There are plenty of ways to increase the attractiveness of pubs — a bright new lick of paint, a few hanging baskets, wood panelling, hanging lamps, a sign — and I’m sure many of them will warrant their own posts in future, but one which has dwindled over time and now largely remains on just the older buildings is that of decorative tiling. Like the finest early-20th century tube stations by Leslie Green,1 it’s still quite easy to spot a turn of the century pub by the prominent glazed tiles (sometimes also referred to as faience) that adorn the exteriors. Some have been painted over, but smart developers know that these are distinctive and attractive, whatever the building’s use.
Even the most basic examples are eye-catching. Some simple red tiling enlivens The Water Poet (Spitalfields E1, fig. 55), a rich emerald green features on The King William IV (Pimlico SW1), while larger, earthier coloured tiles set apart The King and Queen (Shoreditch E2, now closed) amongst many other examples.
Somewhat more elaborate are the tiled columns that prop up the exteriors of such pubs as The Tom Cribb (Leicester Square SW1), while small flourishes adorn The Camel (Globe Town E2), which additionally sets off its name via an attractive colour contrast between the two sets of tiles. The Newman Arms (Fitzrovia W1) shows a little more restraint, with small flourishes of eye-catching tilework under the windows, while The Old Parr’s Head (Canonbury N1, now closed) features two tile colours, with additional decorative panels between the windows on the first storey, and small heads above the windows themselves.
The best places to find tiles are on pubs that were re-built by the breweries that owned them around the turn of the century. Like a lot of the most attractive aspects of modern pubs, tiling dates to the late-Victorian era, when pubs were being refashioned not just as dark and dingy drinking holes, but as grand and glorious temples to what publicans (under pressure from Victorian temperance movements) no doubt wanted to promote as the least squalid of popular entertainments. Therefore, the most striking tiling dates to the late-19th and early-20th centuries, though occasionally you will see it on more recent pubs trying to recapture some past glory — such as The Endurance (Soho W1), not entirely succeeding in effacing the charmlessness of the residential tower block above, or The Tower Tavern (Fitzrovia W1), failing spectacularly, unless looking like a toilet block was the intention.2
Like the examples we’ve seen above, simple but effective red tiling is provided by the former Courage pub The Compass (Pentonville N1, originally The Salmon and Compasses), which includes a small box with the brewery name. That tiled name is a bit more prominent on The Guy’s Arms (Borough SE1, now closed) and The Exmouth Arms (Clerkenwell EC1, fig. 36.).
Taylor Walker, which took over the Cannon Brewery and assumed its cannon logo, was also able to create some attractive pubs, generally in the more prestigious central London locations. The Florence (Canonbury N1) has some nice red tilework offset by more abstract decorative patterns in yellowish tile on the columns between windows (obscured by hanging baskets, perfectly attractive in their own right), and The Fountain (West Green N15), which struggles on as a pub, has some glorious touches, include some attractive tiled lettering.
More elaborate still is that of Simonds on The Rose and Crown (Clapham SW4), with its exquisitely-maintained reddish-brown tiles offset by attractive relief carvings depicting, as one might imagine, a rose with a crown (fig. 56).
Young’s and Fuller’s
Young’s liked their tiling, and there are few pubs they built in this era which pass up the opportunity to include it. Until 2006 and its merger with Charles Wells (and subsequent relocation to Bedford), Young’s Ram Brewery was based in Wandsworth and so the best surviving pubs tend to be around there, though it’s hardly likely to be coincidence that one of their most extravagantly tiled pubs, The Crown and Anchor (Chiswick W4), was closest to the home of rivals Fuller Smith Turner (still based there). Pale tiling surounds the lower level, with a relief of the Young’s ram jutting prominently out from the logo above; the exterior is listed (as is proper), but this just means that even now it’s no longer owned or operated by Young’s, the name and logo have to be retained.
Fuller’s were no slouches, though, even if they did tend to use tiling less often. Not too far down the same stretch of road can be found The Salutation (Hammersmith W6, fig. 57). It sticks out particularly through the canny use of shades of blue and purple, colours which aren’t often seen on pubs.
Rather more restrained than the above examples, though still excellent in its own understated way, is the clash of richly hued tiles on Young’s The Tamworth Arms (Croydon CR0). A similar effect comes from the shades of green on The Alma (Wandsworth SW18).
Never the flashiest of London’s now-defunct brewers, Charrington (or Bass Charrington as it’s also been known over the years) nevertheless knew how to make a pub stand out. Moving forward from the understated contrasts of The Bromley Arms (Fitzrovia W1, now closed), their best pub facades seem to pack in ever more tiles, shinier and brighter, into the same space, and The Thornhill Arms (Pentonville N1) or The Prince Albert (Camden Town NW1, fig. 58) are as good as any examples one might pick.
Some of the best brewery brickwork comes courtesy of Truman Hanbury Buxton. Distinctive green tiling distinguishes a good few of their pubs (some of which are no longer in use as such), as on The Birdcage (Shoreditch E2) or The Hop Pole (Hoxton N1, now closed). The same green tiling, attractively offset by light brown tiled columns, can be seen on Living (Brixton SW9, once The Coach & Horses, now closed), and there are other suburban examples in The Park Tavern (Eltham SE9) and The Nag’s Head (Camberwell SE5, now closed).3
However, the two finest examples of Truman’s tiling both occur in SE1, with the gorgeous The Lord Clyde (Borough SE1) and The Victoria (Bermondsey SE1, fig. 59). At neither of these pubs have successive publicans seen the need to make ‘improvements’ except to maintain the splendid tiling outside and the standard of decoration inside, and it’s to each pub’s great benefit too.
Tiles weren’t by any means confined to the facades of pubs. At the same time as these were being overhauled, many pubs fitted tiles inside. As is evident from their still widespread use in bathrooms, tiles were particularly useful as they could easily be kept clean and retained their fresh look where paint faded and carpets stained. Fine examples can be seen in such pubs as The Ten Bells (Spitalfields E1, fig. 60), The Macbeth (Hoxton N1, formerly The White Hart), and The Dog and Duck (Soho W1).
Still, we all have our favourite examples. Aside from the two Truman’s pubs mentioned above, Fiesta Havana (Fulham SW6, formerly The Red Lion) retains and, with its more recent paintwork, enhances the gaudy extravagance of its tiled facade. Perhaps best of all, hidden down a south-west London side street, is The Marquis of Lorne (Stockwell SW9, figs. 61-62), a riot of colours and decorative motifs prominently ascribed to its publican of the time (the 1880s), T.T. Castle. It’s no surprise Theodore Castle might have wanted to be memorialised in such long-lasting a material, though it’s unfortunate that his work languishes in an obscure corner while the pub behind it gradually crumbles. The tiles should be with us for some time yet, one would hope.
 As ever, more information and links can be found on the Wikipedia entry. He designed stations on the Piccadilly, Bakerloo and Northern Lines, and all of them are instantly recognisable.
 It’s a very decent pub, though, to my mind. It always serves a decent pint of ale and isn’t ever too crowded.
 Green tiling is by no means confined to Truman’s. You can see it on former Watney Combe Reid pub The Easton (Finsbury WC1), and popular Young’s establishment The Lamb (Bloomsbury WC1), among many others, some pictured in this post.