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Beautiful Authentic Handmade tiles


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Savon de Marseille tiles

Our Savon de Marseille wall tiles are a beautiful example of our tile making approach and we are one of the very few makers of such a tile, incorporating interpretations of the original designs.
The series contains ten designs based on stamps from the old Marseille soap factories. The original famous Marseille soap cubes were hand stamped as are our unique interpretations of the original designs which are carved into blocks and hand pressed into the raw clay.  The end result is a tile with a vintage appearance and distinct patina only obtainable from a genuine handmade process.  And unlike the soap the tiles won't wash away !  Made from red terracotta clay, size approx 107mm x 107mm x 10mm.  Please enquire about availability and pricing.

Handmade Savon de Marseille tiles
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Florence & Gertrude medieval tile design

Handmade Medieval tiles

Each tile is handmade by artisans using techniques unchanged for generations. Historic inlaid two colour tiles with medieval designs faithfully recreated together with replicas, reproductions and contemporary medieval reimaginings.  

Please enquire for pricing, designs and availability.

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13th Century medieval design tiles are lovingly recreated.

At our studios near London and in the ancient lands of Wiltshire, just footsteps from sites where Roman and Medieval tile makers plied their trade, Fairfax & Gibson's craftsmen proudly continue the tradition.

Our tile makers still use techniques that would be familiar to the artisans of 700 years ago. Designs originating from the 13th and 14th century are first carved into a wooden block which is then pressed into the hand worked red clay. The impressed design is filled with white clay, hand finished and left to dry, following which it is carefully scraped back, by hand, to reveal the two colour design. After detailing and hand glazing the tiles enter the kiln and are baked at over 1100 degrees centigrade. 

Original medieval period tile designs have been acquired originating from the likes of Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral, Great Malvern Priory, Palais des Papes Avignon,  plus numerous historic sites and ruins such as  Chertsey Abbey, Maxstoke Priory, Titchfield Abbey, Halesowen Abbey, Bordesley Abbey, Cleeve Abbey and Hailes Abbey. Fairfax & Gibson also find medieval tile design inspiration from visiting medieval period churches and chapels and historic buildings throughout England and France. 

Tiles are offered for sale individually, as unique historical gifts, as tile decorative panels, tiled backsplash / splashback , tiled hearths, and of course loose per square metre for floors and walls. Tiles size is approximately 6 inches square and three quarters of an inch thick -150mm x150mm x 20mm although they can also be made to order in other sizes.

Inlaid tiles were first produced in the thirteenth century, used to decorate the floors of important buildings such as cathedrals and abbeys. They are also known, since Victorian times, as ‘encaustic’ tiles, being fired clay tiles with a simple pattern such as heraldic themes or images of mythical creatures picked out in a clay inlay of a contrasting colour, usually in white on a red clay base. The impression for the design of the tile is created by hand carving a wooden block, pressing it into the clay and filling the design with liquid clay (known as slip) prior to firing. From the mid thirteenth century, until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the sixteenth century, Medieval tile making became more widespread. Tile makers were often itinerant, building wood fired kilns near to the site. Later tile making centres became established such as the one at Penn in Buckinghamshire and the tiles were distributed more widely.

Whilst Fairfax & Gibson do not use wood to fire their kilns ( a nice idea, but too inconsistent ) the tiles faithfully recreate medieval designs with patterns retrieved from cathedrals, abbeys and historic buildings. They were first introduced to these tile designs after finding beautiful examples on the floor of the Saxon church near to their UK studio, which was itself constructed three hundred and fifty years ago in 1670. Inspired by the purity and simplicity of medieval period tile designs Fairfax & Gibson resolved to begin re-imagining this type of tile in their studio and commenced work on a book of designs.

Fairfax & Gibson tiles are completely handmade with designs that replicate floors and walls in historic buildings dating from the 13th and 14th Century. Tiles are for sale individually, as tile decorative panels & tiled backsplash / splashback or loose per square metre. Tiles size is  approximately 6 inches square and three quarters of an inch thick -150mm x150mm x 20mm.

The picture above is from St Albans Cathedral, which has some stunning tiled floors, some dating from Medieval times. It is said that King Offa of Mercia founded a monastery there in the year 793.

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Penn tile makers

Penn in Buckinghamshire – home of England's most extensive and important 14th Century tile making sites

The tile makers of Penn formed the most extensive body of commercially organised tile artisans and medieval tile makers and were producing huge quantities of both roof and floor tiles for the palaces, churches, abbeys and great houses of England. The earliest recorded tile maker in Penn was Nicholas the tiler in 1222. There may well have been others in the area as floor tiles were laid in St Albans Abbey as early as 1165 and two colour tiles, similar to those made at Penn, elsewhere in England from the 1240's.

Historical tax records show that certainly three men were working in the  tile making trades in Penn as early as the year 1322. Named as Henry Tyler, Simon the Pavyer and John the Tyler their tax was assessed on their holding stock of tiles and lime, used to make the mortar, and came to the princely sum of £0.30p (40cents USD). Most would be happy to pay that little tax in 2020 but seven hundred years earlier it was almost as high as that paid by the local Lord of the Manor. Obviously tile making, particularly   patterned floor tile making, was a very lucrative business at the time and tile makers were amongst the wealthiest households in the parish.

During the 14th Century a new technique for creating two colour tiles was developed, most likely in Penn, which was fast developing as somewhat of a centre for tile making. Historic documents list another seven   tile makers during the period 1348 to 1389. In 1344 an order of 40,000 tiles was placed for the house of the Round Table, 'a most noble house' in which the annual Round Table could be held. In 1351 Windsor Castle placed its first order for decorated floor tiles and the castle's historic accounts show an enormous total figure of 258,000 tiles were purchased.

In the 1937 book Medieval English Paving tiles author Loyd Haberly theorised that tiles from Penn were even decorated using a different method from usual. Rather than first stamping the clay body with the design and filling the depression with soft or liquid white clay a more productive and economic  tile making process had been developed combining the two operations. Not all tile experts agree and those at the British Museum thought this technique too complicated for Medieval tile makers.

Certainly Penn tile makers success was partly due to their business ability as well as the quality of their products. Over time they evolved the size of the tiles making them smaller, thus easier to handle and fire. Designs and patterns for single tiles also became symmetrical and therefore more straightforward to lay. This enabled Penn tile makers to sell their wares at a more affordable price which in turn helped broaden their market and helped to keep as many as fifteen kilns operating at busy times. Firing would only take place during the frost free summer months and each firing cycle took about a week. A typical kiln could produce around 30,000 plus floor tiles during a season but production was affected by labour shortages due to illness and military service together with the inevitable issues of over/under firing and weather.

!4th Century Tile making at Penn was aided by all the required natural ingredients being close to hand in generous quantities and even more importantly they were probably free due to some of the area being common land with rights to freely dig clay, chalk and sand.

