The real joy of the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society is the sheer breadth of its interests. If some societies seem to exclude more people than they attract because of the narrowness of their speciality, TACS is the opposite: the broad church that it is, it can accommodate people who are passionate about medieval encaustic floor tiles and fans of 1960s mural art, not to mention aficionados of 18th-century erotica (explicitly, decorated tiles found behind a blocked chimney breast at the Cheshire Cheese pub in London’s Fleet Street; see the illustrated scholarly article by Martin Henig and Katharine Munby in Post-Medieval Archaeology, 10, 1976, 156–9, if you are curious to know more).
Field trips with TACS to places of ceramic interest are enormous fun, because for every tiled church, temple or mosque along the route, there is sure to be a gaudily decorated Victorian or Edwardian pub to sample. Trips abroad take in the delights of Delft and Amsterdam, Seville, and the Moorish towns of southern Spain and Portugal, where tile art covers every building.
Unlike the many heritage societies which are strictly defined by their period of study, TACS embraces the entire history of tiles and decorative ceramics related to buildings, not least the late 20th century revival in tile-making; members enjoy the work of contemporary artists as much as they do those of their medieval or Renaissance predecessors.
The TACS website is used by members to tip each other off about new books, museum collections, exhibitions or auctions of tile collections (tiles and architectural ceramics might not seem an obvious form of investment, but the regularity with which good examples are sold by leading auction houses suggests that they are eminently collectable, especially the gorgeously sensual, theatrical or arts and craft types).
Members also swap conference and tour notes and share online video footage and photographs of gloriously decorated churches, such as those in Cheadle or Bury. Flicking through the photo albums of members’ trips to York, Leeds, Birmingham, Norwich, Bristol, South Kensington, Ireland, Turkey, and Iran brings home the ubiquity of tiles and architectural ceramics and just how much we take them for granted – they are a commonplace form of heritage that is all too vulnerable, as the conservation section of the website makes plain with its tips on removing paint from glazed surfaces and cleaning or repairing damaged tiles.
The TACS magazine, Glazed Expressions, laments recent losses (Edward Pond’s 1988 Armada Way ceramic tile murals in Plymouth City Centre, popular with locals and tourists, were not salvaged when the less-loved Armada Centre was bulldozed in 2004), but it also celebrates success (Coventry’s 1958 Gordon Cullen ceramic mural was moved to a new location and restored in 2002).
The collective knowledge of members concerning the very best buildings featuring architectural ceramics is gathered together in the Guide to British Tile and Architectural Ceramics Locations, a definitive gazetteer of in situ tiles, mosaics, terracotta and faience panels, and architectural detailing – a sample of what awaits purchasers of the book can be found in the Locations Gallery on the website. A comprehensive searchable online database will be available in the near future. Check out the lively TACS website (www.tilesoc.org.uk): we promise, this is one heritage society whose enthusiasms will not cause your eyes to glaze over.