Victorian Decorative Tile Flooring – Encaustic tiles – Part 3

jan2009_clip_image045.jpgEncaustic tiles were usually used as the decorative tiles within a floor that primarily used geometric tiles as the main tile covering. Encaustic tiles were more expensive than geometric tiles, owing to their much higher costs of manufacture.

Encaustic tiles were often used to replicate or reinterpret medieval tiles that were found in early churches. Those early tiles were the first to incorporate a thin layer of extra clay in another colour to impart the design in either geometric shapes or the designs showed stylized animals or plants.

The Victorians took the designs and applied mass production techniques to the manufacturing process. With encaustic tiles, they improved on the medieval tiles substantially. Medieval tiles were painted or had thinly laid on designs and the designs could wear off with heavy foot traffic. Victorian encaustic tiles were manufactured with the design running through the depth of the tile, so that if the tile wore down, so did the design contained within the tile.

The Victorian encaustic tiles were made in a moulded process, leaving carefully shaped holes in the tile that would later be filled with differently coloured wet – almost liquid – clay. The clay would be poured into the remaining voids in the tile. It would set, and then be scraped off level with the surface of the original tile, and then sent for firing.

Encaustic tiles were then used as decorative highlights – usually in a field of geometric tiles. Due to the hardwearing traits of encaustic tiles, they could be used in a variety of heavy foot traffic situations, either outdoors, or in public buildings and churches.

Encaustic tiles were sometimes used in residential buildings, but due to the cost involved, they were generally used as focal point tiles in grander homes of wealthy industrialists. However, in Scotland, you can frequently still see them as colourful walkways leading to the front door of a stone terrace house.

An entry path to a stone terrace house in Edinburgh made of a combination of geometric and encaustic tiles. The encaustic tiles have been used as the decorative tiles in the centres of the large diamond shapes in the centre of the walkway.

A wonderfully preserved Hardware and Ironmonger shop in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, although the blue paint job is not original. This shop still retains its geometric and encaustic tile entryways from when the shop was built in Victorian times.

One of the tile entryways to the Hardware store. The encaustic tiles are the small floral designs around the border.

Another entry area to the Hardware store with a tile floor using a combination of geometric and encaustic tiles, with a marble threshold which probably was a step up from the sidewalk pavement before rules about handicapped access were implemented.

Another shop front entry using both geometric and encaustic tiles. The small floral tiles around the border are encaustic tile as are the small brown tiles in the centre of the design.

Palace of Westminster – Home of the Houses of Parliament, London. The Central Lobby with a richly-detailed Encaustic and Geometric tile floor

The State Capitol Building in Des Moines, Iowa, which retains splendid examples of both Geometric and Encaustic floor tiles in its lavish interior.

Iowa State Capitol: The Grand Staircase pre 1904 with encaustic tile at right on the landing of the stairs.

The Grand Staircase today with the encaustic tile on the landing

A detail of the tiles on the landing – a combination of both Geometric and Encaustic tiles

A further detail

Victorian tile floors can be a major decorative feature in any building. The design and colours add a delightful richness to a splendid building.
Seen here in an 1885 view, the North-South First Floor corridor of the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines shows the vast expanse of Geometric tiles installed during construction c.1884-1885

Keep your eyes down in older public buildings and in grand residential historic house museums! You may encounter more splendid examples of Victorian floor tiling.