the centre, a late 19th-century Queen Anne Revival building
in Minster Street, Salisbury with decorative hanging tiles,
and in the foreground, the corner of a 17th century timber-framed
building with plain hanging tiles
first appeared in south-eastern England towards the end of the
17th century to provide weather protection for the thin panels
of wattle and daub used for the walls, especially in exposed situations,
and often on the upper storeys only. It is therefore sometimes
known as weather-tiling. When clay roofing tiles became cheap
and easily available they were adopted as a cladding panel over
timber-framed walls more generally.
Historically, tile hanging
is particularly associated with Kent, Surrey and Sussex, but it
is also used in parts of Hampshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire and Buckinghamshire. The style
was used more widely in the late 19th and early 20th century under
the influence of the Arts & Crafts movement and the Queen Anne
revival, and today it has become popular throughout the country,
particularly at first-floor level, over modern timber-frame and
block buildings to give a vernacular feel.
The plain tiles used
historically and today are the same as those on roofs, typically
270 x 165 x 16 mm. Hand-made tiles usually had a camber in both
directions which helped to cover irregularities in the timber
walls and it is this camber which imparts much of the character.
Most of the older tile-hung buildings are timber-framed houses.
The tiles are hung on oak laths, with the upper part of each tile
often bedded into a lime and hair mortar known as 'torching'. Mortar is
also sometimes used to fill the joints to make them more weathertight,
although this reduces ventilation and smoothes shadow detail and
texture, reducing aesthetic appeal.
The laths are nailed horizontally
across the vertical parts of the timber frame. The tiles are hung
overlapping to give a triple lap, so the bottom of one tile laps
the middle of the one below and the top of the one below that.
Where the members of a heavy timber frame are spaced widely, intermediate
studs are needed to support the laths. However, in light frame
construction the more closely spaced studs need no addition. Traditionally
the oak laths would be riven, that is split from the timber along
its length. These often appear surprisingly thin when compared
to modern sawn sections, but are inherently strong because the
grain is continuous, unlike a sawn section where any even slightly
irregular grain is cut through, creating weak points. The slight
undulation of the riven laths also adds character to the tiled
Sometimes solid brick walls have also been tile-hung. This practical
solution to lateral rain penetration and associated internal dampness
is still used today. Traditionally, the tiles would be hung on
timber battens plugged into the walls or fixed by wooden pegs,
later nails, directly into the mortar beds.
When tile cladding
was added to existing buildings which had jettied upper floors,
the opportunity was often taken to build a new brick wall outside
the lower framing timbers and in line with the tile hanging above.
Sussex: a typical town house with tile-hung first floor
Most traditional tiles are terracotta in colour with variations
through red and orange due to natural inconsistencies in material
and firing conditions. Often the vertical tiles appear a different
colour from those on the roof but this is actually due to different
weathering patterns; rainwater runs off them immediately and they
don't remain damp for long. Thus they tend not to suffer from the effects of moss, lichen and soot, retaining a colour nearer the original.
Usually square, the lower
edge of some of the tiles used is often cut to a different shape
and fixed to create a pattern or border. The most common is probably
the half-circle, but different shapes would be combined for a
more complex pattern or, perhaps more often, laid in several courses
alternating. Other colours might also be used to create patterns
in the same way. The many possible variations in shape and colour
allowed enormous variety in appearance.
plain tiles introduced by the industrial revolution tend to be
much flatter than the significantly cambered hand-made tiles and
have a very different character.
In the Georgian period, tiles
were made to imitate the appearance of brickwork. Known as mathematical
tiling, these were frequently used to 'face-lift' old half-timbered
buildings. However, although technically speaking, these are a
form of hanging tile, this is a subject area of its own, beyond
the scope of this article.
The age of a tile-hanging is not always
obvious as old tiles were often reused. However, the external
angles of the walls may provide clues: in old work the corner
tiles were usually simply cut and fitted together, and the corner
was often formed with an exposed vertical timber fillet, wooden
cover mould, or architrave. Today, specially-made angle tiles are
available which produce a more weathertight detail.
plain tiles have been manufactured with a sand-finished face in
a large variety of colours and shapes. Like machine-made clay
tiles, these have a uniformity and, it might be said, appear flat
As with all
conservation work, it is most important to identify the type of
tile and batten before undertaking any repair or replacement.