Decorated tiles were made by impressing a wooden stamp onto soft clay, the stamp which was usually made from beech had the design or pattern carved into it. Alternatively the design block would sit in the base of a wooden framed mould with the clay forced down into it. A cutting wire is then drawn across the back and the frame is pushed up and away to reveal the squared body of clay.

Traditionally once the tile was removed from the mould it was left to dry until becoming leather hard. Then white clay with a consistency ranging from soft and pliable to liquid was either trowelled or poured into the indented areas and allowed to dry. Following this the  design was exposed by carefully scraping the surface until a sharp finish was achieved. A lead glaze was applied and this brought out the brown of the background clay and the yellow of the inlaid pattern or design. They were fired in a single operation, rather than using a preliminary biscuit firing followed by a secondary glaze firing.

Tile makers were skilled artisans requiring an impressive store of knowledge about clay selection, decorating techniques, the making of glazes and the making and firing of kilns. Certainly obtaining the correct kiln temperature would have been an issue, especially estimating the correct temperature of their wood burning kilns without the use of thermometers. Tilers had to use their experience and judge temperature by the colour of the tiles during firing.

Tiles made in Penn were transported throughout the Thames Valley between Oxford and London, taking advantage of its position only a mile and a half from the main road, thirteen miles from a very important royal customer at Windsor and six miles to available cargo boats on the River Thames. The tiles were sold to be used in important buildings and were laid by expert tradesmen, more than likely men attached to the various tile makers. Inlaid floor tiles made in Penn were supplied in great quantities to places such as Windsor Castle, Tower of London, Westminster, Whitehall and Eltham Palaces as well as Baynard's Castle in the City of London. Medieval tiles designs originating from Penn are faithfully replicated by Fairfax & Gibson as part of their handmade tile collection.

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Chertsey Abbey medieval tiles

To this day Fairfax & Gibson tile-makers remain impressed with the skill of their medieval forebears at Chertsey Abbey.

As you look across Abbeyfields in Chertsey, Surrey, it is hard to believe that Chertsey Abbey once stood on the site. Once one of the greatest religious houses in England, ranking alongside those of Reading, Glastonbury and Bury St. Edmunds, it suffered utter destruction with only archaeological evidence and documents surviving. From a medieval floor tile perspective this is a great loss as the Chertsey tile makers are widely recognised as being the most skilful of any during the medieval period. In both the design of the tiles and it's manufacture their work was of a remarkable standard, technically and stylistically better than any other medieval tilers in England or France. Fortunately, a number of archaeological excavations have taken place since the 1850's resulting in discoveries of tiles and fragments in sufficient numbers for us to fully appreciate them today.

Chertsey Abbey was founded in 666 by Erkenwald, a prince from Lincolnshire, said to be related to Offa, King of East Anglia. It is not known why he chose Chertsey for his new Benedictine house but excavations have discovered Roman tiles so perhaps the site had previously been occupied. Within ten years Chertsey Abbey had grown to include all of the administrative area known as the Godley Hundred. Erkenwald was abbot for nine years before leaving to become Bishop of London, but in that time he established the buildings for an institution which would eventually grow to become the fifth largest monastery in the country, with 50,000 acres of land. Detailed records of this complex are scarce, possibly hindered by the abbey suffering major fires in 1235 and 1381 when, as a part of the Peasant's Revolt, records were deliberately destroyed.

In 1532 and 1534 Henry VIII passed a series of Acts bringing about England’s break with Rome and declaring him 'Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England'. Within a century of the Dissolution Chertsey Abbey had been totally destroyed. By 1700 all surviving remains of the grand minster had been replaced with a new domestic building, named Abbey House. This itself has long since disappeared having been demolished in 1810. By the beginning of the 19th century all interest in the abbey had waned, however there was growing interest in all things antiquarian and in 1854 stone walls and a number of stone coffins were uncovered.

During the 1854 excavations workmen found a solid floor on which a large amount of decorated tiles were set. Unfortunately, many of the tiles were stolen from the site and, according to Chertsey Museum, others were broken up on the orders of the site foreman who was concerned that the builders were spending too much time looking at the tiles and not getting on with their work. Fortunately a local doctor and keen antiquarian, called Dr. Manwaring Shurlock, was intrigued by the tiles and he collated and arranged the fragments, succeeding in re-assembling about 30 designs. This resulted in renewed interest in the abbey site and I 1861 its the new owner, Samuel Angell, helped finance further excavation.

The Chertsey medieval tiles were made sometime between 1250 and 1290. When first discovered experts thought they must be French. But in 1922 a tile kiln, with unused, faulty tiles (known as wasters) was discovered in nearby Abbey Gardens, the the clay had also come from a local source. These tiles are reputed to be the finest tiles produced in medieval England and as one antiquarian commented “must have been drawn by one of the ablest masters of the second half of the 13th century for they are exceptional for the delicate lines and edges”. The most well known set of 13th Century Chertsey tiles are decorated with scenes from the romance of Tristram and Isolde, principal characters of a famous medieval love-romance, based on a Celtic legend. They are technically remarkable, round tiles fired in one piece and set in square frames fired in four sections. These same designs were used at Halesowen Abbey and others at Hailes Abbey and Winchester Cathedral suggesting tile makers had travelled elsewhere taking the design stamps with them.

To this day Fairfax & Gibson tile-makers remain impressed with the skill of their medieval forebears at Chertsey Abbey, particularly the detail of the decoration on some designs. Commonly designs were created by hammering a wooden stamp onto leather hard clay but these very fine designs would need the stamp to be in the bottom of the mould with the clay pressed down into it. The stamps may well have been made from metal and the clay left in the mould to dry, all up making for a very expensive tile, even by13th century standards.


Tiles from the 1854 excavation can be seen in the V&A Museum in London, The British Museum and Guildford Museum. In 1996 eleven complete tiles were discovered near the Abbey site and were bought by Chertsey Museum. A number of original Chertsey designs are now used as part of the Fairfax & Gibson medieval tile collection.

Below is a piece of an original 13th century Chertsey tile from the British Museum.  Note the fine detail on the character design, very difficult to achieve using the known production methods at the time.

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The medieval floor tiles at 'Hogwarts'

The ancient settlement of Lacock was first mentioned in the Domesday book in 1086. The Abbey was founded in 1232 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, thought to be one of the most powerful women during this medieval period. The cloister and rooms are a rare example of medieval monastic architecture, but sadly the original cloister was demolished in the 1400s and replaced with what you see today. After the Dissolution it was bought by Sir William Sharington who incorporated the cloister into the design of his home and added Italian-inspired Renaissance architecture. In the 1700's John Ivory Talbot inherited Lacock and over fifty years transformed the abbey and its grounds, adding the entrance arch and Great Hall. During the 1800's William Henry Fox Talbot and his family lived in the abbey and in 1835 Talbot invented a process for creating the first photographic negative and in doing so established Lacock as the 'birthplace of photography'.

