Blog: Putting newly-gained knowledge to the test at Medieval Tile and Repairing Georgian and Victorian Brickwork workshops

On Saturday 23rd July 2022, Karen Slade delivered two Medieval Tile making workshops for the Wisbech High Street Project.

Thanks to The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Townscape Heritage scheme, these workshops were free for the public to attend. We started Saturday morning with an adult session to make your own Medieval Tile from clay. Karen gave an informative introduction and history of tile making and it was made really interactive with real Medieval tiles, tools and replicas to handle.

It was especially interesting for us in Wisbech as some of the most unique Medieval tiles ever found are from just down the road at Bawsey, near King’s Lynn. This added so much to the experience by being able to look at such old tiles up close.

Karen demonstrated how to make the tiles using the traditional clay and slip method and even gave the opportunity to try the traditional tools such as the cow horn! It was brilliantly educational with books, photographs and samples passed round throughout the talk and everyone was given their own research pack of background notes, and a list of recommended material for further reading. All participants created their own copy of a traditional slip-decorated Medieval Tile and Karen will glaze and fire them all before posting them back to participants later, to keep as a memento of the workshop.

In the afternoon Karen adapted her workshop to be suitable for families and children of varying ages. She started again with a descriptive introduction to all things Medieval Tiles, made appropriate and interesting for young children. Families then had the chance to use the collection of pattern stamps and different shaped cutters.

On Sunday 24th July 2022, Charlie Slade delivered a full day Repairing Georgian and Victorian Brickwork workshop for the Wisbech High Street Project.

Again, thanks to The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Townscape Heritage scheme, the workshop was free for the public to take part in. This was a practical workshop for a small number of people to learn about traditional brickwork building and maintenance techniques.

Charlie started the day with an incredibly insightful history of bricks dating back as far as the Roman period. He talked us through how brickwork had changed over time and shared helpful examples in photos and specialist books, including a real life piece straight from Hampton Court Palace! His historical introduction took us right up to the Georgian period which made for a great time to get out and have a walking tour of Wisbech.

The tour started in Love Lane, looking at the historic repairs and years of damage to the wall, and then across Museum Square and around The Crescent where there were so many details noticed previously unspotted. We could see the changes between each house, and we pointed out many blocked up windows relating to the Window Tax. Many participants commented that they had walked the same route many times but now will look at it differently. A quick look along York Row before going to see the High Street and then headed back via Post Office Lane. It was on our way back to the workshop venue that we spontaneously stopped to check out the walls of the historic Angles Theatre. Once there, Rob Williams kindly allowed Charlie to take the tour inside to have a closer look at a recent brickwork repair the theatre has had. This was really interesting to get up close backstage and learn a little about this old theatre and the stories within its walls.

The next part of the workshop was all about learning the tools and materials used on the job. Charlie took us through a selection of essential brickwork tools and how these have or have not been adapted over the years. We also looked at aggregates and learned so much about working with lime, in particular the important health and safety measures that are vital to consider.

After lunch it was time for everyone to get their gloves and safety glasses on and have a go themselves. Charlie and Karen had prepared three false brick wall training panels.  Charlie showed everyone how to mix the mortar and we got to see the bubbling reaction happen in the bucket before being given a trowel and having a go at pointing ourselves. This was an excellent way to finish the workshop and bring all of the newly gained knowledge together at the end of the day.

A huge thank you to Karen and Charlie Slade for their time, passion and experience in delivering the workshops over the weekend. Thank you to the public that joined in and thanks to National Lottery players for making activities like this possible.

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