A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Family's Majolica Tribute to a Loved One

In a small corner of Chesterton Cemetery in Gloucestershire lies a grave very different from those around it. In a sunny clearing near a large tree stands a seven foot grave marker made of stone and ceramic. The grave is that of Mary Ann Gibbons. A longtime sufferer of mental illness, she died in an asylum at Coney Hill on January 5, 1886. The grave is a tribute from sons Francis and Owen and son-in-law William John Hinton.

Francis Gibbons was a former art director at Doulton & Co., Lambeth, where he was responsible for the design of many of the company's products. Owen was former curator of the Royal Architectural Museum in London and a master at the Coalbrookdale School of Art. Together with son-in-law Hinton, the three founded the tile manufacturing firm of Gibbons, Hinton & Co. at Buckpool, Berkley Hill in Staffordshire.

The company specialized in encaustic and molded majolica wares. The grave marker is a colorful affair made of molded majolica ware with flowering lilies around the base; neoclassic scrolls and acanthus leaves leading upwards to a funeral urn surrounded by bay leaves–symbols of resurrection–and a pointed finial. A plaque at the base reads "In loving memory of Mary Ann Gibbons Obit, Jany 5th 1886, Aged 68 yrs."

To the side of the marker is a plaque with the initials of her husband, James Gibbons. Made of five large tiles, the plaque with scroll, bay leaves and dog roses is inset into a granite frame. It's purpose isn't exactly clear. Dog roses represent pleasure and pain in the language of flowers. Is this a tribute from a loving husband or is it a grave marker for the husband?

As you may expect for something 130 years old under constant exposure to the elements, the grave has suffered significant damage, still the beauty of the original concept shines through.

Gibbons Hinton & Co. produced majolica and encaustic tiles into the Twentieth Century. Around the turn of the century, they added tube-lined majolica tiles to their product line along with transfer and enameled tiles. The company remained in production until around 1950.

Thanks to The Kissed Mouth blog for the photos and some of the background in this post. For more information about the Gibbons family and the work of Gibbons, Hinton & Co. go to the Briarley Hill blog.

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