In 1916 Matilda Talbot was surprised to inherit Lacock from her unmarried uncle Charles Henry Talbot, who left it to her in his will. She had a brother, William, who was older, a man, married and with children, so it was expected the estate would go to him. By most accounts she turned out to be a good custodian and was conscious of her duties towards those who lived and worked there. When times were hard she sold some of the abbey collection to improve the homes of her tenants. In 1944 she gifted the estate, including the vast majority of homes in the village, to the National Trust and continued to live there, as a tenant, until her own death in 1956.

As far as Lacock's floor tiles are concerned the most interesting were those commissioned by William Sharington in the early 1550s when converting it into a home. Some of the tiles could have been made locally, maybe those reflecting Sharinton's advanced design taste, whilst other, more traditional, designs might have come from tile makers in Bristol and Malvern. The tile pavement was taken up in the 19th century but most of the tiles were stored on site and some are now put on display.

Since autumn 2019, Lacock Abbey's conservation team have been working to clean, conserve and catalogue the tile collection consisting of a thousand pieces. There are medieval examples dating from the 13th and 14th century and Tudor tiles dating from the 1500s. The medieval tiles graced the rooms of the abbey’s cloister ( recognisable from its appearances in Harry Potter films as Hogwarts corridors), with the Tudor tiles being custom-made for Sir William Sharington's home. Following hundreds of years of foot wear, weather and poor storage arrangements the tiles were in desperate need of conservation to save them from being lost.

History and medieval tile restoration is all very interesting, but did I read that right... Harry Potter ? Well yes, Lacock has been used as a location for Harry Potter films on a number of occasions since 2001, featuring mostly in the Philosophers Stone, The Chamber of Secrets and, most recently The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Some tile designs from Lacock Abbey are included in the Fairfax & Gibson medieval tile collection. As yet none from Hogwarts but watch this space.

Lacock Abbey is pictured below.

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Medieval Tile and Pottery Production

What did the Romans ever do for us ? !

The early Neolithic period, around 4000BC, was the first recorded manufacture of pottery in the Britsh Isles, taking the form of hand built coiled clay vessels a form of making still employed to this day by craft potters. It was not until the Iron Age, 2nd century BC, that mass production of wheel-thrown pottery took place. Following the Roman invasion in AD43 industrial scale production started and with that tile-making for use in buildings. The Roman introduction of new techniques and kiln design helped move production forward.
Following a period of decline with the end of Roman influence in around AD 410 large scale pottery manufacturing resumed in the late-Saxon period, notably with an important industry in Stamford, Lincolnshire. It is thought that industrial activity increased with the arrival from France of reforming monastic orders during the 12th century when medieval tile making centres started being established to serve local markets. Tile production was particularly focussed on the supply of tiles to cathedrals, monasteries and churches. Brick and tile making was quite widely distributed by the 14th century, but relatively few production sites are known due to the temporary nature of most of the tile making works.
Medieval tile making sites usually survive in the form of below ground archaeological remains. One thing they have in common is a site located to take advantage of local natural resources of clay, water and timber for fueling the kilns. Kilns are usually the most easily recognised surviving components during archaeological excavations. Medieval kilns developed from the simple bonfire type of kiln which existed before the Roman period but leave little archaeological remains. Kilns evolved into more substantial and sophisticated structures with a sunken firing chamber housing the unfired clay pottery and tiles. Hot air from fires built in stokepits was drawn through the flues into the chamber with the pottery fired by the up draft of hot gasses. Kiln roofs were temporary structures which were broken down to retrieve the pottery at the end of the firing. Some kilns had surrounding walls or windbreaks, some had roof structures for shelter. Heaps of wasters, the name given to broken or reject tiles would have surrounded the site and it is unearthing of these that has provided much of the present day knowledge around medieval tile designs. A tile production site would have also consisted of buildings for making the tiles and drying them, storage buildings and clay pits. Handmade tiles with medieval designs are produced by Fairfax & Gibson.

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Great Malvern Priory Church

Medieval tiles designs from Great Malvern Priory Church are beautifully replicated on tiles handmade by Fairfax & Gibson.

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Great Malvern has one of the largest surviving collections of medieval tiles with 100 designs and 1300 tiles. They are very well preserved partly due to the quality of their original manufacture but mainly because they are set into the wall of the Abbey rather than on the floor. Some of the designs are replicated for Fairfax & Gibson handmade medieval tiles.

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Great Malvern Priory Church

Medieval floor tiles preserved by setting them into the wall

Encouraged by the Bishop of Worcester a monk named Aldwin establish a monastery on this site not long after the Norman Conquest in 1066, a time when the area was known as the Malvern Chase and was preserved for hunting grounds. The site was on land owned by Westminster Abbey itself under Crown control. The new monastery enjoyed priory status but was under Westminster's patronage. In 1085 work commenced on creating monastic buildings for 30 Benedictine monks. Parts survive to this day although major changes were carried out in the period 1440 to 1500 and later years.

During 1539, Great Malvern Priory surrendered to King Henry VIII due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The monastic buildings followed the same fate as so many others, sold off, torn down and the building materials used elsewhere. It's believed £1 was paid for the Lady Chapel before it was destroyed with the south transept demolished and it's roof stripped for the lead. However, the priory church still belonged to the Crown and the 150 local families of Malvern persuaded the King to led them buy it for use as a parish church. It's understood the price was set at £20 which took two years to raise but no money left for repairs. This state of affairs continued much the same until the prosperity of the Industrial Revolution changed things for the better and major restoration work commenced in 1860.

Great Malvern Abbey has some wonderful stained glass windows, in fact the best display of 15th century stained glass of any English parish church. It also contains one of the largest surviving collections of Medieval tiles with 100 designs and 1300 tiles. They are very well preserved partly due to the quality of their original manufacture but mainly because they are set into the wall of the Abbey rather than on the floor. The square floor tiles were relocated there following the restoration work in the 1860's. These two colour decorated tiles date from the 1450's when the church was rebuilt and the floor paved.

The Great Malvern Abbey tiles were made locally with a kiln and drying oven being uncovered in 1833 and 1902. Indeed the area in general has a reputation for tile making and pottery production right back to 500BC and continuing through the Iron Age, Roman and Medieval periods up until the 17th century. In common with other medieval tile making locations Malvern benefited from a good source of local clay, forests for wood to fire the kilns and the River Severn to assist with distribution. Both red and white clay were required to produce the patterned tiles, the red was dug locally whilst the white clay may well have come from Cornwall the only area of the country with substantial deposits.

Malvern produced medieval tiles have been found as far away as St David's Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. There is also evidence that the tile makers themselves moved around the country with identical stamped patterns to the Great Malvern Abbey tiles being found in kilns at Lenton Priory in Nottingham during excavations in 1955. The Malvern tilers were certainly skilled artisans as they made tiles with intricate heraldic designs and inscriptions.

