One of my favourite things about living in London, is the fact that it is a sum of villages, each with their own separate identity. You can quite happily be a tourist for a day, immersing yourself amongst a different tribe. A new adventure lies above each and every tube station. You just need to step away from Game of Thrones. My school friend Sarah is the only other person I know of, who is as potty about tiles as me. A resident Hampstead expert, she arranged an outing to Keats' house one Sunday. The kind of culture vulture tour which always culminates in the demolition of a wedge of Victoria sponge and a pot of earl grey. We hadn't even arrived at the house, before my eyes were drawn to these beautiful examples of typography. I've noticed them in many a recent fashion ad campaign, but had never stopped to fully appreciate them. Not only is the font lovely, but their contrasting colours look so fresh, despite exposure to the elements. It got me thinking about how even a mere street sign can characterise the look of an area. These tiles represent the architectural and historic charm of Old Hampstead. They are instantly synonymous with the N.W.3 postcode.
Ultimately, street signs serve a purpose and their legibility is essential. How would postmen, drivers, doctors and visitors live without them? The traditional location of a British street sign should be as close as possible to a corner of a street and about one metre off the ground. Failing that, on a building wall, fence, boundary wall or on a building ( above the bottom floor window).
Ceramic tiles aside, what makes these tiled street signs so special is that they have been chased into the wall. The fact that someone toiled away, neatly cut out the brick work and cemented the tiles flush against the bricks. Then, there is the smooth gloss of the tile, contrasting against the rough surface of the bricks. Since when did municipal design get this good? A little investigation suggests that these tiles date back to the 1860s and are thought to be made by the Mintons factory. Moreover, they are a product of the Arts and Crafts movement which thrived between 1860 and 1901. Led by William Morris, in reaction against the industrial juggernaut of change steaming through Victorian Britain. Morris' aesthetic stood for traditional craftsmanship applied through the use of simple forms. In sharp contrast to mass industrialisation, the Arts and Crafts style evoked romantic, medieval and folk themes in its decoration. Mintons Ltd. were THE tile maker in their heyday and orignal Mintons tiles are highly collectible . A Stoke on Trent based pottery company established in 1793, they are said to have collaborated with Prince Albert and Augustus Pugin. They pioneered new techniques including encaustic tiles, which became popular decoration for Victorian halls and pathways. So who would have thought that there was such a romantic story around these humble signs? A labour of love and the antithesis of mass produced street furniture. I am sure they are treasured by local residents.
Victorian encaustic tiles in the hallway and pathway leading up to the house.