1996/3 pp7–8

Brick and tile taxes

The British Brick Society recently published, somewhat belatedly, the text of a paper that our Vice President, Norman Nail, presented at a conference on mathematical tiles held in Ewell in 1981. The following is a review of the paper by Ian West. Copies can be obtained from the Publications Officer of the British Brick Society, the address of which is: c/o The Brick Development Association Ltd., Winkfield, Windsor, Berks SL4 2DX.

In February this year I attended a conference on the conservation of buildings and was shocked to hear that ‘mathematical tiles escaped the brick tax’. The importance of the widest publication possible of information on the building material taxes on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was again brought home.

It is, therefore, with great pleasure that I read the British Brick Society Information 67, which contains the full text and annex of Norman Nail’s paper in 1981 on mathematical tiles. Although a summary of the paper was published in the proceedings of the meeting, and those fortunate enough to attend were given a copy of the complete paper, it is useful that the complete text is now available to a wider readership.

Since 1981 research has continued into all aspects of mathematical tiles, and in his introduction Norman accepts the eighteenth-century use of the term ‘mathematical tile’ but regrettably states that he is very unlikely to do further work on the brick tile. His overview in 1981 is still very interesting, and his suggestion that mathematical tiles had their origins in the late seventeenth century has proved correct. However, having observed the demolition of West Hill House, I am certain that the tiles on the second floor were an addition in the late eighteenth century to a seventeenth-century brick house.

The section devoted to taxation is excellent and covers brick, tile, stone and slate which, with the annex, provided a useful reference source for all interested in construction in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Anyone reading these will clearly see that:

(1) Mathematical tiles existed prior to the brick tax and

(2) They were taxed for part of the period at a higher rate than bricks.

Norman’s research into taxation and mathematical tiles was recently acknowledged in an article by Maurice Exwood for the Brick Society. Now his paper has been fully published I hope that I do not hear again that mathematical tiles were developed to escape the brick tax!

Ian West