Throughout Ireland there is still a remarkable number of good quality Victorian tessellated floors in existence, in churches, public buildings, public houses, shops and homes, many of which are in a good state of repair, usually through mere good fortune rather than any great system of care. Sadly however, many fine floors have been lost or damaged badly, due to inappropriate repair work and a multitude of other reasons. In the 1840s a Birmingham engineer called Richard Prosser invented the ‘dust pressing’ method, and its subsequent mechanization, brought about the mass production of these, and tiles of many kinds. Although these floors had fallen out of fashion, particularly in domestic settings, they are now being rediscovered and are very much prized. Great care must be taken with the sensitive refurbishment and care of these remarkable floors, and if so, they should be good for another 100 years.
It is not possible here to go into the many challenges that may be confronted in dealing with the repair, conservation, and cleaning of such floors. Typically, apart from patterned tiles, there are about 40 different plain shapes, in about 12 main colors, which can vary in shade, depending upon the manufacturer, and it is not unusual to find tiles from more than one manufacturer on the same floor. There may be as many as 550 pieces of tile per square meter. There is a misconception that these tiles are glazed, the shine that they sometimes have is referred to as the ‘fire skin’ and occurs as a result of the kiln firing. They are made from a blend of clays, colored with metallic oxides, are the same color all the way through, and can vary in thickness from 9 to 15mm
Loose, broken, and cracked tiles are the most common faults found in these Victorian and Edwardian floors. Individual loose, broken, or missing tiles can normally be replaced, and matching can take time. But apart from wear and tear there can be underlying problems that may not be obvious. Large cracks, or areas of loose tiling, are normally due to some kind of movement in the floor structure, as the screed used to bed the tiles is normally very brittle. Once the screed is cracked, the adhesion of the tiles to the screed will begin to fail. The cause of movement must be identified and remedied.
Below are some examples of floors that we have worked on, some simple and some complex, each one having its own story.