Our day at Ironbridge Gorge continued with a stop at the Jackfield Tile Museum. I chose the Tile Museum out of the lengthy list of remaining attractions primarily because of the tourist literature. In case you couldn’t tell by now, I am a great fan of brochures (and make a point to collect them from every rest stop, as I’ve discovered some fantastic places this way), and the one for the Jackfield Tile Museum promised that we could “see, touch, and even walk upon magnificent British tiles!” How could I possibly resist the promise of a multi-sensory experience of that calibre?
As you can see above, to my obvious, albeit blurry delight, the Tile Museum delivered on its claims. I can’t say I had any particular interest in tiles prior to visiting, but the museum won me over. Tiles are cool! The museum began with a room dedicated to the history of tile making in Shropshire, including the story of a man being sodomised with a “pickel” (sic) by a cuckolded husband. I read the story a few times through, but I’m still trying to puzzle out the mechanics of that one. Not least of all because British pickles usually seem to be small, gherkiny type things, rather than the infamous American “Moby Dills.” But I digress…
The museum carried on upstairs, which is where things really got promising, with the recreation of the 1920s era tile offices, that you could peer in on, and a magnificent original tiled bathroom (which I’m fairly certain is just intended for viewing, and not actual use). They also featured a wide range of tiles that had been hand-produced in their factory, and had helpful captions about the various 19th century artistic movements, from Gothic Revival to aestheticism. I was even able to date the tiles in my fireplace at home due to their detailed descriptions (1880s-1890s, probably Moorish Revival, common in “middle class homes”, evidently).
The next section focused on larger pieces made with tiles, including a recreation of Covent Garden station, and some marvellous Shakespearian tiles. They had quite a few tiles that had been salvaged from a children’s ward of a hospital featuring characters from fairy tales, and even more recreations, like a pub, and 1930s parlour. The final portion had smaller samples of tiles, and contained information on the various techniques used to make them, with accompanying video.
There is still a working tile factory attached to the museum, which you can visit on certain days, but as we were there on Easter Sunday, it wasn’t open. However, the gift shop had a range of slightly irregular tiles from the factory for sale, at bargain prices, so naturally, we got suckered in. In my defence, they are still handmade, and very pretty indeed. I’m just not entirely sure what I’m meant to do with a lone tile…
Our final stop was the Coalport China Museum, which looks remarkably similar on the exterior to the Tile Museum, as they’re both ringed with kilns. We didn’t spend much time here, since it was the end of the day, and everything was closing, so I didn’t get to see the entirety of the collections. Based on what I saw, though, I’d definitely make a return trip if we come back to Ironbridge Gorge.
As you would expect, the museum was full of galleries devoted to intricate pieces of china, and some larger urns and things. I had a miniature tea set when I was little, which I have fond memories of drinking iced tea/lemonade (Snapple hadn’t yet informed us that was called an Arnold Palmer in those days) from, so I naturally had to coo over all the wee little teacups. My boyfriend kind of rushed through, as his delight in dainty cute things is significantly less than mine.
Upon leaving the rather twee galleries, we were left sort of trapped inside an outside area, with various china-related things you could wander around in, including kilns, a shop, and more galleries. I spotted a sign reading “Social History Gallery,” which called to me, so I headed in, and was rewarded with a few rooms about the working conditions inside the china factories, including descriptions of the various horrible diseases you can get from the materials used in china manufacturing, written on coffins (macabre, but again, totally up my alley). I scarcely had time to glance at everything, as we were so pressed for time, but it looked like good stuff.
We returned to the central outside area, and had just enough time to pop our heads into a giant disused kiln, accidentally activating some unexpected sound effects, which made us both jump, and to eventually find our way out via the gift shop, which obviously sells a range of china products. I would have loved to summon up my inner Hyacinth Bucket (Bouquet!) and stock up on some Royal Doulton, but we’d probably spent enough money for the day, and we still had a long drive home ahead of us.
Overall, I really enjoyed both museums, but the Tile Museum more so, because it was something we were both interested in, and the museum had that wonderful, dusty, Victorian vibe that I think I’ve pretty well established I adore. But the China Museum was good as well, especially considering that admission to all of these museums was included on that same Ironbridge ticket, so they didn’t have to make them as extensive as they were, but they still put in the extra effort, which I appreciate.
The Jackfield Tile Museum gets a firm 4/5, and the Coalport China Museum a 3/5. As I stated in my last post, my overall score for the Ironbridge Gorge Museums is a 4/5, and I highly recommend them for a solid day (or two) out. I’m keen to return before my pass expires to visit the places that we missed, especially the Broseley Pipeworks!