Conserving the majestic beauty of medieval tiles

by Tania Wannenburg
Medieval pavement Jnl 4 16

Conservation project ensures the beauty of medieval tiles dating back to 1270 will continue to be enjoyed by visitors for years to come.

A beautiful medieval pavement at Somerset’s Cleeve Abbey has been given a new lease of life and will be open to the public once again as a result of the conservation work that was done by the registered charity, English Heritage.

These high quality tiles that exhibit a number of heraldic designs were made around 1270 in the Gloucestershire tilery. This tile pavement was situated inside the old Refectory where the monks of the Cistercian abbey gathered to eat. They were initially excavated in 1876 but subsequently reburied until 1951 when they were revealed once again, and since then have been exposed during the summer months for public display.

Still laid in their original position, the tiles show the footprint of a long lost medieval building and also reflect the importance of the abbey attached to the royal patronage it enjoyed in the 13th century. The Heraldry of King Henry III, his brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, King of the Romans and the mighty earls of Gloucester all feature.

Monitoring and research in the 1990’s showed that the tiles were deteriorating due to their exposure to the elements. The principal causes of the deterioration were found to be thermal stress, microbiological growth and salt activity. The research concluded that continued exposure to these causes would result in the irreversible loss of the inherent historic authenticity and significance of the pavement. To prevent this, a marquee was erected over the pavement to provide temporary protection whilst the suitability of a permanent shelter was explored.

Today, a new state-of-the-art timber shelter has been constructed in order to cover the medieval pavement, ensuring that the rare tiles are protected for years to come. Complete with seating and viewing platforms, the new structure has been carefully designed to create a stable environment which reduces future deterioration of the tiles.

Source: www.english-heritage.org.uk

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