Victorian decorative fireplace tile

About the object

The tile is from the fireplace of Observatory House – the only object in Slough Museum’s Collection from the interior of this now demolished building, once on the corner of Windsor Road/Herschel Street in Slough. Slough Museum acquired it into the Collection in 1986.

Observatory House was the home of the Herschel Family from 1786 until the house was demolished circa 1962, although some claim it was earlier, in 1958.

The bird in the bottom right square of this decorative tile looks to be a cuckoo and the bird in the bottom left square could be a lark. Top left is probably a blackbird/song thrush and the top right looks like a phoenix, which is strange as it is the only mystical bird although a fireplace would, of course, would be a suitable home for this creature of flames.

The reverse side of the tile reveals lettering showing that the tile was fired in Stoke Upon Trent which is, of course, famous for its pottery and ceramics industry.
Further lettering is very obscured by the residual fire cement but would appear to indicate that it was made by the world famous Stoke Upon Trent Victorian ‘Minton Tile Company’. The following link contains lots of interesting information about the company and their work. https://www.tileheaven.uk/info/the-mintons.htm 

About the artwork

Musician and composer Rob Harris selected this decorative fireplace tile from The Herschel family Observatory House and worked with poets from The Herschel Arms Writers and the Herschel Stars choir to create lyrics which he then set to music. There are three pieces of work here – click to play.

Herschel Birds – by Slough poet Lesley Saunders imagines William Herschel sat by the fire – looking at the tile – as his mind reflects, drifts and imagines. The piece is read by Lesley and set to music scored by Rob.

Herschel’s Dream – written by Rob Harris as a response to Herschel’s Birds, the piece explores William’s dreams and flights of fancy as he sleeps by the fire. 

Caroline’s Garden – This came from Rob’s sessions using the tile alongside sound and images to inspire the participants writing. Members of the group wrote of a figure sat in a garden, of being surrounded by nature, of peacefully thinking. Rob then used their words and ideas to create a soundscape and wrote ‘Caroline’s Garden’ in reference to William’ sister and pioneer astronomer Caroline Herschel.

Herschel's Birds/Herschel's Dream/Caroline Garden

by Robert Harris