling on the Jubilee line (opened 1979), connecting Baker Street to Charing Cross, was altogether brighter, and included a leaf pattern on red ground for Green Park. This was designed by June Fraser (b1930) and fired by Michael Douglas, and - in a different colourway - was also used in 1979 to replace the badly faded Hans Unger abstract panels on Green Park’s Victoria line platforms.[15] The Bond Street Jubilee line platforms were tiled with a stylish hat box motif designed by Tom Eckersley.

During the 1980s the Underground’s design strategy changed from one of overall uniformity to emphasis on individual station identity; specific artists worked with the architects on every updated station.[16] Bond Street’s Central line platforms were tiled with a ‘wrapping paper’ motif in 1982, Baker Street’s Sherlock Holmes silhouette tiling (designed by Michael Douglas and over-glaze printed by Pamela Moreton) was installed around 1983 (Fig 141), and the spectacular Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) glass mosaic mural scheme at Tottenham Court Road dates from 1983-5 (Fig 142). The 1984-6 Piccadilly Circus refurbishment used specially-made German tiles with high-gloss glazes, and the 1984-7 works at Paddington included the construction of a new ticket hall with tiling designed by David Hamilton depicting early tunnelling machines. At Waterloo (Northern line, 1987) jazz-themed tiling by Avril Toplee Tipping delineates the exits, while the South Kensington (1988, Piccadilly line) platform tiling design by Mary J. Woodin was inspired by inhabitants of the Natural History Museum (Fig 143).

The outcome of the race to refurbish the network was called into question in 1987 when the Victorian Society and the Thirties Society published their joint report End of the Line? which described lost and endangered features, particularly tiling, in splendid detail.[17] The authors were not keen on new tiling ‘of strident and often lurid colours’ and shared this view with other architectural critics, including Colin Amery of the Financial Times, who described Baker Street’s tiling as ‘meretricious’.[18] The report created a storm of publicity, and although modernisation continued, there has since been a stronger input from the conservation lobby, and many stations are now listed buildings. The policy of individualisation became more conservative, with installations such as the 1993 Tessera Designs full-height tiling in the Elephant & Castle booking hall, which reproduces an early twentieth century local street scene. Replacement tiling was still being introduced during the 1990s, notably at Mornington Crescent and Earl’s Court, in the latter case using tiles made at H. & E. Smith’s Britannic Works, Stoke-on-Trent.

It is unfortunate that one unforeseen result of the otherwise totally laudable End of the Line? appears to have been to inhibit experiments with modern ceramic tiling on the Underground network. The only relatively recent tiling tends to take the form of reproductions, not even always exact copies, for instance the Edwardian-style booking hall at Edgware Road with its ticket window faience surrounds. The Jubilee line extension stations of 2000 featured much attractive mosaic work but no ceramic tiling. However, enough remains of the Leslie Green stations - especially their platform tiling, which is still not fully published - along with the 1930s Stabler tiles and the 1960s-1980s artist-designed installations to make every underground journey a ceramic adventure.

Suggested London-wide reading: Paul Atterbury and Louise Irvine, The Doulton Story (Royal Doulton Tableware, Stoke-on-Trent, 1979); Ian M. Betts, Medieval ‘Westminster’ floor tiles (Museum of London Archaeology Service, 2002); Emily Cole, Blue Plaques: A Guide to the Scheme (English Heritage, Swindon, 2002); Desmond Eyles and Louise Irvine, The Doulton Lambeth Wares (Richard Dennis, Shepton Beauchamp, 2002); David Lawrence, Underground Architecture (Capital Transport Publishing, Harrow, 1994); David Leboff, The Underground Stations of Leslie Green (Capital Transport Publishing, Harrow, 2002).

The Gazetteer entries for London are listed alphabetically by borough; within each borough entries are listed by area and then alphabetically by street.

Barking and Dagenham
City of London
Hammersmith and Fulham
Kensington and Chelsea
Kingston upon Thames
Richmond upon Thames
Tower Hamlets
Waltham Forest


1.^         Alun Graves, Tiles and Tilework of Europe (V & A Publications, London, 2002).
2.^         Personal communication, Ian Betts, Museum of London Specialist Services, 12th August 2004.
3.^         Lynn Pearson, 'Lost - A Ceramic Extravagance', Glazed Expressions, (2004) 49, p10.
4.^         Lynn Pearson, 'To Brighten the Environment: Ceramic Tile Murals in Britain, 1950-70', TACS Journal, 10 (2004), pp12-17.
5.^         Emily Cole, Blue Plaques: A guide to the scheme (English Heritage, London, 2002).
6.^         Desmond Eyles and Louise Irvine, The Doulton Lambeth Wares (Richard Dennis, Shepton Beauchamp, 2002), p234.
7.^         Leslie Hayward, Poole Pottery: Carter & Company and their Successors, 1873-2002 3rd edition, ed Paul Atterbury (Richard Dennis, Shepton Beauchamp, 2002), p177.
8.^         J. C. Edwards, Ruabon: Catalogue, Ruabon (1903).
9.^         David Lawrence, Underground Architecture (Capital Transport, Harrow, 1994).
10.^       David Leboff, The Underground Stations of Leslie Green (Capital Transport Publishing, Harrow Weald, 2002).
11.^       M. A. C. Horne, G. Jasieniecki, J. Liffen and D. Rose, 'A preliminary study of tiling on certain London Underground railway platforms', Glazed Expressions, (1982) 3, pp4-5.
12.^       Michael Stratton, Clad is bad? The relationship between structural and ceramic facing materials, in Structure and Style: Conserving Twentieth Century Buildings, ed Michael Stratton (E. & F. N. Spon, London, 1997), pp164-92.
13.^       Jennifer Hawkins, Poole Potteries (Barrie & Jenkins, London, 1980), p138.
14.^       'Decorative tiles on the Underground', The Builder, 157 (1939), p163.
15.^       Lawrence, Underground Architecture (1994).
16.^       Hans van Lemmen, 'New tiles and mosaics in London Underground stations', Glazed Expressions, (1986) 12, pp6-8.
17.^       Alan Powers, ed, End of the Line? The Future of London Underground's Past  (Victorian Society and Thirties Society, London, 1987).
18.^       Colin Amery, 'Tube design has hit the buffers', Financial Times, 13th April 1987.

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