The window of opportunity is slender. I’m usually on holiday or working, but this year I got lucky. I saw the Minton tiles at St George’s Hall in Liverpool.
I travelled by train as I wanted to step out of Lime Street Station and see the fine neoclassical building bathed in sunlight; it’s a monolithic temple to entertainment. The journey was a palette of colours, an appetiser for the full bloom of the tiles. There were green fields scorched yellow by the long, hot summer, rows of coloured pegs on washing lines, and cerise lilac bushes growing wild by the railway track. The bleak, burned landscape of Winter Hill, which had borne the worst of the wild fires, could be seen in the distance as the train hurtled towards the city.
I spoke with a young mum with three young kids returning home after a trip to a theme park. She seemed incredulous that I’d spent 14 quid on a ticket to see some tiles beneath St George’s Hall. “But it’s a rare opportunity to see the tiles,” I explained. She was unconvinced. “And they throw in a glass of prosecco.”
Our knowledgeable guide, Jean, met the group in the heritage centre at ground floor level round the side of the building. We were given bright blue overshoes to protect the tiles – the sort of thing you see at crime scenes. Jean led us through the cells with their whitewashed walls where, in years gone by, the incarcerated waited before they were tried and, in some cases, hanged for murder.
It was rather daunting to look at the bleak instruments of torture outside the cells, not least the birching chair where people were struck with pieces of birch wood as punishment. The practice died out a mere eight decades ago. We walked up the steps to court room number one with its marble Grecian pillars and white ceiling with elaborate plaster work.
The wooden benches of the public gallery were as uncomfortable as any I’d hunkered down in across the North while covering a multitude of court cases during my journalism career. Someone had scratched ‘snitch ’ into the wall leading to the court.
Then, to the main hall. Words can’t convey the beauty of the tiles and the intensity of the colours as crisp as the day they were fired. I may have gasped out loud, truly in awe of the splendour of what lay beneath my feet.
It felt wrong to walk on these tiles, such is their beauty and delicacy.
The blues and greens and the distinct patterns of the Minton tiles are stunning. There are Grecian elements in some of them and mythical figures – maybe Neptune or Poseidon – watch over them. The ceiling is embossed with Liver Birds and the door to the side of the hall is embossed richly in gold.
Meanwhile, I snuck up to the organ with another visitor to take a picture of the view from above. I couldn’t stop taking photos but really, they don’t convey the beauty of the tiles. They didn’t disappoint.
Images courtesy of Liverpool City Council