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Lifestyle brand The Sculpts launch Manchester tile range

S is for Suffragettes. The first meeting of the movement that became known as the suffragettes took place in the parlour of Emmeline Pankhurst's house in Manchester (c) The Sculpts
S is for Suffragettes. The first meeting of the movement that became known as the suffragettes took place in the parlour of Emmeline Pankhurst's house in Manchester (c) The Sculpts

A business born of city-wandering during lockdown has lifestyle brand The Sculpts mapping Manchester's new A-Z

Richard Bennett, who grew up in Sale, is an architect with, it seems, a very low boredom threshold. During the lockdowns of 2021, he took to the streets of his home city for his hour’s exercise a day, revelling in the silence and glorious architecture, which soon found its way into his sketchbook. From here, with the encouragement of his partner, Jade King, he developed a series of tiles, with an A to Z of Manchester (or, more accurately, an M to R) detailing some of the powerhouse city’s most iconic buildings and world-changing moments in history.

Jade, Richard’s partner in their joint concern The Sculpts, as well as life, explains: ‘We’re both born and bred Manchester and passionate about the buildings, the heritage and the culture, and as we talked, we realised it was about so much more than the buildings Richard was drawing. Manchester has a proud history, but it also has a rich present. We started a small collection of tile designs, and the idea to create an alphabet for Manchester grew out of that. At first, we developed the M to R collection and then started adding the other letters of the alphabet. We’ve not got a full set yet, but we have tiles for most of the letters and we’re getting there.’

Great British Life: Richard Bennett, whose lockdown wanderings led to The SculptsRichard Bennett, whose lockdown wanderings led to The Sculpts

Richard and Jade had an inkling their idea might prove popular with fellow lovers of Manchester, so found a company in Stoke-on-Trent to fire his designs onto square ceramic tiles, which they took to a Maker’s Market in the Northern Quarter. (N is for Northern Quarter, so appropriate for a first foray.)

‘The reception was brilliant,’ Jade says, ‘and we thought – there's something in this. We were being approached for commissions and collaborations and I started researching where else we could go with and that’s when I really started taking it seriously.’

The tiles are large and heavy and feel luxurious to hold. Considerable thought has clearly gone into each aspect of the design and packaging, and it’s no surprise the business quickly began to grow.

Great British Life: H is for Herbarium, from the exclusive collection developed for Manchester Museum (c) The SculptsH is for Herbarium, from the exclusive collection developed for Manchester Museum (c) The Sculpts

'At first we just did local markets around Manchester, but we soon found that wasn’t sustainable in terms of our time and effort; we were losing all our weekends, and I looked for alternatives. We got pop-ups over Christmas in John Lewis in 2021 and 2022, and they invited us to do something exclusive for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, which sold out on day one. It was quite a steep learning curve, but it drove a lot of online orders and repeat buyers.'

It also led to an approach from the Whitworth Art Gallery, a Manchester icon already represented in their collection.

‘We have now made an exclusive W tile for the Whitworth, and they also carry our full Manchester tile collection,’ Jade says. ‘The buyer for the Whitworth is also the buyer for Manchester Museum – they’ve just completed a huge, wonderful renovation of the whole space and asked us to create an entire collection bespoke for them, inspired by the various collections and exhibits there.’

Great British Life: R is for Rocket, specifically The Rocket, the name given to the world's first successful steam engine, designed and built by George Stephenson in 1829 to run on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (c) The SculptsR is for Rocket, specifically The Rocket, the name given to the world's first successful steam engine, designed and built by George Stephenson in 1829 to run on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (c) The Sculpts

Sculpts tiles can now be found in cultural spaces all over Manchester, from Manchester Art Gallery and John Rylands Library to the National Football Museum, the Pankhurst Centre and out to Quarry Bank in Styal.

Richard and Jade are now firing the tiles themselves, using a kiln in their back garden. ‘The base tiles are hand-rolled in Stoke but we wanted more control over the tiles being produced,’ Jade explains. ‘The illustrations are so detailed the firing can affect the result, so doing it ourselves helps us translate the works on paper onto the tile. We can test and enhance and redraw to create the very best designs. And it helps us respond quickly to demand if a customer suddenly wants a special order.’

From monthly markets to Manchester’s most iconic cultural spaces, Richard and Jade have now opened their own store in Stanley Square, in Sale.

Great British Life: Jade King in the new Sale store (c) The SculptsJade King in the new Sale store (c) The Sculpts

‘It’s such a lovely community around there and as Richard grew up in Sale, it makes it even more special for us,’ Jade says. ‘So far it’s been going really well, and we’re busy every day.’

Each tile has a beautiful hand-drawn illustration, a visual representation of the letter. ‘People love them all,’ Jade says, ‘and then have to decide whether to buy a letter that has some relevance – their name’s first initial, etc. – or a subject that resonates.’

thesculpts.com

Great British Life: Richard and Jade were commissioned to create a tile exclusively for Manchester's Stock Exchange Hotel (c) The SculptsRichard and Jade were commissioned to create a tile exclusively for Manchester's Stock Exchange Hotel (c) The Sculpts

The new A-Z of Manchester

A is for Affleck’s Palace

B is for Boddingtons

C is for Cotton

D is for (yet to be determined)

E is for Eccles Cake, and for Exchange Theatre

F is for Factory Records

G is for Graphene

H is for The Haçienda

I is for Irk and Irwell

J is for John Rylands Library

K is for King Street

L is for Lowry

M is for Manchester

N is for Northern Quarter

O is for Hallé Orchestra

P is for (yet to be determined)

Q is for (yet to be determined)

R is for Rocket

S is for Suffragettes

T is for Town Hall

U is for University

V is for Victoria Baths and for Vimto

W is for The Whitworth

X is for Entrance X, City and United

Y is for Yang Sing

Z is for Bellevue Zoological Gardens

Great British Life: V is for Victoria Baths, the stunning public baths built in 1906, and which hosted incredible building inside and out (c) The SculptsV is for Victoria Baths, the stunning public baths built in 1906, and which hosted incredible building inside and out (c) The Sculpts Great British Life: The Manchester Bee is a non-alphabetical, but vital, addition to the collection (c) The SculptsThe Manchester Bee is a non-alphabetical, but vital, addition to the collection (c) The Sculpts



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