Jackfield Tile Museum and factory, one of ten Ironbridge Gorge Museums, has spectacular galleries and period room settings filled with thousands of sumptuous tiles. Also on offer are workshops where families can decorate their own tiles and visits to the Craven Dunnill factory where intricately designed tiles are made today for palaces, private houses and public spaces across the country.
Thanks to Victorian innovations in manufacturing, the arrival of the railway and social aspirations of the middle classes, the demand for lustrous and brightly coloured tiles mushroomed through the end of the nineteenth century.
With the raw material to hand from the mines of the Ironbridge Gorge and a highly skilled workforce, the small Shropshire village of Jackfield became, for a while, the world centre for the tile industry. Its products famously adorned the walls of Russian palaces, grand colonial buildings and Victorian public lavatories.
This fascinating story of style, taste, fashion and fad, is revealed in the Jackfield Tile Museum. Housed in the original Craven Dunnill factory, classic galleries, period room settings, hands-on workshops and a fully operational tile manufacturing and restoration business allow visitors to gain a complete understanding of the Victorian tile industry.
The buildings that the museum occupies were constructed for the Craven Dunnill company between 1871 and 1874. Ten years later the rival Maw & Co built the largest tile works in the world, just half a mile away. Mass production of tiles ceased at Jackfield in 1969, but the last twenty-five years have seen a rebirth of the industry based on the museum and its collections; the factory is now supplying meticulously matched tiles to repair walls and floors made on the site over a century ago. The tile museum has achieved the status of a national collection showcasing the very best British decorative tiles, art pottery and architectural ceramics.
Five galleries can be found throughout the enormous factory complex, which follow various themes. The gas-lit Trade Showroom, carefully refurbished to its original condition, presents hundreds of tiles made by all of the major British firms. Prior to the production of trade catalogues, this room would have been used by commercial buyers and architects to select ranges of tiles for retailing and decoration.
To ensure that visitors remember tiles were manufactured for practical purposes, not just as objects of beauty, a series of inspirational room settings demonstrate the varied and contrasting locations where Jackfield Tiles would have been found.
Visitors can walk through a replica of London’s Covent Garden underground station, past a completely tiled bar from a public house and into a children’s hospital ward with intricately painted scenes depicting nursery rhymes. Closer to home the galleries also recreate various domestic scenes from the entrance hall of an Edwardian villa, through a grandiose bathroom, to a 1930s front room.
As would be expected from the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, the organisation that operates the ten museums within the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, education underpins the whole visitor experience. Lecture rooms and workshop spaces have been created amongst the restored buildings allowing students of all ages to receive both formal tuition as well as a wealth of fun hands-on learning experiences.