What did we know?
There is a strong oral tradition in the Society that there are William Morris tiles somewhere in the Secular Hall. We thought William de Morgan tiles were more likely as some were identified on the front of the building a couple of years previously. At that time members of the Society searched without success.
Where did we look?
We tried the obvious place – the Society archives, but there was no reference to them.
We found the newspaper reports on the opening of the Hall in 1881. William de Morgan was named in connection with tiles but it was not clear whether they were inside or outside the building.
Then, when we were searching an unused room in the Hall, we found some old documents gathering dust in a corner.
Among them was a transcript of a radio interview with members of the Society from around 20 years ago, which contained a reference to tiles in the ballroom which had been boarded up. As the ballroom was the main lecture hall in the early years of the Society, this seemed plausible.
One of the members interviewed was Jim Cartwright, then in his 90s, who had been a member of the Society all his life. His parents had also been members so he had memories going back to the early years of the Society.
A former secretary, Bert Anderson, who at one time organised dances in the ballroom was said to have disliked the tiles, claiming they made the place look like a butcher’s shop! He had them boarded up, we are not sure exactly when, but certainly many years ago as we found he had died in the mid-1940s. It seems probable that they were covered around the time that the ballroom floor was laid down in the early 1920s.
One of our group, Mike Burden, went searching!
The tiles were found behind mirrors in the ballroom.
It seems that the intention was that they could be lifted off fairly easily for viewing.
However, over the years, they have been painted over and it is no longer an easy matter without damaging the ballroom walls and decoration.
We were incredibly excited!