Craftsmanship of the highest calibre

By Adrian Blundell, Production Director, Craven Dunnill Jackfield

Craven Dunnill Jackfield is now the one remaining manufacturer of traditionally-styled, encaustic tiles in the UK.

Part of the Craven Dunnill Group of companies founded in 1872 on the original Victorian tile works in Jackfield, Shropshire, and close to the River Severn, the company is dedicated to making encaustic, geometric and decorative wall tiles to the highest standards, using traditional techniques and materials.

Headed up by Adrian Blundell, Production Director, the company has successfully completed many prestigious encaustic and geometric floor tile commissions, including The Church of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Keble College Oxford, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, St. Georges Hall Liverpool, the Garrick Club London and the Palace of Westminster.  The company’s approach to successfully undertaking such projects is a team affair involving a project manager, expert in CAD and design, the floor tile manager, who has hands-on responsibility for making the tiles, and a glaze expert.  The team liaises closely with conservation companies, architects and flooring contractors working on the job, and follows the project through from beginning to end.

In this way, Craven Dunnill Jackfield has established a reputation for quality and authenticity, and is recognised for its work by architects specialising in the listed building sector and public bodies including English Heritage and The National Trust.  The company has won many awards for its work and Adrian Blundell attributes this to the Jackfield workforce: “It is their skills and passion for their work which is the life-blood of this company.”

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The Craven Dunnill Jackfield production facility has been producing ceramic wall and floor tiles for 140 years and is said to be the oldest surviving purpose-built tile factory in the world. Located in what was once the world centre of tile production at Ironbridge, it is now part of the World Heritage Site at the heart of Britain’s Industrial Revolution.

The company’s flexible manufacturing techniques and highly skilled staff enable the production of any style or volume of ceramic production ranging from single 3D tiles to murals using thousands of square metres of specialist ceramics.  This expertise is perhaps most clearly seen in the ever-growing range of high profile restoration projects that Craven Dunnill Jackfield has completed.

St. George’s Hall, Liverpool is regarded as one of the finest examples of a Neo-Classical building in the world.  When constructed in the 1850s, the intricate encaustic tiled floor was the largest Minton pavement in the world at over 30,000 individual pieces.  Today, the tiled floor is undergoing major restoration and the first stage is successfully completed.  The complexity of the original Minton design makes this project one of the most exacting ever undertaken by Craven Dunnill Jackfield.

Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, a London architect aged just 25, won a competition to design the original Hall, along with the new assizes court. Construction started in 1841: the building opened in 1854. Magnificently decorated, the Great Hall is part of St. George’s Hall and features a barrel vaulted ceiling, stained glass windows, bronze doors, glittering chandeliers and the elaborate, Minton tiled floor.  The floor depicts Liverpool’s history and is littered with maritime and classical imagery, including Liver Birds, Neptune, sea nymphs, dolphins and tridents.  Located in the maritime mercantile area of the city, St. George’s Hall is part of the UNESCO Liverpool Heritage Site.

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Alan Smith, Manager of St. George’s Hall has overseen the project. “The hall is the emotional heart of the city of Liverpool, where people look to congregate in good times and bad. The sunken Minton floor features over 30,000 encaustic tiles and since its installation in 1854 has been largely covered up.  The majority of the tiles have therefore been preserved in excellent condition but the periphery has been worn away through regular footfall. In recent years, the entire floor has been revealed more frequently and the whole of the Great Hall bursts into colour, light and splendour, making a magnificent cultural experience.”

Craven Dunnill Jackfield is the only company in the world capable of manufacturing such complex encaustic tiles, using traditional hand processes and skills to achieve tiles that match the original Minton tiles.  The complexity of the project is hugely demanding; hand-carving the tile moulds for the project alone took several months, whilst each tile is individually hand-pressed and cut to size before firing.

In 2007, St. George’s Hall was reopened after a £23m refurbishment project. Since then, separate fund-raising efforts have taken place in order to restore five of the seven Minton roundel panels and tiled walkway which frame the Great Hall, the tiles of which have dramatically worn. Craven Dunnill Jackfield has now completed the first stage, successfully manufacturing replacement tiles for the one of the panels, returning it to the original, gloriously rich colours. Alan Smith reports: “It has been a real delight to be able to call on the outstanding professionals at Jackfield and to see their exacting and high quality workmanship revive this iconic floor”.