To cover the main church floor at Malvern would have required 50,000 tiles. Of this number one third were produced as plain tiles. Very few original plain tiles remain probably due to little value being placed on them during the church's various historic restorations. Victorian tiles now cover the church floor made at the Minton factory in around 1860 with the designs being replicas of the original Malvern and Gloucester Cathedral creations. Manufacturers such as Minton became experts in the field of decorated tiles and perfected manufacturing techniques to produce them in volume. They became known as encaustic tiles. Handmade tiles using 15th century designs found at Malvern are manufactured by from Fairfax & Gibson. 

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Canterbury cathedral medieval tiles

Medieval tile makers
of Tyler Hill, Canterbury.

As with other important medieval tile production centres Tyler Hill was established by having good availability of raw materials such as London clay and timber from the surrounding woods. Although some researches believe the first kilns were located at Tyler Hill in the 9th century a commonly accepted start date, based on pottery evidence, is about 1150 with bowls, jugs and pots being produced for local markets.
The pottery production area was extensive for the period and some of the earliest decorated floor tiles produced in England seem to come from a Tyler Hill kiln. These tiles appear to have been used at St Augustine's Abbey, Christ Church Priory and St Gregory's Priory in Canterbury and date from around 1170. In 1174 an extensive fire in Canterbury destroyed many of the closely packed timber houses and badly damaged Christ Church Priory. Following a decree that in future roofs in Canterbury should be tiled there was a considerable stimulus to medieval tile production at Tyler Hill. It is thought that tile makers from France, who were originally employed to work on the priory, settled at Tyler Hill towards the end of the 13th century and they subsequently influenced the designs of the tiles being produced. By 1325 production at Tyler Hill of decorated tiles had ceased with local demand being met by tiles coming from Penn, Buckinghamshire. Roof tiles continued in production for very much longer with four tilers listed in the 1871 census and a tileyard and kiln shown on maps published of 1877.
Over seventy years numerous archaeological investigations and excavations have taken place at Tyler Hill ever since a WW2 bomb dropped in 1942 revealed medieval pottery 'wasters'. This is the name given to rejects or spoiled tiles, possibly under or over fired or perhaps cracked during production. The best known and certainly the best publicised excavation was that by Channel 4's Time Team in August 2000. Over the usual three day format and following positive 'geo-fizz' the team led by Tony, Mick, Phil and Carenza uncovered a near intact kiln, one of the best-preserved medieval tile kilns ever found in England (see Series 8, episode 12 on the Time Team website).
About 13 miles north-east of Canterbury can be found the village of Brook and its Norman church of St Mary's which is famed for its wall paintings that date from 1250. In the sanctuary there is a 700 year old decorated tile pavement which although worn and faded is one of the finest unaltered examples in any English parish church. As you would expect, given its proximity to Canterbury, the source of the tiles was Tyler Hill. Handmade tiles with 13th century designs originating from Tyler Hill are made by Fairfax & Gibson.

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Channel 4 Time Team

Tyler Hill Canterbury August 2000

Tony, Phil, Mick and Carenza discovered one of the finest medieval tile kilns in England.

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Cleeve Abbey

A medieval tiled pavement is protected for future generations to appreciate with designs included in the Fairfax & Gibson tile collection.

When Edmund of Cornwall, nephew of Henry III, married Margaret de Clare in 1271 new heraldic decoration was designed to celebrate the marriage and in doing so increased the stock of designs available to the medieval tile-makers of Wessex. Some of the designs were also found during excavations at Nash Hill, Bath Abbey and Glastonbury. Remarkably a complete pavement of the tiles remains in place, in the old refectory at Cleeve Abbey in Somerset, where the Cistercian monks ate their meals.
Such floors were very costly and often lifted and relaid. Fortunately for us the Cleeve Abbey monks buried theirs so the pavement survived the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. The tiles were initially excavated in 1876 but then reburied to protect them. They were re-excavated in 1951 and since then they have been on view over the summer months for the benefit of visitors to the abbey. As they were still laid in their original position the tiles show the footprint of a long lost medieval building and reflect the importance of the abbey and the royal patronage it enjoyed in the 13th century.
Monitoring by English Heritage in the 1990's showed that the tiles were deteriorating due to their exposure to the elements. Research concluded that continued exposure would lead to irreversible loss of the designs, historic authenticity and significance of the tile pavement. To prevent this, a marquee was erected over the pavement to provide temporary protection while a permanent solution was explored. The head curator at English Heritage, Jeremy Ashbee, describes them as being “ridiculously rare” so understandably it was decided a solution had to be found. A new state of the art oak shelter, designed by Davies Sutton architects ( see pictures below), has now been constructed in order to cover the 12 metre x 5 metre 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. Timber louvres control natural ventilation through the interior and roof lights allow natural daylight, whilst ensuring no direct sunlight falls onto the sensitive surface of the tiles. According to English Heritage the new structure offers a simple, elegant design which complements the historic architecture - whilst importantly preserving the unique tiled pavement for years to come. A number of the medieval Cleeve Abbey designs can be found in the Fairfax & Gibson handmade tile collection.

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Cleeve Abbey new tile shelter interior.w
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Hailes Abbey

Tile designs discovered at Hailes Abbey are recreated by Fairfax & Gibson

Since St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in Britain in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasteries formed an important part of both religious and secular life. It is believed over 700 monasteries were established in England, built to house communities of monks, canons and sometimes lay-brothers, all living a simple life of disciplined religious observance. Monasteries varied greatly in size and belonged to a variety of religious orders. Naturally, most included a church or chapel together with a complex of buildings for accommodation, refectory and work. Depending on its location a wider range of buildings might have existed as an aid to self sufficiency or service to the local community such as farm buildings, school, forge or even a brewery. Some orders developed great wealth and influence and had extensive land holdings.

Medieval Hailes abbey was founded by Richard, Earl of Cornwall in 1245, one of the last Cistercian houses to be founded in England. The first monks arrived from Beaulieu the following year and when completed in the 1250s the church had a typical Cistercian layout. It became a great centre of pilgrimage, indeed one of the most important in England, when in 1270 Richard's son, Edmund of Cornwall, presented the abbey with a holy relic believed to be a portion of the blood of Christ.

Relics played an important role in medieval belief and worship, providing tangible reminders of the saints and assisted people in their devotions. It was also believed relics offered physical protection and many had miracles attributed to them. The most prized were those associated with Christ’s suffering.

In 1278 a large extension on the eastern arm of Hailes abbey church was completed to house the shrine containing the newly acquired relic. The extension was paved with impressive decorated tiles designed especially for it, many with heraldic designs. It is believed tile makers set up a tilery close by but the remains of the kiln associated with the work has yet to be discovered. The generally high quality of tile designs and coloured glazes place them among some of the finest medieval tile making. Fortunately a good number have survived in museum collections, some nearly complete and in excellent condition. Fairfax & Gibson have recreated some of these designs as part of their medieval tile collection, made using methods virtually unchanged since the 13th century.

