This article is largely based on The History of the Concrete Roof Tile by Charles Dobson* published in 1959 by Batsford London.  Charles Dobson traveled extensively in the nineteen-fifties when researching the origins of the concrete tile and most of what he reported was obtained first hand from the people involved or from descendants of the people who invented and developed the tiles.

‘This book has been compiled with the single aim of interesting those who might like to learn something more about the origin and development of the concrete roofing tile than is generally known in England.

The narrative is an abridged version of the mass of information that I have gathered in Germany, Austria and Denmark, most of it during the first five visits that I have made since August 1979.

[Dobson p1]

There must be many people in England who think, as I once thought, that the concrete tile was invented here, and that it was first made after the 1914-18 War, at a time when the supply of slates and clay tiles was inadequate to meet the demand [link Slates vs tiles].  The facts are quite different: the first concrete tiles were made in the eighteen-forties in a tiny agricultural village in Southern Bavaria, only a few miles north of the Austrian frontier.  And the tile was invented and pioneered by a young man named Adolph Kroher, who was at the time in now way connected to the building industry.

[ibid p3]

At the turn of the [19th] century the advocates of the diamond pattern tile were confident that it would be widely accepted. Rademacher called it Das Dach der Zukunft - the Tile of the Future.  That proved to be unjustified optimism because, in fact, neither in Germany nor in any other country did the tile attain great popularity.’

[ibid p52]

Early tiles were based on traditional types.  Those based on clay tiles relied on overlaps at the long edges - 1, 2, 3 in the top drawing - rather than the ribbed interlocks which are used in modern concrete tiles.  The flat types based on diamond pattern slates or stones had meshing lips from an early date  The lips were on the top two edges of the upper side and the bottom two underneath.  Half tiles were made for eaves, tops and verges.

*The History of the Concrete Roof Tile is copyright to The Marley Tile Company and excerpts are reproduced here with permission.



The Whyteleafe Service Station at Caterham (c1915) seems to have been demolished but Minehead School (1898) is still standing and is believed to have its original roof.  The way the tiles cut into the valley in the two photographs from about 1959 when Dobson checked - ‘so far as the builders know no replacements have been necessary’ [ibid Fig. 37] - and the recent Google Street View indicates that the roof is unaltered.

Update 21 Sept 2012

It has now been confirmed that the Minehead School roof is still there and in good condition except for a few damaged tiles.  The hunt is now on for replacements - not a great hope.  Otherwise it should be possible to make some facsimiles.

6.  Administrative Building, Amberley Museum

  1. -Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society Newsletter No 84 1984

  2. -Sussex Industrial History Society Newsletter 23 1993 Brook House

Link to both >

Ron Martin the then chairman of the SIAS reported on his researches into these tiles.  He had identified eleven locations where they still existed.

  1. 1.Barnstaple Inn, Barnstaple, Devon

  2. 2.Winfrtih Cottage, Winfrith Newburgh, Dorset

  3. 3.Dundas West, Military Road, Freshwater, Isle of Wight

  4. 4.School in Middle Street. Minehead, Somerset (as above)

  5. 5.Whyteleafe Garage, Caterham, Sussex (as above)

  6. 6.Administrative Building and small shed, Amberley Museum, West Sussex

  7. 7.River View, Houghton Bridge, West Sussex

  8. 8.High Street, Handcross, West Sussex

  9. 9.Porches at Nos 8, 10, 16, 18, 22, and 28 Birghton Road, Shoreham by Sea, West Sussex

  10. 10.Game larder, Brook House, West Hoathley, West Sussex

An internet search showed that the roofs of Nos 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 9 still existed in about 2010.  Although the machines for making these tiles were brought to England in 1895 (Dobson p52) it seems that several of the roofs listed above were not made until the 1930s (Martin)

So these tiles are not especially rare but Minehead School may still be the earliest surviving example.

The Caterham and Minehead Roofs

3.  Freshwater Isle of White

2. Winfrith Newburgh

7.  Houghton Bridge

9.  Shoreham by Sea

‘The tile came to England in about 1895 and two of our illustrations show it on roofs at Caterham and Minehead.  The Caterham tiles are of some interest because they were originally fixed on a house in Croydon and were transferred in 1928 to the roof of the present Service Station.  Minehead school was built in 1898.  The tiles at both Caterham and Minehead were made on German machines introduced into England in about 1895.’  [ibid p52]

Early diamond pattern concrete tile in the Marley Eternit museum

Other roofs

Diamond pattern slates and tiles

Diamond pattern roofing is ancient.  The two slates on the left are from a Roman bathhouse at Tremadog in North Wales.  There are many similar examples in sandstones and limestones and clay tiles.

The image below left shows how the are actually hexagonal butting together at the short vertical edge.  This avoids having four overlapping layers at the junction of three courses.

Later tile with a water bar along the upper edges