Friday, September 05, 2008

Tiles and styles

click photo to enlarge
It's nothing short of criminal that tiles, a wall and floor covering that is made to last, should be subject to the capricious fancies of fashion, and that people should feel pressured to regularly change the perfectly sound surfaces of their kitchens, bathrooms and showers. Anyone who has lived through the last fifty years can very easily assign a tile to the decade in which it was manufactured. From the mottled beige of 1950s fireplace tiles, through the "cracked ice" tiles in sage, turquoise and pink of the 1970s, to the small fabric-backed mosaics of the turn of the millennium and the elongated "stone" of today, the pernicious march of fashion seems, ridiculously, to affect durable tiles just as much as more flimsy housewares, clothing and vehicles.

Was it always so? Not really. The Romans introduced tiles to Britain in the form of mosaic flooring, and many examples of their figurative and decorative designs can be seen in museums. But it was not until the monasteries of the middle ages wanted to floor their buildings with something better than trodden earth, rushes and stone, that floor tiles became common again. Their pattern-impressed and slip-decorated designs using symmetrical crosses, circles, part circles, birds, shields, etc remained, to the untutored eye, much the same for a few hundred years. And, the beauty of what they produced so appealed to the Gothic Revival architects of the nineteenth century that they faithfully copied many of these earlier designs.

Today's photograph shows the font and some of these Victorian tiles in the medieval church of St Mary, Swineshead, Lincolnshire. The fact that the designs of such tiles derive directly from medieval examples, or from catalogues of drawings of early tiles such as Parker's "Glossary of Architecture" (1840), and from original designs that often re-worked the motifs of the middle ages, makes identifying the manufacturer quite difficult to anyone but an enthusiast. As in many British churches those at Swineshead are probably made by Minton, but could well be by Campbell, Maw, Godwin or one of the smaller makers. Victorian tiles are commonly found in the chancel, the most sumptuously decorated part of a church. Here at Swineshead they were also deemed suitable for the area around the font, reflecting its importance as the place where a Christian is received into the the church through baptism. I was attracted to this shot by the sunlight streaming through a clear glass window, illuminating the font and its surrounds, throwing a lattice of shadows over everything, and leaving the background in relative gloom.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 16mm (32mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: -3.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On