Hailes Abbey is set in the wonderful Cotswold countryside and the tranquil ruins are now a great place to relax and enjoy a picnic in a unique historic setting. A new English Heritage museum on site allows you to discover the treasures and stories of the monks who lived there as well as see samples of medieval tiles recovered from the site.

A 30 minute drive east from Hailes Abbey, near Chipping Norton, are the Rollright Stones.  This  complex of megalithic monuments span nearly 2000 years of Neolithic and Bronze age development dating from 3500BC

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A medieval tile makers lot -not always a happy one.

From the end of the Stone Age onwards, wherever suitable clay was to be found, potters have plied their trade. The Romans, for their part, perfected the art and introduced improved production methods into Britain. Numerous remains of kilns and innumerable fragments of pottery testify to the industry and individuality of the Romano - British potters. Closely connected with pottery is the manufacture of tiles, both having clay as the base material and kilns that are practically identical. The exact date that the manufacture of tiles, which had ceased with the Roman occupation, was resumed in Medieval England is not certain, but from the beginning of the thirteenth century they play an increasing part in the records of building construction.
Certainly the frequency and devastating effect of fires in relation to thatched roofs led to the use of tiles for roofing. Even in towns where the authorities did not make their use compulsory, ( London did in 1212), the importance of tiles for the safety of the town was being recognised. Likewise having a large supply of tiles accessible at a low price. In 1350 after the Black Death prices of labour and of manufactured goods was very high and as a result the City Council of London fixed the maximum price of tiles at 5 shillings (£0.25p) per thousand. We think they've gone up a little since then !
Authorities also wanted to encourage the use of tiles for roof covering and not allow tile makers to take advantage of the public by over pricing. This led the authorities in Worcester in the 15th century to forbid tile makers from forming a gild or trade union. As far as improving working conditions was concerned a trade union was certainly warranted. Records confirm that generally medieval tile making was an unhealthy business and whole establishments were sometimes wiped out by “pestilence” and had trouble finding replacement workers. The Worcester regulations also ordered that all tiles should be marked with a maker's stamp, so that any defects in the size or quality could be traced back to the party responsible. This was an early form of traceability that we now take for granted. For instance in 1425, there had been many complaints at Colchester of the lack of uniformity in the size of the tiles. This led to a 1477 Act of Parliament to regulate their manufacture. The Act provided that the clay should be dug before November, stirred and turned before February and not made into tiles before March. This was to ensure that the clay was properly seasoned. Care also had to be taken to ensure the clay contained no chalk, marl or stones .
Although tile making during the medieval period was greatly beneficial to the fabric of buildings the process was not without its detractors. In one area in 1461 regulations were drawn up ordering that “on account of the stench fouling the air and destruction of fruit trees” no new kilns could be located any nearer to the town. The penalty for offenders was a fine of 100 shillings (£5). Elsewhere the monks of Meaux Abbey complained that certain workmen of Beverley, who were called tilers, makers and burners of the slabs, had trespassed on the abbey's lands taking away clay, without consent, to convert into tiles. In response to this the monks seized their tools, their oars and finally one of their boats. Tile making in the 21st century is not without its difficulties but at Fairfax & Gibson we're pretty sure the local vicar won't take our tools.

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Winchester Cathedral  medieval tiles

England's largest area of 13th century inlaid medieval tiles

Many of the designs are re-imagined by Fairfax & Gibson as part of their handmade medieval tile collection.

Decorated medieval tiles can be dated as far back as the late 10th century, an example being those found during excavations at the Old Minster site in Winchester. As with comparable tiles found at York, Coventry and St Edmund's Abbey these were all what is known as polychrome tiles and could have been made before the Norman Conquest. Polychrome tiles have a simple pattern of raised ridge cells created on the tile surface to keep different colour glazes apart during firing.

Winchester Cathedral is, of course, the star. A landmark in its city, with the largest nave of any Gothic cathedral in Europe. The first cathedral was founded there in 650, the first Christian church in Winchester and the heart of Anglo-Saxon Wessex. Known as Old Minster it stood slightly north of the present day cathedral. Soon Old Minster became a cathedral, housing the throne of a bishop who held sway over a huge diocese stretching from the English Channel to the River Thames. This was now the most important royal church in Anglo-Saxon England and the burial place for some of the earliest kings of Wessex, including King Alfred the Great. The church was made even bigger and grander by its 10th-century bishop, Aethelwold.

By the year 1000, Old Minster was a multi purpose building, a mighty cathedral, thriving priory church, a healing place of pilgrimage, and final resting place of West Saxon Kings. But great change was afoot when in 1066 William the Conqueror invaded England and was anointed king at Westminster Abbey. He then quickly moved to take control of the Church. Old Minster was demolished in 1093 after work on a new Norman cathedral had been completed, much of whose original design you see today. Until Professor Biddle's excavations in the 1960s and 1970s nobody knew exactly where the original cathedral of Old Minster had stood. If you visit Winchester today you can see the plan of Old Minster marked out in red brick in the grass lying next to the present-day cathedral.

Of the decorative elements in a cathedral interior, such as Winchester, those attached to the floor are the most vulnerable and susceptible to damage from hundreds of years of foot traffic. There is also potential erosion by salts carried in rising damp, lack of maintenance and issues from cleaning agents. Even so, there are still an amazing variety of original medieval tile designs which have survived, although years of wear and tear has left most of the design element somewhat subdued. Fortunately many of these designs are re-imagined by Fairfax & Gibson as part of their handmade medieval tile collection and can now be appreciated in their full glory. During the tile firing process some vitrification occurs in the glaze resulting in a hard glass like finish. Given the firing temperature of the terracotta clay, at around 1100 decrees centigrade, little vitrification occurs within the tile's clay body. As a result, the glaze is substantially harder and more durable than the underlying body and it is this layer which contributes to the durability of the tile. The glazed surface will gradually wear over the centuries until the softer clay beneath is exposed. The coloured inlay may be just a few millimetres in depth and this is why the design on an original medieval tile tile can be lost forever unless it is replicated or re-imagined.

Winchester Cathedral has England's largest area of 13th century inlaid medieval tiles still in their original position. In many areas the tiles became very worn from continual visitor traffic and daily cathedral life, with the original glaze worn away entirely as described above. The introduction of some limited areas of new replicas was considered the most appropriate solution and Winchester Cathedral now has some new inlaid tiles forming a vivid carpet of colour. By understanding traditional techniques used in the past and the different types of clay employed the modern day tile makers were able to replicate the tiles with some degree of historic accuracy and produce a floor of the same quality as the original. To start the process of replacement designs were traced from the surviving tiles in the Winchester Cathedral's pavement then adjusted to take account of wear. The replication involved careful research to determine the methods to be used and local clay from Reading Beds was chosen to best match the original floor. The white clay for the inlay was created from a mixture of white earthenware clay to obtain the correct shrinkage and compatibility with the red body clay during firing. Following successful production the new tiles were laid in a lime mortar bed following the original layout of the pavement. There is of course a great contrast between the new replica tiles and the surviving medieval tiles but the new work gives a clear insight into the full beauty of the floor as it must have appeared in the 13th century. The Cathedral's neighbour, Winchester College, also has some impressive medieval tile pavements albeit less well known as they are laid in rooms generally not available for public viewing.


