Many traditional bungalows in Karnataka and other parts of south India have a common feature – a sloping roof with Mangalore tiles or Mangalorean tiles. These tiles are easily identified by their shape and unique reddish-orangish-brownish hue. Popular even today, these tiles have a history dating back to the 1800s.
The Story Of The Mangalore Tiles
Mangalore tiles are the brainchild of a German missionary named Georg Plebst. He came to India in 1851 as a lay brother in the German-Swiss Basel Mission. Having once been a mechanic, Plebst was put in charge of reforming printing techniques used in the Basel Mission Kannada and Malayalam printing presses.
While Plebst was working on improving the printing press, he also noticed the brittle, porous nature of the local pottery in Mangalore and the existing Nada-Hanchu tiles. He urged the mission to replace the ordinary clay being used in these pottery units with special yellow clay from the Netravati and Gurupura rivers.
The soil from these river beds was collected and tested in Swiss and German laboratories. When Plebst went back to Europe on holiday, he studied techniques used to fire and glaze clay.
He returned to India in 1863 to apply what he had learned to manufacture tiles in India. The original tile design is believed to have been inspired by tile designs patented in France. Later designs are linked to the Marseille tile pattern.
Mangalorean Tile – Mastering The Art Of Manufacturing
The first sets of Mangalore tiles were produced in December 1865. Plebst worked with an Indian potter known to be an expert in the field to establish the correct combination of sand and clay with a homemade oven. Production started with a mere 360 tiles manufactured each day.
By 1880 bullocks used to power the tile manufacturing ovens were replaced by steam power. Tile production rose to 1 million annually. By now the tiles were so popular that this was not enough to meet the demand for them.
Soon there were many more tile manufacturing units established. Some of the most well-known amongst them included Albuquerque & Sons, Casia and Sujirkar’s Tile works and Rego and Sons. By the 1900s, there were 25 factories producing Mangalore tiles.
How Are Mangalore Tiles Made?
Clay for the Mangalore tiles is collected from river beds, filtered and then put into a mold. Any excess clay is removed and the mold is put in a machine to be given its unique shape and stamped with the factory logo. The shaped tile is then removed from the mold and cured in a kiln.
The tiles get their unique reddish hue from the high percentage of iron in the clay. They may also be sprayed with enamel to be given other colors. When exposed to a high temperature within a kiln, the enamel and clay fuse to form a permanent bond. This ensures that the tiles do not lose their color with time.
What Makes The Mangalore Tiles Special?
The Mangalore tiles have many unique properties that make them stand out. Made from riverbed clay, these tiles have naturally insulating properties and can keep homes cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
They are also highly resistant to damage from fire. The shape and design of these tiles also allow air to flow through the roof thereby improving ventilation. What’s more, it is eco-friendly, cheap, and sturdy. Many tiles installed on buildings 100 years ago are still intact.
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