Glastonbury Abbey Symposium 9 June 2011 Abbey Shield

Encaustic floor tile, by Jane Harcourt

Freelance archaeologist

There are approximately 7,000 tile fragments in the collection which equates to about 5% of the probable tiled areas of the abbey. This underlines the importance of the remaining fragments but also means that drawing conclusions from such a small percentage has to be done with some caution. There are approximately 160 different designs ranging in date from the 13th to the 16th century.

Early flooring material is known only through reports. Fyfe discovered three Saxon tiles in the early 1920s which were seen and discussed by Wedlake. There is also a Radford reference to early tiles, possibly early 12th century which would point to some work of Herlewin.

Nothing in the present collection suggest a date before the second half of the 13th century. The earliest tiles suggest work by tilers from Clarendon Palace. Peter Ellis' excavations in Silver Street in 1978 uncovered a dump of tiles of this group which had been used as foundation material. The date for these should be mid 13th century but they were also found at Beckery Chapel which, according to Bond, did not come under abbey control until John of Taunton became abbot in 1274.

There is a tile group made with finely prepared fabric which appears on various sites from Gloucester to Cleeve. This includes heraldry of the royal arms combined with Richard of Cornwall and de Clare which suggest a close date range of the 1270s-1280s. The stamps were probably cut in the early 1270s to commemorate the marriage of Edmund of Cornwall to Margaret de Clare in 1272. Over a third of the surviving heraldic designs relate to these three powerful families and since 1272 was the zenith of their relationship, it is not unreasonable to suppose that large areas had been tiled prior to Edward I's visit in 1278, possibly post 1274 since John of Taunton's appointment galvanised work on the abbey.

There are a number of later groups, smaller in their number of designs and some with only one fragment representing a design. Some of these groups are likely to be made locally.

Two designs are very distinct and as yet no parallels can be found. These are probably late 15th to early 16th century so may be attributable to Richard Bere's additions. Regrettably no tiles appeared in-situ during excavations.

Few tiles have turned up in other locations. If any were relaid in local churches they have disappeared in later renovations.