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The tile hunters of Hartley Mauditt

Intrigue, ghosts and rare medieval tiles, a facinating combination.

At Hartley Mauditt, near Selborne in Hampshire, in a peaceful area opposite the pond stands the small 12th century church of St Leonard's, a place officially described on Ordnance Survey maps as a "deserted medieval village". The church is all that remains of a vanished settlement, now a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Listed Landscape. St Leonard's stands completely alone by the side of the road, a simple church but with a facinating history. In the chancel is a series of memorials to the Stuart family, whose manor house used to stand next to the church before it was demolished. During the English Civil war Nicholas Stuart, lord of the manor, fought to defend his land and protect his property, to no avail; his lands were seized and the house destroyed. However, with the restoration of the monarchy and the the return of King Charles II Stuart received his lands back, became the first Baronet of Hartley Mauditt and rebuilt the manor house.

The Stuarts continued to own the property for several generations until it passed into the hands of the Stowell family. A local story recounts that Lord Stowell preferred life in town but his wife much preferred life in the country. He found a solution to this dilemma and, in 1798, had the manor house pulled down to prevent her living there. (She is buried in the churchyard, so her heart at least did in the end return) From then on the village declined, as no doubt the manor provided work, until it was eventually abandoned, with little more than the church, pond and some earthworks remaining. But apparently they're not all alone, many local tales abound of hauntings. They say the last lady of the house and a coach and horses have been seen many times, passing close to the church, as well as sounds of music all adding to the other worldliness of the place.

“And does the phantom coach and horses drive through Hartley Mauditt pond? — my silent stones won't tell.
And where have workers' hamlet houses gathered round about me gone? — in troubled times they fell.
So now I stand alone to stay where lord and manor once held sway, — a core without a shell”

A vicar of the church in the 1950's Reverend Knapp had an interest in the study of medieval paving tiles after reading a paper by the Hampshire Archaeological Society about the tiles at Titchfield Abbey. Perhaps his initial interest was kindled by the tiles in his own church, which contained good early examples. Although only 34 tiles, set in two lines on the chancel floor, it includes seven designs, one of which containing two fish has not been seen anywhere else. This rare tile design can also be found in the Fairfax & Gibson medieval tile collection.

Such was the Reverend Knapp's interest in the subject he embarked on the task of surveying and recording the medieval floor tiles in other churches in this area of North East Hampshire. He commented at the time that he found ready assistance in this task from a group of young people in whom, as part of their preparation for Confirmation, he was trying to arouse an interest in ancient churches. He recorded his appreciation for the help of the Misses Diana and Jennifer French, who traced many of the tiles and prepared the drawings for the illustrations in this paper.

Starting with his own church at Hartley Mauditt, the tiles were recorded, and then, going further afield, Selborne was the objective. But the interest and enthusiasm of his young tile hunters was heightened by the discovery of further tiles in the churches of Faringdon and Binsted, which had not been recorded elsewhere. Reverend Knapp mentions in his report that copying the tile designs was anything but straightforward, with difficulty attempting “to make an accurate copy of the pattern on a slurred, worn and broken tile”. Very few of the designs were perfect and whole, and many of them were pieced together from small and almost illegible fragments. He said “ my eyes are no more infallible than those of others, whose earlier drawings I have found faulty in detail”. He asked that experts and learned tile lovers show charity towards him and his young tile hunters. Below are some extracts from Reverend Knapps report from 1954.

Selborne. St. Mary Church. The space around the altar of the south chapel of this church is paved with tiles. They are in no particular pattern, and many fragments and tiles from which the patterns have been worn off are included. But many interesting patterns are to be found, and they add another interest to this famous and beautiful church. Most of the tiles in the church have also been discovered in the excavations at Selborne Priory. This rather confirms the theory that these tiles came from the priory. Of the twenty-seven patterns recorded in the church only two have not yet been found at the priory.

Binsted. Holy Cross Church. There are sixty tiles, comprising fourteen different patterns in this church. They are to be found under the altar, which no doubt accounts for the fact that they have escaped the notice of all the writers of guide books and the Victoria History of Hampshire. The tiles are not in very good condition.

Faringdon. All Saints Church. Here is another series of tiles which has, apparently, escaped the notice of the county ecclesiologist. The whole of the area surrounding the altar is paved with mediaeval tiles, totalling some 190 tiles in all. But out of this total there are only nine different patterns ; many of the patterns are of the variety which requires four tiles to make up the complete pattern, and here many sets of four are laid in their correct positions. They form a very interesting series of tiles, for many of the designs are not found elsewhere in the district, nor at Shulbrede and Durford, nor at Titchfield. The tiles in this church are in good condition.

Pictured above is St. Leonard's Church at Hartley Mauditt and below is Holy Cross Church, Binsted.

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Titchfield Abbey

 Inscribed on the beautiful medieval floor tiles, the canons were reminded  -  'Before you sit down to meat at your table first remember the poor’.

Titchfield was founded in 1231/2 by the Bishop of Winchester as The Abbey of St Mary and St John the Evangelist, to be used for Premonstratensian canons, an order originating in France. They were also known as the ‘white canons’, living a monastic yet communal life, which involved teaching and preaching in the wider community, some even serving as vicars in local parish churches. As with many other abbeys it had very extensive land holdings and farm buildings. From records of visitations it can be inferred that the abbey enjoyed a measure of prosperity, although it suffered badly at the time of the Black Death, when its assets in grain and livestock were much decreased, owing to the heavy death roll amongst its tenants and farm workers.

In 1537, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries the abbey was granted to Thomas Wriothesley, later the 1st Earl of Southampton, a loyal civil servant to King Henry VIII. With a new domain of 11 manors and 5,000 acres the main abbey buildings were converted into Place House, a residence fit for a rising courtier to entertain royal guests which would include Edward VI, Elizabeth I and Charles I. Wriothesley’s grandson Henry, 3rd Earl of Southampton, was a patron of William Shakespeare and it is thought that some of Shakespeare’s plays were performed here for the first time.

Following the death of the 4th Earl of Southampton Titchfield passed through several families until 1781 when sadly most of the building were demolished and used for building material elsewhere. Fortunately the impressive pavements of medieval floor tiles were covered by the courtyard of a later mansion house and lay preserved for over 400 years, from 1539 until their discovery during excavations in 1923 by H M Office of Works, who had recently gained guardianship of the ruined building. During this time they escaped the scarifying effects of innumerable boot-shod feet and so retained their beautiful designs, but they are cracked and broken to an extent not usual in pavements protected from the weather in cathedrals and churches.

An interesting Latin inscription on one of the pavements was protected by the construction of a porch that led to the Tudor great hall. The inscription was orientated to greet the canons as they approached the refectory for their meals. It reads ‘Before you sit down to meat at your table first remember the poor’.

