THE VICTORIANS: GARDENING DUTIES – VICTORIAN ROPE EDGE TILES
If there is something I love about those long strolls on the foreshore, is that you never know what your next encounter may be.
A while back, while wandering around on the muddy foreshore at low tide in Putney, I found some strange ceramic features of similar shape but different colours.
One was remarkable with a trefoil decorative pattern, in a blue-grey colour, inspired from medieval times and church-like ornament features, while others were glazed in a terracotta or sandy colours, bringing to mind the time and style of Italian Renaissance splendour.
These features were quite heavy, with the visual aspect of metal or stucco, but yet relatively fragile when carried out of the mud and made of ceramic tile materials. One common factor was a twist shape at the edge of the feature.
So you would – hypothetically – think of finding your own piece of local historical mansion in the mud, the scrap of a bombed church that stood nearby maybe, with the little emotional tear at the corner of the eye. Not quite. It’s modern home rubbish and all down to the mighty Victorians again. I had just found broken bits of the traditional “garden edge rope tile”.
Yet a very nice find, posh and elegant to the eye, you will tell me.
It was the fashion then to have a neat, perfect lawn in the middle of your garden, surrounded by symmetrical features and flower beds to impress your guests.
These Victorian flower beds or garden paths were precisely cordoned off in style and separated from the lawn with these edge rope tiles, dug in the soil and lined up to create decorative edges.
The traditional “Victorian blue” tile as in the above picture, making a rather posh flower bed.
We can see here how Victorians created modern styles for their home while re-using the patterns of the Gothic medieval splendour.
Some tiles were glazed, adding some fancy terracotta sandy-like colour to the edges of the flower beds.
The tiles came in gray or cream like colour, glazed or unglazed, the method was to salt glaze the ceramic to obtain a creamy colour.
These Victorian garden edge rope tiles are still visible in some places nowadays, and it is especially common to find them in cemeteries. Some graves were indeed bordered with edge tiles, so the graves would at the time be decorated with flowers or plants on top.
If you take a walk in the Hyde Park Pet Cemetery in London, or visit one of the “Magnificent Seven”, like Kensal Green Cemetery or Highgate, you will probably see for yourself the peculiar twist –like shape emerging from nearby graves or paths.
Sadly the sight of these refined, well looked after flower beds has disappeared from the surviving Victorian cemeteries, and the derelict graves are simply weedy, often hiding the former tile edging.
Below are pictures taken in a churchyard in Oxford, where similar Victorian edge tiles can still be found.
After all, going on the foreshore is all about hand-on history and rediscovering objects of the daily life of past Londoners, and I personally love these ordinary yet extraordinary objects, giving me an insight into an age gone not that long ago but already forgotten.