Glastonbury Abbey Symposium 9 June 2011 Abbey Shield

Roman tile, by Jenny Durrant

A small assemblage of Roman tile fragments has been gathered during excavations at the abbey. The fragments include 'tegula' and 'imbrex' which were primarily used for roofing, and 'box' and cavity-wall tiles primarily used in hypocaust heating systems. The petrology of the tiles demonstrates they were made locally. The fragments indicate a Roman-style building was located in the vicinity of the abbey, likely to have been built before the mid-second century, after which the use of roofing tile declines in Somerset. The small size of the fragments suggests the building was not on the site of the abbey, but its precise location is unknown; small quantities of Roman tile are commonly found during archaeological investigations in Glastonbury.

The tiles were likely brought to the site for the specific purpose of use in the Saxon glass industry. Many of the fragments show signs of intense heating, drops of vitrified glass material, and some reshaping for reuse. This reuse of Roman tiles in early medieval practice, while common in some parts of Britain, is unusual in the South West. More significantly, this practice provides important evidence for the structures associated with the manufacture of glass in the Saxon period, about which very little is known on a national or international scale. They suggest the use of permanent structures rather than open hearths previously thought to have been used for this industry.