WHSmith Art Deco tiles

WHSmith Tiles research project

Date: 
2013-2014

In the 1920s WHSmith commissioned decorative tile panels to be installed in the entrance ways of a number of its branches. The tiles were made in Carter & Co. pottery works in Poole, Dorset. MOLA building materials specialist, Ian Betts, and photographer, Andy Chopping, documented the tile panels surviving in WHSmith shops today.

The decorative tile panels still extant is a handful of WHSmith shops today, offer an insight into the fashions and ambitions of the day.

The tiles were intended to advertise the wide selection of books and other items on sale. Their distinctive Art Deco style and the scenes depicted expose a great deal about society at the time. A tile advertising post cards, from a branch in Newtown, Wales, portrays an overseas travel destination and reveals an increase in leisure time and the disposable income that people had to spend on holidays in the 20s.

Similarly, a tile publicising guide books, also from Newton, is testament to a growing interest in outdoor pursuits, with walks in the Lake District becoming a popular pastime. The images exhibit a touch of Hollywood glamour, with the fashions and desires of the period shining through.

In subsequent decades, many shops lost their decorative panels, mainly owing to refurbishment in the 1960s. Only seven branches of WHSmith are known to have their tile panels intact, with a few surviving in private collections. Many tiles were rescued by WH Smith and these can now be seen in a museum housed in the Newtown branch in Powys.

Despite their importance, rarity and attractiveness, very little work has been undertaken on these panels previously. MOLA’s project documents all of the surviving WHSmith tile panels that remain in situ.

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