St. George’s Hall, Liverpool, is regarded as one of the finest Neo-Classical buildings 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; the first stage of which has been successfully completed. The complexity of the original Minton design makes this project one of the most exacting ever undertaken by specialist UK-based tile manufacturer 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. Part of St George’s Hall, the magnificently decorated Great Hall features a barrel-vaulted ceiling, stained glass windows, bronze doors, glittering chandeliers and an 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.
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.”
The tiles for this painstaking restoration project were manufactured by Craven Dunnill Jackfield; the only company in the world capable of manufacturing such complex encaustic tiles. The in-house team used traditional hand processes to achieve tiles that accurately match the original Minton tiles.
The complexity of the project is hugely demanding. On its own, hand-carving the tile moulds took several months. Then 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.
“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,” says Alan Smith, Manager of St. George’s Hall.
Headed up by Adrian Blundell, Production Director, Craven Dunnill Jackfield 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, the Garrick Club London and the Palace of Westminster.
Craven Dunnill Jackfield has established a reputation for quality and authenticity, and is recognised for its work by conservation architects and public bodies including English Heritage and The National Trust.
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, Shropshire, England, it is now part of the World Heritage Site at the heart of Britain’s Industrial Revolution.
Exert from a longer article published in The Specifier’s Guide to Ceramic Tiles and Calibrated Natural Stone 2017, by Kick-Start Publishing