We found three designs, but there could conceivably be more. They include a panel of sunflowers
and one of daisy like flowers (named Large Aster/Leaf by Elsley).
There is also a panel which we will need professional help to uncover fully without the risk of damage.
These tiles are of an old Dutch tile design, usually known as the ‘tulip and carnation’ design, but as a member pointed out, the ‘tulips’ are in fact fritillaries.
It seems likely that there is a panel of plain tiles around the room with the decorated panels at regular intervals, but we cannot be sure.
We have informed the William de Morgan Society, TACS (Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society), the local Civic Society and the Victorian Society. TACs keep a national database of important architectural tiles and are adding both the tiles on the outside of the building and the ballroom tiles. The photographs were circulated round their committee of experts for an opinion and we are all now certain that the tiles were Dutch imports.
1881 newspaper reports refer to Marks and the Durlacher brothers as the suppliers of the tiles. This firm was one of the first to import Dutch tiles to Britain. The tile rights were transferred to Thomas Elsley later in the 1880s and the designs appear in his catalogue ‘as formerly supplied by Messrs Marks and Durlacher Bros’.
(Photos by Paul Taylor)
We are taking advice about cleaning and preserving the tiles. For the present they are covered except on special occasions.
We would like one day to be in the position to uncover more of the panelling to see if there are further discoveries to be made. At present the ABC ballroom has a business to run and we lack the finance to pursue this immediately.
We would like to look further at the connections between William de Morgan, William Morris and Larner Sugden (the Hall architect), who all worked together in various capacities and all had associations with the Hall.
William de Morgan, the most important pottery and tile designer of the Arts and Crafts movement, designed for Morris & Co for several years and was a lifelong friend.
William Morris and Larner Sugden were both working in Leek in the years immediately prior to the building of the Hall. Is it possible that the ‘William Morris tiles’ (which they aren’t!) were donated by him?
Through doing the project we have learnt quite a lot about tiles. We also learned that when you make an exciting discovery, the chances are that someone will come along and say they knew about it all along!!
We see this as an interesting example as to how important knowledge can be lost. A former member, Woody Wood who had done maintenance work on the building knew where they were and Clare Attridge from the ballroom had been told about them years ago. However, information had not been shared or pursued and within a few years could easily have been totally forgotten.