Craven Dunnill Jackfield is also producing bespoke encaustic floor tiles for the renovation of the highly worn floors for the on-going project at The Palace of Westminster.  The Palace of Westminster contains some of the finest encaustic and geometric floors from the Victorian era.  Architect Sir Charles Barry was commissioned to re-build The Palace of Westminster after a fire in 1834 that ravaged large areas of the original building. For the interior, Barry was assisted by Augustus Pugin, a leading designer of encaustic floors.

The original floors were manufactured by Herbert Minton and, after 150 years of wear and tear from over 1,000,000 visitors a year, were in desperate need of restoration. Craven Dunnill Jackfield have been commissioned by Donald Insall, lead architects on the project, to manufacture the replacement tiles.  Over recent years the architects replaced trial sections of flooring in both St Stephen’s Hall and the Welsh Lobby in order to ensure that the exacting aesthetic and quality standards could be achieved.  One significant phase of the floor restoration concentrated on St Stephen’s Hall and the Members’ Entrance. The restoration of St Stephen’s Hall involved the supply of over 4,000 encaustic tiles in five repeating panels, set between slabs of black Valentia slate.

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Each panel is made up of ten different designs in red, buff, white and blue colours; while the floor’s perimeter has a border of tiles depicting the Coats of Arms of the Garter Knights. The project at The Palace of Westminster is the highest profile and most demanding restoration project in which Craven Dunnill Jackfield has been involved.  The superb results to date are a living testament to the company’s incomparable skills; and is creating beautiful decorative floors that will be enjoyed by countless visitor over the next 100 years.

The Marianne North Gallery at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew was subject to a two year, £3.7 million renovation band conservation project encompassing both the fabric of the building and its unique painting collection. Taking centre stage is the stunning Geometric tiled floor, complete with intricate border, which is an authentic replica of the original Victorian floor, and which
has been expertly re-created by Craven Dunnill Jackfield.

The Gallery was designed by architectural historian James Ferguson and purpose built to house the work of botanical artist Marianne North, who donated her unique collection of paintings to Kew in 1882. Working closely with the Donald Insall Associates, main contractor, Concentra, and contractor Wilson & Wylie, Craven Dunnill Jackfield produced CAD drawings, to scale, of the proposed bordered floors for the gallery and terrace areas, making allowances for walls which were untrue and creep, which naturally occurs when laying a complex tile design.

For linking areas, such as doorways, there was no historical reference material; so one of the in-house designers at Craven Dunnill Jackfield, Jon Griffiths, designed these areas to complement the main floor area.  He also worked into the border of the main floor area intricate details such as an interweaving motif using border slip tiles.  The Marianne North Gallery is approximately 14.5m long by 6.5m wide.  Each square metre is made up of 200 individual tiles: octagons, hexagons, pentagons, squares, triangles, parallelograms and oblong slips.  Precision in manufacture and then in laying the floor was of paramount importance, in order to ensure the design would fit and sit centrally in the room. More recently, Craven Dunnill Jackfield has produced the 11,835 hand-made encaustic and 36,862 hand-cut geometric tiles for the largest single floor it has ever worked on, at Cathedral Church of St Mary’s in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

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The newly installed encaustic and geometric tiled floor at St Mary’s is unusual in that it introduces new designs to this period building, rather than the more common practice of restoring or reinstalling the originals. The Cathedral’s Architects created the designs using traditional encaustic patterns from Craven Dunnill Jackfield’s archive catalogue; the specialist tile producer then generated some 50 scaled CAD technical drawings, translating the design into a workable floor plan, and then hand-produced the high volume of tiles required, in record time. The replacement of the entire floor in the cathedral was part of a major renovation project and included the Sanctuary, main aisle, Blessed Sacrament Chapel and Lady Chapel.

The cathedral, designed by A W N Pugin, was constructed in 1844 and is considered to be part of the region’s architectural heritage. However, the majority of the original Minton tiles were installed later, in the early 20th century, on a screed and compacted earth floor, which had become badly damaged beyond repair.  The new encaustic designs are highly decorative and in the style of Pugin and, therefore, considered to be more in-keeping with the original building. Overall, the project involved making 70 different tiles: 11,835 encaustic tiles in varying patterns and sizes, 36,862 geometric tiles, plus lettering tiles in Pugin’s typeface.  Given the specialist nature of the production process, the vast number of tiles required and the relatively short space of time allocated, the project was a mammoth task. Craven Dunnill Jackfield successfully expanded its production capabilities, without compromising its quality, to handle the project and delivered the tiles in four stages over a period of eight months to meet the specified installation dates.

Craven Dunnill Jackfield Ltd
Jackfield Tile Museum
Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire TF8 7LJ
T: 01952 884 124
www.cravendunnill-jackfield.co.uk