Medieval tiles are a fascinating subject but what of William Shakespeare I hear you ask, what's the connection with Titchfield ? Here goes … It's believed Shakespeare spent some of his "lost" early years working as a schoolmaster at Titchfield. According to local historians the Bard worked at a school there between 1589 and 1592. The roots of this theory lie in his relationship with the third Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley, who was Shakespeare's sponsor at the time and it may answer the mystery of where he was between 1589 and 1592. It is thought Place House Cottage near the abbey was a school house at the time and the buildings were owned by Henry Wriothesley's family. The theory that Shakespeare worked as a school teacher whilst being sponsored by the Earl of Southampton in Titchfield has also been advanced by leading Shakespeare academics as Titchfield was a favourite country seat of the Southampton family and all of its members are buried in the local church. It was customary, at the time, for a writer to lodge in the household of his patron as part of his patronage. The school itself would have been run monastic principles and quite small, maybe a maximum of around 12 pupils being taught Latin, religious studies, grammar and maths. It is perhaps telling that one of Shakespeare's earliest plays was based on the life of a lesser known king, Henry VI, who married Margaret Anjou in Titchfield Abbey in 1445.

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A Late 13th Century Tile factory discovered in Danbury, Essex

Danbury Medieval tile factory
In 1939 a pipelaying operation for a new reservoir at Danbury, Essex led to the discovery of an almost complete medieval tile making factory operating from c1275 to c1335. The site consisted of three buildings, one for tile makers accommodation, a workshop, a tile drying shed together with two kilns. Colchester Museum recorded the finds but it was subsequently confined to history until 1972 when further remains were uncovered during excavations for a water main to replace the one from1939. The Danbury tile factory mainly supplied churches but also secular customers in the Essex area. In the development of tile manufacturing it sat somewhere between local sites set up for a single supply and the more developed larger scale operations such as Penn, Buckinghamshire. The unique discovery at Danbury did however give an opportunity for archaeologists to study a medieval tile manufacturing site complete with all its buildings rather than just focussing on the kilns which have been uncovered elsewhere. There is no doubt that tile manufacturing at Penn was a much larger operation, evidenced by the wider distribution of their tiles and this would have required numerous support buildings most of which are yet to be discovered. For those with further interest in the Danbury site a comprehensive academic paper is available which details the archaeological excavation and interpretation of the finds. Handmade tiles with medieval designs discovered at Danbury can be supplied by Fairfax & Gibson.

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Beneath the floor of Bath Abbey -

Tile designs from the Fairfax & Gibson handmade medieval tile collection

The city of Bath is famous for its amazing Roman remains and the beautiful Georgian architecture in its streets and crescents as seen in the likes of The Circus and the Royal Crescent. In the medieval period it was also home to one of the largest cathedrals in England dating back to the late 11th century. A soaring religious building it would have been an impressive sight, yet by the beginning of the 16th century it lay in ruins and its remains now lie beneath the current abbey. However traces of the long lost cathedral and the Anglo Saxon monastery are being brought to light by Wessex Archaeology's excavations as part of the Bath Abbey Footprint project - an ambitious £19.3 million Heritage Lottery funded initiative to repair the Abbey’s collapsing floor, install hot spring fed underfloor heating and provide new and improved facilities for worshippers and visitors, due to be completed in 2021.

During excavations in 2018 archaeologists discovered “a once in a lifetime find ” - a stunning 13th century tiled floor. The vividly coloured tiles were found about two metres below the current abbey floor and are thought to date from the late 13th century. They were made by tilers at Nash Hill in Lacock, Wiltshire where in 1971 an excavation revealed the remains of two pottery kilns. One of these was a roof tile kiln, the other a more sophisticated affair used for firing two colour inlaid decorated tiles the same as those now made by Fairfax & Gibson. Amongst the 'wasters' at Nash Hill were some decorated with designs attributed to the Wessex School, a series derived from tiles at Clarendon Palace and found at Salisbury Cathedral, Wells Cathedral and Cleeve Abbey. A number of examples of these designs can be also found in the Florence and Gertrude handmade medieval tile collection. Designs such as the three golden lions on a red shield which is the coat of arms of the Plantagenet kings and the three red chevrons on a gold shield, the coat of arms of the de Clare family, who were powerful Norman barons.

Pictured below is a model of the Clarendon Palace tile kiln discovered  during excavations

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Clarendon Palace and the Wessex School of Medieval floor tile designs

Many of which are in the Fairfax & Gibson medieval tile collection

The earliest two colour decorated tiles for which historical dating evidence is available are those made for King Henry III in 1237. It is believed he ordered a tiler at Westminster to make some floor tiles in case supplies of marble were exhausted during work on St Stephen's Chapel, although it has to be said that it's unknown if the tiles were actually produced. However, there is both documentary and physical evidence from archaeology that a two colour tiled pavement was constructed for the chapel at Clarendon Palace, near Salisbury between 1240 and 1244. During excavations in 1937 a substantial kiln was discovered which is now in the British Museum, together with a display of a large section of the pavement. Once set up, the Clarendon tile makers first task was to produce tiles for a large circular arrangement with bands of plain green glazed and two colour decorated tiles, a segment of which is also on display in London. The designs on some of the tiles are similar to those at Beaulieu Abbey and it's thought the same tilers we involved with both sites. When the first phase of tiling was completed in 1244 the kiln was broken down and built over, with the tile makers dispersing to other sites. A second phase of tiling at Clarendon commenced in the early 1250's with the tile designs being the same as those being made for the new cathedral in Salisbury and widespread in Hampshire, Wiltshire and neighbouring counties. These designs became known as the Wessex School.

Clarendon Palace was probably the most spacious royal residence in England at its height in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. An open site, the principal rooms were laid out in a line, with an L-shape courtyard range of buildings. From the 1220's onwards Henry III expanded the palace, building separate apartment blocks for himself and his queen. Cost of upkeep was a constant problem, with disrepair being noted even towards the end of Henry’s reign. His successors did at least do basic maintenance and Edward III used it in the Black Death era, probably due to its relative isolation. With focus shifting towards Westminster subsequent monarchs rarely visited, and by the end of the 15th century the buildings had largely fallen away but the park, the largest in medieval Britain, remained in royal ownership and Elizabeth I used it for hunting as did her successors.

You can walk to the ruins of Clarendon Palace via part of the Clarendon Way, a long distance walking path between Winchester and Salisbury. See Google for the full details. At the ruins there's not a great amount remaining above ground but it's a very tranquil site in a beautiful location. Fortunately to get there you don't need to contemplate walking the whole 24 miles, you can just walk from the village of Pitton, from where it's a 3mile / 50 minute stroll through open countryside and woodland, the royal hunting grounds since medieval times. The path is marked and pretty straightforward to follow, it has a few ups and downs and some sticky patches following winter rain. At the ruins you will find information boards to help get you bearings of this country retreat of the kings and queens of England , a former place for the business of government and to enjoy the pleasures of the largest private park in the kingdom. On returning to Pitton you'll find the Silver Plough pub. It 's also possible to walk to the ruins, via the Clarendon Way, from the Salisbury side, which takes you along narrow lanes rather than open countryside.

