If you read my post The Enchanter, you will remember I used some beautiful vintage tiles in the work that were given to me by mosaicist, Elaine M Goodwin. They are lovely strong coloured thick glass tiles very similar to Italian piastrina smalti. Elaine told me she had purchased them from the Marble Mosaic Company in Weston Super Mare in the 1980’s and believed they were made by them.
As far as I know we don’t have any companies in the UK that make glass mosaic tiles today so I was eager to find out more and I contacted the Marble Mosaic company.
The company director, Stephen Maddalena sent me some fascinating information and photos of his family’s company and it was a pleasure to meet him when he came to one of my workshops and made his first mosaic!
So I would like to share with you this lovely bit of history…
Stephen’s grandfather Romano Maddalena founded The Marble Mosaic Co in 1905. He came from Fanna, which is a small town in the Friuli region of Italy, about 75 miles north of Venice and 10 miles from Spilimbergo, where the mosaic school is based (scuolamosaicistifriuli.it).
The company initially focussed on laying marble mosaic and tarrazzo floors, which then developed in the 1950’s to include the fixing of glass mosaic tiles (bought in from Italy) as the external wall cladding of new buildings.
Romano’s sons of his first marriage then joined the business.
Uncle Peter went on to become the manager of Marble Mosaic Company’s factory by Temple Meads station in Bristol, during which time it’s activities progressively developed from insitu mosaic and terrazzo work to the manufacture of precast terrazzo tiles and then on to the production of precast concrete cladding panels (the latter of which they still produce today)
In the 1920’s their work included the supply of precast terrazzo and cast stone for the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane.
During the 1970’s they produced precast concrete panels for the external cladding of Clifton Cathedral by a method that is similar to the “face-up” way in which an insitu terrazzo floor is traditionally laid, except that the coarse aggregate in the concrete mix was exposed by washing away the cement matrix in order to produce a rough-textured face, instead of grinding and polishing its surface.
The last vitreous mosaic project undertaken by MMC was probably Fairfax House in the early 1960’s. Long since demolished, the site is now the Galleries shopping centre in Broadmead.
Here are some early examples of the company’s marble mosaic work believed to have dated from 1905…
However, it was Stephen’s uncle Joseph (“Beppi” – 1st son of Stephen’s grandfather’s 2nd marriage) who separately set up and operated Ansar Mosaic in the 1960’s. Ansar Mosaic initially produced the glass mosaic tiles at Weston, but it became more cost effective for the business to purchase loose tiles from Italy and then set them into paper-backed sheets here. This change was about the time of the move from imperial to decimal dimensions, so may have been necessary to avoid the costs of converting their machinery. Ansar Mosaic occupied what had been the Arena Works of the Royal Potteries off Winterstoke Road in Weston-super-Mare. Stephen recollects a furnace in the building when he was young and stacks of mesh frames used to arrange the loose mosaic tiles before being backed with brown paper. When Ansar closed, it coincided with Marble Mosaic Company’s need to expand. Marble Mosaic’s therefore bought Ansar’s property and an adjacent plot of land in order to built a larger factory to produce its precast cladding panels. It then transferred the business from Bristol to Weston Super Mare.
So there you have it, a fascinating history! And here are some of my Ansar vintage tiles, although I am still not sure if they were made in Weston Super Mare or Italy! Whichever though they are really beautiful and lovely to use.