The Minton Free Library and Stoke School of Art (Herbert Minton Memorial Building) stand proudly on London Road, Stoke. These two majestic buildings are extremely important historic remnants of the internationally significant Minton story. The buildings overlook the former location of the world famous Minton China Works now sadly lost. Some of the most important tiles and exhibition ceramics to be found in buildings and collections across the world were made in the pottery or 'potbank' that once stood on this site.
The Minton Free Public Library & Shakespeare Institute was designed by architect Charles Lynam and built in the late 1870s. The key benefactor was Colin Minton Campbell who donated the land. It housed a library, museum and public canteen (basement). These functions complimented the School of Art next door and public baths originally located imediateley behind both buildings. The city council took over and ran the town's municipal library in the building from the 1960s but this was closed and relocated in 2009. It was also used as offices by the UNISON trade union but then stood empty for a number of years. The Local Authority sold it at auction in November 2014. It was bought by a local businessman and philanthropist who wants to preserve the building fabric, explore and support new sustainable uses and slowly restore it to its former glory over time.
The new owner invited Danny Callaghan to view the building and assess the in situ tiles and architectural ceramics. It was at this point that an exciting re-discovery was made in the basement - hundreds of exquisite Minton wall tiles hidden for half a century behind wallpaper, paint and library cupboard fixtures! In truth, it was known a couple of years ago that some important tiles graced these walls after Mark Brereton kindly shared photographs of one or two examples that had been revealed behind peeling wallpaper. What wasn't known before was the scale and value of this extensive collection of rare and important historic tiles - a truly world class ceramic showcase hidden from view for nearly 50 years behind that wallpaper!
The lower ground space originally housed 'The Canteen' and provided a service for staff, students (library, school of art and baths) as well as the wider general public. All four interior walls are clad in hundreds of tiles made in the 1870s (presumably to aid cleaning and hygiene). The design scheme incorporates hundreds of decorative block print tiles. These 'series' tiles depicting a range of literary themes including Old and New Testament, Shakespeare's plays, Aesop's Fables, Tennyson's Idylls of the Kings and Nursey Rhymes. John Moyr Smith, C.O. Murray and Thomas Allen - three leading artists working for Minton at the time - have their work featured. This unique showcase of in situ Minton tiles from the 1870s in an already important historic building is highly valuable and of international significance.
After further discussions with the building owner, and various partners, Ceramic City Stories CIC (Danny Callaghan) was invited to undertake remedial conservation work and deliver an initial public engagement programme. Over the last 6 months - we have offered local people access to this amazing tiled basement space and this important historical building. Our events programme has actively encouraged local people and visitors to take part in the remedial conservation clean up, photographic record and condition survey. Local families, enthusiasts and heritage professionals have helped to remove wallpaper, wash down and photograph nearly 500 tiles. The atmosphere has been electric - there has been so much interest, passion and a lot of local pride of course! There has also been national and international interest in the tiles, building and our related public heritage initiative. The aim of this initial programme was to 'shine a spotlight' on these important tiles and 'The Canteen' (basement space), and promote the importance and cultural value of The Minton Free Library building. We have been able to gauge interest and evidence demand for further action and activities from both the local community, visitors from further afield and a number of key potential supporters and partners. The overwhelming success of this initial programme has offered a huge boost to our overall plans for the development of Ceramic City Stories as an independent creative heritage focus and resource.
Danny Callaghan and Ceramic City Stories have been working in residence at The Minton Library over the last 6 months. During this time - more than 1,500 people have visited the building and got involved in a wide variety of coordinated events including:
- 'DIY Heritage Day' Access, Conservation & AHRC Connected Communities Festival (27.6.15)
- 'A Night on the Tiles' Access & Conservation Event (11.7.15)
- 'Take the Tiles' Access & Photographic Event (25.7.15)
- 'Heritage Open Days' National Heritage Initiative (12.9.15 & 13.9.15)
- 'Fun Palaces' National Art & Science Initiative (3.10.15 & 4.10.15)
- 'What If' Contemporary Artists Residency (10.11.15 & 11.10.15)
- 'Tiles & Architectural Ceramic Society' UK Members visit (16.10.15)
- 'Local Plan' Second Look Stoke & Potteries Heritage Society (17.10.15)
- 'Transfer Collectors Club' International Members Visit (20.10.15)
- 'Potteries Artists & Artisans' Local Industry Showcase & Demonstrations (31.10.15)
- 'Inside Out - Outside In' N-u-L College Art & Design Resdiency (3.11.15)
- 'Potteries Flea Market' Vintage Ceramics, Crock Swap & Tile Trade (7.11.15)
- 'Topographies of the Obsolete' European Network Visit & Think Tank (9.11.15)
PHOTOGRAPHS: We are currently collating hundreds of images taken of the tiles, basement space and Library building during the events. Many visitors have already helped us by sharing their photographs using social media and email. This crowd-sourced collection of photographs will help us to build a unique online archive and resource that celebrates these exquisite tiles and this important historical building. It will also provide the basis for ongoing conversations, research and projects inspired by local and global Minton stories. PLEASE HELP US BY SHARING YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS USING OUR DEDICATED DROPBOX UPLOAD FOLDER: http://bit.ly/Photos-TakeTheTiles
Plans... We have been reflecting on our activities and events to date and will use this review process to inform our next step plans. Although our initial main focus has been the historic tiles and Minton Library building - we have also used this programme as an opportunity to turn the space into an independent specialist resource and focus for creative DIY heritage work in The Potteries. We have been overwhelmed at the response from local people, visitors and potential partners. We are now taking stock and planning a number of exciting next step initiatives (Minton Library & Ceramic City Stories). Our work will continue to focus on 'DIY Heritage' activities including conservation actions, community research, digital archives, shared stories. We are already exploring exciting partnership opportunities to promote national and international links and connections. We will share news about plans and projects on this website and also via Twitter: @potteriestiles (Ceramic City Stories) and Facebook: Ceramic City Stories
THANK YOU: We have met many wonderful people during the last 6 months - thank you so much for your encouragement, superb contributions & passionate support. We hope to keep in contact, build relationships and involve you in future events and activities.
Finally, the programme to date would not have been possible without the amazing core team who have worked so hard to make it a success. I want to offer sincere thanks to each and every one of the dedicated volunteers who have contributed such valuable knowledge, passion and Potteries' pride week in - week out to the programme during the last 6 months:
- Simon Ball
- Jayne Fair
- Robert Fair
- Kristian Foster
- Jan Roberts
- Phil Rowley
- Bret Shah
- Steve Shaw
- Jane Wells
- Kate Innes (Fun Palaces)
There's been a significant discovery at the old Minton library on London Road in Stoke. The tiles uncovered are around 150 years old, and have been covered with wallpaper for 50 years.Posted by BBC Radio Stoke on Friday, 26 June 2015