On the tiles @thebathams – and the remarkable Gibbons family of Brierley Hill

If you take time and look there’s lots of outstanding art in Brierley Hill. You just have to look for it…and at what better place than the Bull and Bladder in Delph Road.

Of course there’s lots of things to appreciate about the Bull and Bladder – the best value for money food in the West Midlands and the most delicious beer to name just too.

It was after a few of those pints that I was, so as to say, in the mood to stare. And I saw these tiles.

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The tiles line the main corridor and reminded me of some I’d seen somewhere else in Brierley Hill – at the old Brierley Hill Technical Institute and Library in Moor Street.

These are the green dado tiles which adorn the entrance hall and stairway:

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and

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There’s other pleasing tile work there too. For example:

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I thought I found out more about these tiles and came across details of a remarkable family who lived in Brierley Hill and area at the turn of the last century.

The tiles in the Technical School were gifted to the building by Francis Gibbons, of Gibbons, Hinton and Co who were local tile manufacturers (they seem to have been based at Buckpool). One of Francis Gibbons brothers, Arthur Gibbons, had designed some of the terracotta artwork on the outside of the building. Here is his work above the doorway to the library.

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and similar work at the Technical Institute entranced:

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Now I’d come across Arthur Gibbons before. He was the head of Brockmoor Schools during the First World War and sent letters he had received from his former pupils who were serving to the County Express, hence preserving for posterity, in their own words, the experiences of local soldiers.

But a bit more digging uncovered even more about the remarkable Gibbons family.

Born in Cheltenham five members of the family moved to the Brierley Hill area and developed an extraordinary record in arts and education from which the town greatly benefitted:

  • One, a sister, was a head teacher of a school in Pensnett, went on to marry the chairman of the board of education and then became the mistress of the first Board School girls’ department in the district.
  • A second sister was for 20 years the headmistress of Bent Street Girls’ School and wrote frequently for magazines which circulated through the whole of Great Britain.
  • Owen Gibbons was an artist who studied at South Kensington and won national prizes for his art work, before becoming the curator of the Royal Architectural Museum in London and later the headmaster of Coalbrookdale School. He was also at the forefront of the establishment of Wordsley Art School and was one of the teachers of Fred Carder of international glass fame. In 1885 he established with his brother in law Mr W. J. Hinton his art tile factory at Buckpool in partnership with his brother Francis.
  • Francis Gibbons won a scholarship at South Kensington Royal College of Art and then became art director at Doulton’s Royal Pottery at Lambeth where he designed many of their world renowned ceramic products. When he established the tile works at Brockmoor he introduced many improvements in the decorative and mechanical production of tiles. Francis was also an expert in oil and water colour painting and had exhibited at the Roayl Academy.
  • Arthur Gibbons, after serving in the Moor Street School as class master was appointed to be headmaster of Brockmoor School when it was first built and held that post for more than 30 years whilst also becoming the first principal of the new art school in Brierley Hill.

I think that is an extraordinary record for a local family. Something we should be admiring and celebrating as residents of Brierley Hill.

There’s a sad side to this story too. I realised that I’d blogged before about Francis Gibbons painting. He painted this as a tribute to Sgt William Jordan, a Brockmoor Solidier who lost his life during the first world war, and presented it to the town in July 1917. Francis died on 4th October 1918 so this must have been one of his last works.

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The painting has been lost whilst in the care of Dudley Council.

So a fantastic and pleasurable journey into local art and history. All courtesy of a few pints at the Bathams.

Post Script – more examples of Gibbons work

Browsing the web I came across some more images of the Gibbons family work – and I can’t help but to be impressed with the quality.

Here is an Owen Gibbons fireplace:

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and here are example of some of the other tiles he designed:

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Finally, here are some further examples of the work produced by Gibbons, Hinton and Co at their Brierley Hill factory:

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$_57

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