Tiles Tell The Tale

“Tiles Tell The Tale” is an account of the five tile panels commissioned by Liverpool Museum from Pilkington’s Tile and Pottery Company in 1914.  It also deals with the panels that were not installed, two of which depicted the role of Liverpool in ceramic history. The others panels featured Italian, English,  Egyptian and pre-historic ceramic ages.

The authors have sought to explain the allegorical meaning of the panels and why the images and designs were chosen to represent the potter’s art. However, there is more to the story than just a history of ceramics. The panels were a celebration of two institutions at their peak - The City of Liverpool and Pilkington’s Tile and Pottery Company. The museum was determined that each panel should be historically correct and the account details the efforts made by Pilkington’s to meet this requirement.

The panels also became part of a human drama. For Pilkington’s the work was a prestigious commission and yet it was never finished. Changes were happening at the factory, not least in the roles of Gordon Forsyth, a brilliant  teacher, and William Burton the charismatic Manager. At the museum difficult decisions had to be made. Costs were rising. At Pilkington’s the panels were a turning point and marked the end of their glory years.

As all this came to a head war also affected unresolved decisions. Ironically, the panels were the subject of another drama in the 2nd World War. The story considers the impact of the Liverpool blitz and has eye witness accounts of the damage to the museum and seeks to explain why the panels were destroyed - not by bombing - but by the museum authorities themselves.

The authors have been researching and studying the early history of  Pilkington’s pottery production for 15 years. They have included hitherto unseen images of the actual tile cartoons and brought together a great deal of other material. The research on each panel seeks to identify the design sources from works available at the time ranging from  “The Grammar of Ornament” to the Persian manuscripts of the 15th century to archaeological excavations near Chester.

The images, many of which are in full colour, have been digitally re-created and help us to imagine the splendour of the tile panels themselves and the impact they would have had. Rarely seen pre-sketches are included as well as previously unknown prints only “discovered” in 2003.

For those with a love of ceramics and an interest in the personal effort involved in creating and saving these works so that they can once again go on display - this book is a must.

This work has been sponsored by Pilkington's Lancastrian Pottery Society.