Coventry Cathedral

The maquette for John Piper’s baptistery window for Coventry Cathedral in the V and A’s ‘British Design 1948-2012’ exhibition last year inspired a visit to see the real thing.

After the 14th Century cathedral was bombed in World War 2, Basil Spence was selected as the architect for a new Cathedral following a competition. The ‘new’ cathedral, begun in 1956 completed in 1962, sits next to the ruins of the old; the ruins are also clearly framed by the ‘Great West Window’, the ‘Screen of Saints & Angles’ by John Hutton.

The building was constructed in the same sandstone as the ruined building and its exterior seems massive and impressive in the way that such a building should be, however it is the interior which for me was a complete revelation. The nave space is immense with seven pairs of elegant pillars drawing the eye vertically, but the real genius is the way in which the decorative elements are completely integral to the whole. The John Piper window is fantastic, but equally beautiful are the narrow stained glass windows which line the nave by Lawrence Lee. The choir stalls designed by Spence himself sit comfortably in their environment and every element that you look at seems to have been so carefully considered and beautifully realised – the ‘Coventry Cathedral Chairs’ by Dick Russell (Gordon Russell), the wonderful Hans Copper candle sticks, the High Altar Cross designed by Geoffrey Clarke………I can heartily recommend a visit, for anyone with even a passing interest in 20th century design it will both inspire and inform.

coventry cathedral

April 2013 – rhubarb, rhubarb, rhublog……

Rhubarb harvested in forcing sheds

“The best of all merchandise coming to Samarkand was from China: especially silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls, and rhubarb…”  reported  the embassy official Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, 1403-05 from his post in Timur. Rhubarb progressed steadily from the East to the banks of the Volga (where is got its name) and across Europe.

In 2010 the UK growers of the rhubarb triangle (now bounded by Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell, Yorks) claimed a victory in their application to have forced rhubarb included on the list of European Commission’s Protected Food Names along with Champagne and Parma Ham.

Forced rhubarb spends two years growing, without being harvested, in an open field to build up strength and reserves in the crowns which are transferred to grow their third year (or few months, in reality) in sheds and are harvested between from Christmas until February. The stems are totally pink, very tender, long and etiolated. Their strength spent, the crowns are consigned to the compost heap.

Full of promise, my rhubarb crowns have been slowly unfurling throughout February –  they have survived March’s snow-covering and yesterday were ready for the first “pull”.  I have never ventured into forcing my barb, but really make the most of the main crop – which seems to last from April through to July or early August. I’m not much of a gardener but so long as I give these crowns a good dose of fresh compost each autumn they seem to thrive;  this year I think it will be time to split the crowns which have quadrupled in three years.

Rhubarb Crowns

Rhubarb Timperley Early with large chains to prevent hens scratching at the crowns as they emerge.

Here is a recipe for Rhubarb Custard Cake, courtesy of Helen Creese from Salvation Cafe, originally from an “Australian Womans Weekly Baking Book” which I have tried out on my family over Easter, thanks, Helen – they loved it.

Rhubarb Custard Cake

Rhubarb Custard Cake – first pickings got at by family before lens cap could be removed

On the tiles – parish map

As an adjunct to “Beer” and “Tile Art” posts, if you are visiting Wye Valley Brewery to purchase any of their ales, turn 180 degrees and take a look at the gable end of Stoke Lacy Village Hall. The Village Artmark scheme, funded by Herefordshire Council in 2005 selected local maker, Mark de la Torre (also showing tiles at Tinsmiths during our Tile Art show), to make a piece of art for the Village. He worked with local people to create a Tile Map approx. 8mtrs high by 4mtrs across which maps the contours, field names and features of the parish with photographs and sketches from villagers fired in to the ceramic surface.

Tile Map of Stoke Lacy

Tile Map showing sketches and photographs to illustrate.

Tile Art, Tinsmiths

Our Tile exhibition opens in a couple of weeks, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the use of tiles, the ways that they are produced and used. Last month’s visit to Jackfield Tile Museum at Ironbridge really helped. The museum is housed in the original offices of Craven Dunnill est. 1872 with the adjacent factory open to the public on specified days.

Craven Dunnill at Jackfield, tile press

Jackfield Tile Museum & early tile press

Press technology developed in the nineteenth century remains the industry standard; the  presses (now hydraulic) ram clay powder into plaster moulds to produce flat or textured tiles. Despite the use of hydraulic presses, the production line is still very labour intensive – perhaps not in comparison to our “potter’s tiles” in the exhibition – but in terms of modern factory production, this is very “hands on”.

making encaustic tiles at Jackfield

Rammed, textured tiles for slip infill – aka encaustic

The museum area is fascinating – my favorite room being the light, bright Design Room which now houses a snap-shot of art history through tiles 1840 to 1960 and the most fabulously tiled employees “loos”. As most people know the heyday for decorative tiles in this country was undoubtedly the Victorian era; a time when anything that could be decorated, would be.

The Crown Liquor Saloon, Belfast

At the Tile Museum I was particularly struck by a reconstruction of a Victorian bar – where tiles were made that formed an arc both horizontally and vertically and had decorative textured surfaces – just think of the engineering involved and the confidence that sales would justify the set-up costs. Perhaps this is easier to imagine when one realises that this small area of Jackfield (home to the largest encaustic tile factory in the world in the 1870s, Maws & Co.) produced more tiles than anywhere else, the factories even had their own railway lines and exported worldwide.

The Trade Showroom and loos at Jackfield

The Trade Showroom & Employees Facilities at Jackfield

But what of contemporary tile use today? With architectural projects spending millions on polished concrete for the outside of their buildings, is their anyone considering extensive use of tiles as an alternative? Well, a quick google search reveals lots of ceramic cladding, a few plain glazed flat tiles covering large areas but oh,  for the colour, pattern and texture that there could be……architects, designers awake….. if anyone has some invigorating examples of architectural tiles, please send them in to us. In the meantime do come and see Tile Art at Tinsmiths from 16th March and on-line at www.tinsmiths.co.uk from 23rd.

Floor Tile by Andrew & Claire Mc Garva

Floor Tile by Andrew & Claire Mc Garva

Jute – really is a beaut.

An unsung fibre, Jute, is something that we have become increasingly aware. It is Jute’s eco credentials which are really outstanding when compared to other fibres; Jute fibre is 100% bio-degradable and recyclable, in it’s growth it requires very low use of pesticides and fertilizer and the processes involved in the conversion of plant to fibre are relatively low polluting. Traditionally used for feed sacks, carpet backing and door mats, we now stock a variety of products which use jute in a more decorative way.

Diamond patterned Jute Floor Rugs

Diamond patterned jute floor rugs - two sizes and colours

Jute has excellent insulation properties both for heat and sound, these together with it’s antic-static properties make it an ideal choice for flooring. When blended with other fibres, as in the Valley Stripe cushions where the composition is 58% Jute and 42% cotton, added softness and drape can be given to the durability of the jute.

cotton and jute valley cushions; jute pouffes

cotton and jute valley cushions; jute pouffes

Jute’s unique combination of properties have been noticed by other industries; in tree nurseries it is used to contain young trees, which can be directly planted with no disturbance to the roots, the jute rotting away as the tree grows; for stabilising soils prone to erosion it is used as a “geotextile” that supports the growing vegetation which will eventually halt erosion. The jute covering biodegrades by the time the plants are mature enough to hold the soil in place.

Soft Jute Floor Rugs

Soft Jute Floor Rugs - two sizes with fringe

Now, with a fuller appreciation of Jute’s qualities, we are looking out for interesting jute products to add to the Tinsmiths’ selection. Do tell us if you come across any.