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Erotic tiles to go on show at Museum of London for Valentine's Day special

The 18th century tiles will be on display for one night only

Nick Clark
Thursday 30 January 2014 16:52 GMT
An 18th century erotic relief tile due to go on show at the Museum of London for Valentine's Day
An 18th century erotic relief tile due to go on show at the Museum of London for Valentine's Day (British Museum)

For one night only next month, amorous visitors to the Museum of London will have the chance to see the steamy side of the 18th century.

A series of erotic tiles, detailing various sexual positions and even spanking, will go on display for the first time at a late-night Valentine’s Day event at the site in the heart of the City.

The eight tiles were discovered in 1962 after a fire in an upper room of one of London’s most memorable old pubs and remain shrouded in mystery.

Jackie Keily, curator at the museum, said: “We can’t normally display them because they are so graphic. It is a fascinating glimpse into the sexual history of London; so few of these artefacts survive.”

They will be part of an evening event called Late London: City of Seduction which is open to over 18-year-olds only.

The tiles were discovered in 1962 following a fire at Ye Old Cheshire Cheese pub on Fleet Street and were handed to the museum shortly after.

Given the subject matter, they have been kept “in the deep, dark depths of the museum’s store ever since,” the curators said.

Most of the tiles show couples having sex in various positions, while one shows a woman beating a man’s naked buttocks with a switch. Another appears to show someone being lowered in a basket onto a lover below.

Experts at the museum said the clothing and furniture in the reliefs date them to the mid-18th century. They are made out of plaster of Paris and are relief moulded. While not an expensive process, the subject matter may have made them more costly for the buyers.

The curator said such erotic material “was widely available in the 18th century, if one knew where to go and had the means to acquire it,” yet added it was “very rare for them to survive”.

She could only speculate on why they were in the pub, saying they could have decorated the walls if the room had been used as a brothel or a gentleman’s private club. “We don’t know much about these objects, it’s enthralling,” she said.

“They would have been perfectly acceptable in a brothel or a somewhere like the Hellfire Club or The Beggar’s Benison, clubs for ‘free-thinking libertine gentlemen’.”

Ms Keily said London had “always been a hotbed for the seductive, saucy and down-right sordid” from the brothels of Roman London to the stews of medieval Bankside and the Restoration Rakes to Soho’s swinging ‘60s.

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