Who said history was boring? Museum of London unveils set of VERY racy 18th century tiles discovered after a fire in a Fleet Street pub

February 9, 2014 2:19 pm Comments Off on Who said history was boring? Museum of London unveils set of VERY racy 18th century tiles discovered after a fire in a Fleet Street pub Views: 594
  • The tiles were discovered in 1962 but kept hidden because of the content
  • Show a series of explicit scenes comparable to Japanese shunga paintings
  • Will be displayed during a Valentine’s Day late night event at the museum

The British might have a reputation for prim propriety but it seems that wasn’t always the case, as a recently rediscovered cache of 18th century tiles reveals.

Kept under lock and key since their discovery in a Fleet Street pub in 1962, the reliefs offer an explicit peek into Georgian bedrooms and prove that far from being strait-laced, the 18th century was a considerably more risque place than previously thought.

Now the tiles are to go on display for the first time during a late night event at the Museum of London, although, as you might expect, it’s strictly for those aged over 18.

Piquant: One of the set of eight erotic 18th century tiles discovered after a fire in a Fleet Street pub

Piquant: One of the set of eight erotic 18th century tiles discovered after a fire in a Fleet Street pub

Late London: City of Seduction gives visitors a peek into the bedrooms of London’s historical inhabitants, with Romans rituals, ancient erotic sculpture and Georgian prostitutes among the stars of the show.

But even the raciest of Romans would find it hard to outdo the 18th century tiles, most of which offer viewers graphic depictions of couples enthusiastically indulging in the pleasures of the flesh.

‘Erotic material – such as these relief tiles – was widely available in the 18th century, if one knew where to go and had the means with which to acquire it,’ explains curator, Jackie Keily.

‘For obvious reasons these tiles are not normally out on public display so we are pleased to show the complete set for the first time ever – just down the road from where they were discovered.’

A fragment of one of the tiles

Some of the tiles are slightly blackened because of the fire

Fragments: Some of the tiles are broken and in poor condition because of the fire

 

Raunchy: Although some show a moment of post-coital bliss, many more are extremely explicit

Raunchy: Although some show a moment of post-coital bliss, many more are extremely explicit

Unlike Keily, the descendants of the Georgian tile makers didn’t appear to be quite so appreciative, with the reliefs hidden by layers of obscuring plaster during the Victorian period.

The tiles only came to light again after a fire at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in 1962 but, thanks to their explicit content, were swiftly bundled into a vault by the team that found them.

Now they have been uncovered once more and are currently being studied by historians, who believe that the tiles, found in an upstairs room, were used to decorate a fireplace.

Quite why the fireplace required such racy decoration is more of a mystery, although researchers believe they could have been intended for temporary use, put up when the room was being used as a brothel or as the haunt of a men’s drinking club.

‘London has always been a hotbed for the seductive, saucy and down-right sordid,’ added Keily.

‘From the bath-houses of Roman Londinium and the stews of medieval Bankside to the Restoration Rakes and Soho’s swinging sixties, this city has long traded in the currency of sex.’

Late London: City of Seduction, Valentine’s Day from 7pm at the Museum of London

Oh matron! The tiles so horrified the 1960s team that discovered them, they've been locked away ever since

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