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The 9th Duke of Rutland

His medieval tile collection is without doubt the world's finest

At Fairfax & Gibson we love finding a medieval tile design that we haven't seen before, maybe hidden away in a dark corner of an old church. We have visited many such places in our quest, although to be fair, a little prior research often points us in the right direction. Design central is universally recognised as being the British Museum which holds thousands of tiles and fragments from the period. Unusually a great deal of the collection was acquired in a single purchase – The Rutland collection in 1947, with funding from the National Art Collections Fund.

From a tile design perspective a great debt is owed to John Henry Montagu Manners, 9th Duke of Rutland (21 August 1886 – 22 April 1940) as without his fascination for the subject and avid collecting much of the knowledge of medieval tile designs would have been lost. Incredibly his collection consisted of around 7,000 English medieval tiles, 4,450 designs from 210 sites and tiles from  31 counties, including finds from three kilns. Impressively in the collection there were sections of pavements from Belvoir Priory, Halesowen Abbey, Byland Abbey, Rievaulx and Meaux Abbeys, Maxstoke and Canynages in Bristol. It also included a bound manuscript catalogue, a volume of coloured drawings and beautifully made hardwood cabinets which displayed the collection at Belvoir Castle, the ancestral home of the Duke where his family have lived in an unbroken line for almost a thousand years.

The collection included a complete tiled pavement, probably dating from the early 15th century, from the site of the leper hospital at Burton Lazars, Leicestershire where it was found in situ in 1913. According to Historic England, Burton Lazars was the principal English hospital of the monastic order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem, a military order especially devoted to the foundation and protection of Christian leper hospitals. It was founded by Robert de Mowbray between 1138-62 but was burned down in the 14th century and dissolved in 1546. Its elaborate system of waterways is thought to have been used for curative bathing and inspired an attempt to make Burton a spa in 1760. It is thought by the mid 16th century there were around 800 such hospitals.

Educated at Eton College and Trinity College Cambridge the Duke joined the Diplomatic Service as an Honorary Attache and also served as a Captain in the 4th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. He was an authority on medieval art and his immense labour and patience laid the foundations for all future research on the subject. In regards to medieval tiles no one has ever brought to the subject the whole-hearted enthusiasm of the late Duke, and the results which he achieved are on a truly magnificent scale. His collection of English medieval floor tiles is without a rival anywhere in the world.

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The Old Church of St Mary the Virgin 

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Rediscovering medieval tile designs

Researching medieval tile designs takes Fairfax & Gibson to some lovely old churches.

Discovering medieval tiles in old churches is always fun, especially if there's a chance of finding a design you haven't seen before. So it's with high hopes that we visit The Old Church of St Mary the Virgin in Preston Candover, a well kept Hampshire village surrounded by estate owned farm land and the impressive 'new church' of St Mary the Virgin, dating from 1884, bears testimony to the areas prosperity. The Old Church dates from 1190 and is now cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust, a national charity established for the protection of historic churches at risk. Fortunately they keep their churches open for the public to visit. Much of the church was demolished in 1885, following the building of its replacement, so now there's just the chancel remaining. It's set in a lovely churchyard, has traces of eighteenth-century wall paintings and many memorials. It looks the sort of place to discover some medieval floor tiles.

As you walk through the door there's a small plain tiled pavement and at the far end about thirty medieval tiles of varying designs and state of wear. They're clearly not in their original position, which given the church's history is not surprising. There's a number of familiar designs and some that warrant further investigation, but overall it's pleasing to see them preserved and presented well for future generations to appreciate.

Word also reaches us that we should visit Remenham, which is located on the bank of the River Thames opposite Henley. Its Church of St Nicholas was originally an ancient church dating from c1320. We're told that around the base of the pulpit is where we'll find some medieval tiles, probably 14th century and made in Penn, a centre for tile making in medieval times. It's known that Penn tile makers used the river to transport their tiles to London so it wouldn't be surprising to find they dropped some off on the way. It's also thought one of the Remenham designs is unique to the location. We find little more than a small hamlet surrounding the church, apparently this dates back to the 1664 plague reducing the population and ever since living in Henley's shadow. Records show there's been a church on this site since 1076. Substantial restoration work in 1838 and 1870 is the probable explanation as to why only a few medieval tiles remain. During the Victorian period a lot of medieval tile pavements were lost, being replaced with the newly developed encaustic tiles.

Remenham church is very welcoming and remains open everyday for visitors and private prayer. When we visit it's overcast, there are no lights inside so a torch was needed. Shining a light around the base of the pulpit reveals there are indeed some medieval tiles, a patch about 2 feet by 3 feet. Although badly worn many of the designs can be identified and are known to us from elsewhere. We were told there's one tile with a unique design but we couldn't see it. Perhaps they're keeping it safe under the lectern, which does somewhat dominate the space. The tiles would definitely benefit from some TLC, better presentation and information for visitors. From that perspective the church at Preston Candover was the better of the two. Once these tiles are gone they're lost forever. Medieval tiles at Preston Candover pictured above.

The charming and ancient church of St Peter and St Paul at Albury in Surrey is also under the care of the Church Conservation Trust. We're pleased to hear it's in good hands, even more so as we see it described as having a “magnificent tiled floor”. The church is tucked away in the grounds of the Duke of Northumberland's, Albury Estate and the adjoining Park. A new church was built in 1841, when the village was relocated and the passing road diverted, leaving the old church somewhat isolated. It was however brought back into use by the estate owners and adapted as a burial chapel for their family. The work was undertaken by the renowned architect Augustus Pugin, who designed the interior of the Palace of Westminster. At Albury we're hoping to discover a few medieval tiles that might have escaped the Victorian era refurbishment, which often involved replacing medieval tiles with the new encaustic versions.

Fortunately the estate allows public access to the old church, so let's see what we find. As it dates from Saxon and Norman times there's a chance of finding medieval tiles, of course not a vast pavement, just a few that might have escape Pugin's remodelling. At first sight it's certainly a beautiful church, “a flint-walled gem”, in a lovely setting by the gently flowing River Tilling. When you step inside you're struck by the lime washed interior and the stunning medieval wall painting of St Christopher. There are certainly some fine looking tiles with a lovely patina but none are decorated. But then you find the highlight, the Pugin remodelled South Chapel. It's rich, colourful style dazzling with vivid stained glass, painted walls and ceiling. And it's here that we find that “magnificent tiled floor”. As we thought, Victorian encaustic rather than inlaid medieval tiles but to be fair they are striking and one or two designs wouldn't look out of place in our collection.

Church of St Peter and St Paul pictured below

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