South London’s marble and terrazzo specialist, Diespeker, recently made a fascinating discovery, which underlines the longevity of the company’s contribution to flooring.
A member of Diespeker’s staff discovered the existence of ‘Mosaic & Terrazzo’, a digital book held in the internet archive of the Building Technology Heritage Library. The book was produced in 1931 for Diespeker’s 50th anniversary celebrations. At that point in the company’s history, Diespeker had offices in London, Birmingham, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast. Diespeker provided mosaic flooring for many buildings including hotels, the London Opera House, the General Post Office and Wellington Barracks.
Scanning through the book, current day MD John Krause became curious about work that might still be in situ today.
An initial check threw up a section of Roman Cube mosaic created by Diespeker in the late 1800s for the National Portrait Gallery. It was exhilarating to discover the mosaic, a fine example of Roman cube mosaic, still very much in evidence at the entrance to the NPG. The book describes how the mosaic cubes are formed by ‘sawing marble blocks into thin slabs, usually ½″ to ⅝″ thick’.
A further section about bespoke terrazzo explains that ‘great skill and long experience is necessary to obtain a satisfactory result.’ Diespeker-made terrazzo was used in hospitals, polytechnics, county offices and even for staircases in Selfridges, complete with terrazzo alundum non-slip insets. These days it is more likely that brass corduroy insets are used.
It was also remarkable to learn that methods of cleaning and maintenance in the 1930s were little different than today. The book states: ‘Any and all forms of Mosaic and Terrazzo require practically no maintenance, but cleaning is essential to preserve its appearance and durability.’
Further evidence of Diespeker’s contribution to building in the UK has since come to light, including archive notes listing blueprints for Sadlers Wells from 1938, which refer to Diespeker as “Big Span Floor Specialists”.
A whole raft of Diespeker projects appear in the Scottie Press blog which looks at Italian workmanship in Liverpool. One post from Richie O’Hare who now lives in the USA, says: “All of the terrazzo and mosaic work in the Littlewoods Building in Church Street (built in 1938) was done by Diespeker. The mosaic work in the entrance to Spinney House in Church Street was installed by Emilio Basso, assisted by myself. Each tile was installed piece by piece, free hand. In the India Buildings located in Water Street, Diespeker installed toilet partitions made of terrazzo in the basement of the building. What a feat that was in carrying those slabs down so many flights of stairs. I am sure that many more examples exist in older parts of the city. All of the terrazzo floor tiling in Exchange Flags, was handmade and installed by Diespeker. Emilio Basso was responsible for most of the work carried out on that project. He was a true Artisan.”
The Littlewoods Building is currently being developed into a hotel, business units and office space. It will be interesting to discover if any of the terrazzo and mosaic work survives.
It has been fascinating to learn of these examples of Diespeker’s historic work and to know that much of it is still in existence. Quite clearly marble and granite, standard and bespoke-made terrazzo are highly sustainable materials that give a surface to last a lifetime – and more.