Manufacture

Exterior of Arts & Crafts house in North London

Peg tiles cover the roof slopes of this Arts & Crafts house in North London and hanging tiles cover its gables.

The manufacture of clay tiles is relatively straightforward. Traditional handmade tiles are a mixture of clay with aggregates rolled out and cut or moulded to simple rectangles (sometimes shaped) with two holes at one end for fixing. These are then fired in a kiln. Sometimes the ends were extended at right angles to form a nib, but the majority of clay roofing for many centuries was simply a baked clay rectangle.

Due to the firing, flat tiles would come out slightly convex and this added to their character. Uneven temperatures in the kiln and the nature of the hand-making process also contributed to variations in shape and form, and the quality of the clay resulted in rough and therefore textured surfaces. The colour would be determined partly by the clay and the mix of aggregates but also by the temperature and length of firing in the kiln.

Sometimes shaped tiles were produced and occasionally glazed tiles and pantiles can be seen. During the Victorian period there was much experimentation and occasionally one comes across multi-coloured examples. With modern machine-made tiles, dyes are added to bring greater consistency of colour.

FIXING

Plain clay tiles are laid in regular courses with each tile lapping two others, leaving approximately four inches exposed. The precise method of fixing depends on the nature of the tile itself. In the case of the more basic form of tile, simple tapered wooden pegs were pushed through the two holes at the top of the tile so that the tile could be hung over battens fixed horizontally across the tops of the roof rafters. The tops of the pegs would be trimmed flush to the surface of the tiles so that the next course would lie flat.

                Mortar fillets around base of brick chimney stack

                Lead flashings at base of brick chimney stack

                Mortar fillets are commonly used at the junction between peg tiles and a chimney (top), but lead flashings (above) are much more reliable.

Lime mortar, sometimes with straw and other aggregates, would often be applied to the internal face of the tiles to fill the gaps and help improve the general fixing of the tile. This mortar fillet is often referred to as ‘torching’. On many roofs the pegs would be limited to only one per tile. Indeed, roofs can often be seen with no pegs at all, or at least pegs only in occasional courses. Although this can be due to the pegs rotting away, sometimes tiles were laid bedded in lime mortar with no pegs. In such

situations the fixing of the tile relied as much on friction and the weight of tiles above as on any torching or mortar bed.

If a tile had been made with nibs these would be used to hang the tile over the batten, and pegs would not be required. With modern tiling the nibs themselves have holes to enable nail fixing to the battens, although not every course is nailed in place.

As the use of slate increased, the need for nails to fix them also increased. The consequent increase in the production of nails resulted in their increasing use to fix clay tiles as well: nailing was quicker and avoided the need to trim the timber peg before laying the next course.

Today we find a wide variety of tiles available to us, including

traditional peg tiles but also handmade tiles with nibs to facilitate fixing.