Circa 11th to 13th century
On this page you will find guidance on conserving and caring for medieval tiles.
A Brief History
The proliferation and expansion of medieval tile making runs concurrently with the great age of ecclesiastical building in France and England, the first flowering of tile making began at the middle of the twelfth century to the mid thirteenth century; it is likely that tile makers travelled from Europe to England. In the early period only the wealthiest of ecclesiastical houses or Royal patronage were engaged in commissioning tiles.
Some of the finest early two colour inlaid tiles, dating from around 1260 were made for Henry IIIs Westminster Abbey Chapter House and the Kings Palace at Clarendon, the British Museum also holds some fine tiles found at Chertsey Abbey in Surrey also dating from the early period. Byland, Rievaulx and Fountains Abbeys in Yorkshire all held, some still in situ, intricately cut mosaic or geometric style tile pavements dating from the end of the twelfth century.
From the mid thirteenth century until the dissolution of the monasteries tile making became more widespread. Tile makers were quite often itinerant, building kilns near the religious establishments they supplied, but they also established permanent kilns in many places including Bawsey in North Norfolk and Coventry in Warwickshire. Wealthy merchants became patrons of the industry using tiles for their increasingly comfortable dwellings.
It is commonly thought that the Black Death and the Dissolution combined to see the end of tile making in Britain as there is little evidence for further decorative tile making after the mid sixteenth century, however significant numbers of medieval tiles remain in small churches, chapels and dwellings dating from later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which have their origins in the removal of fabric from the monasteries.
Practical guidance on simple conservation issues.
The information on these pages is for guidance only we do not accept responsibility as a result of any person carrying out any works according to the advice contained in this web site. Always follow Health and Safety measures described on products, tools and materials. Jackfield Conservation Studio is not responsible for the work which you do, the responsibility is yours and yours alone!
Conservation of medieval tiles should be in the hands of an experienced conservator, it is unfortunately all too easy to inadvertently damage these precious items.
Medieval tile collections should be assessed annually to ensure that the condition is stable. Look for;
- Damage as a result of fluctuating temperature and humidity levels
- Excessive surface dirt or grit and infestations from birds, animals and biological growth
- Fractured or loose tiles
- Breakdown of mortar
- Most medieval tiles will have defects due to manufacturing techniques, restoration is not applicable.
Humidity and temperature levels should remain stable; they must be in a suitable equilibrium. An ideal storage environment would be;
Temperature Range 19 degrees Cent + -1 degree.
Humidity Range 50% +-2% relative humidity
Churches or chapels, for example, require a good air flow to prevent humidity levels from rising too high. Tiles which are wholly unprotected must be covered during the winter months to avoid the freeze thaw cycle.
Medieval tiles should only be cleaned very rarely using the utmost care. If excessive amounts of dust and grit form on the surface as a result of the location then it should be gently brushed and collected using soft squirrel hair brushes. Brushing by hand is preferable to vacuum cleaning as loose fragments are more easily collected if the surface is friable.
A small amount of clay dust will be lost from the surface of the tile at every brushing which is why cleaning should be infrequent. Dry brushing in this fashion should be all that is required, coatings of any kind are not desirable, covering or carpets are not recommended as they will prevent absorbed moisture in the atmosphere from evaporating. Droppings from bats or birds should be removed as soon as possible, dabbing using de ionised water with a soft cloth will suffice.
If loose tiles require re setting the advice of a conservator should be sought.
Good maintenance relies on positive action to maintain an ambient environment suitable for medieval tiles. Regular annual inspection which includes recording the condition of the pavements or individual tiles is essential; from that annual inspection it can be determined if the tiles or pavement require any treatment in the form of cleaning or mortar repair or if they are best left untouched. An annual inspection is best carried out by an experience conservator.