There is an enormous difference in appearance depending on whether
hand- and machine-made tiling, as well as riven or sawn laths
were used. It is not uncommon to find machine-made tiles, even
concrete tiles, used to patch repair handmade coverings. Like
using flatter, sawn battens in place of riven timber, this type
of mismatch stands out, not least because of course all plain
tiles are of very similar size.
of the tiling showing mortar torching
Several manufacturers make clay
tiles by hand, so it is not necessary to use machine-made clay-
or sand-faced concrete tiles inappropriately. It is also possible
to obtain riven oak or chestnut laths.
Arguably, the main problem
is poor maintenance. With correct
regular maintenance, tiled finishes can last without major recladding
for centuries. Usually it is the fixings which fail owing to decay
in wood pegs or corrosion of metal. This causes any torching present
to slip out and then the tile slips, exposing the battens and
frame to the elements, with potentially dire consequences. Just
one or two gaps can lead to decay in the battens or, worse, the
framing. Tiles also may decay, particularly if under-fired. Fortunately,
these tiles are much more easily replaced than most other building
Traditional corners are frequently a problem; the
exposed mortar falls out or the timber architrave weathers and
decays, allowing surface water to penetrate the vulnerable end
grain of the battens, causing rot and failure of the finish at
the corner. Although this is an occasional problem area, thought
must be given before altering it. This is a small detail, but adding
purpose-made corner tiles to finish the corner of a listed building
in a more robust fashion will effect a significant visual alteration,
which is not to be encouraged, and would require listed building
New tiling should be laid in accordance with BS5534 parts
I and II Code of Practice for Slating and Tiling, and BS8000 Part
6 Code of Practice for workmanship on building sites for roof,
slate, tile coverings and cladding.
be taken from different pallets and mixed over the elevation to
achieve an attractive blend of colour. To avoid straight lines
of colour, tiles should be laid across the elevation and not vertically.
Fixing battens on boarded or flat elevations must be supported
on vertical counter battens to increase ventilation under the
tiles and to allow free drainage of any water that might reach
the underlining membrane.
detail showing mathematical tiles above plain tiles
The essential difference between plain-tile
pitched-roof coverings and vertical tile-hanging is of course in
the fixing. All vertical tiles should be held in position with
two nails or pegs.
The bottom edge should be formed as a double
layer: nowadays special eaves tiles are available for the underlayer,
which finishes in the same manner as a roof, with a tilting fillet
which is usually timber. The top of the tiling needs to be protected:
this is usually achieved with a lead cover flashing which should
be dressed down over the top edge.
At abutments which finish square,
the tiles should be cut and weathered with lead soakers or cover
flashings as necessary, leaving a neat narrow parallel gap between
the tiling and the abutment. At raking abutments, which would be found
on a gable wall for example, the tiles should be splay cut. Manufacturers
usually recommend that, to maximise security of fixings, ends
of courses should finish with special wider tile-and-a-half tiles
and splaycut full tiles where necessary to avoid the use of small
triangular pieces of cut tile. However, be aware; the wider tile-and-a-half
is not a traditional size and changes the appearance of the detail,
particularly because the wider tiles' camber does not sit uniformly
with others of standard width. Manufacturers can produce special
angle tiles which can be used to minimise cutting.
Mention should be made of Winchester cutting. This refers
to the way the end tiles are finished at a gable abutment. The
normal finish is to cut the end tile at an angle on one side, leaving
the other edge perpendicular so that it sits coursed level with
its neighbours in the row. This can look uncomfortable visually,
and often results in small triangular-shaped tiles which are difficult
to fix properly. In the Winchester cut, the penultimate tile is
also cut on the splay so that the end tile becomes inclined relative
to the row. This provides a pleasing visual effect and allows
the end tile to be a satisfactory size in all rows. However, an
additional tiling batten fixed parallel to the edge of the roof
is required to secure the last tile.The cut tiles
in both methods will lose one of their preformed peg holes and
will need to have a second fixing hole drilled on site.
however, all new tiling should always match the original detail,
unless it is clear that problems have arisen as a result of mistakes
made in the past. Bear in mind that a detail which has already
lasted 100 years or more can be relied on to last another 100
years, provided that it is properly understood.
- RW Brunskill, Illustrated Handbook of Vernacular Architecture, pp60-1and p193,
Faber & Faber, London, 1970
- Alec Clifton-Taylor,
The Pattern Of English Building, pp279-281, Batsford, London, 1962
article is reproduced from The Building Conservation Directory, 2007
STEPHEN RICKARDS is a chartered building surveyor who set up his own conservation
practice, Rickards Conservation, in Sevenoaks after graduating from the Architectural
Association in 1990. He is RICS conservation accredited.
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