Chertsey is most famous today for its outstanding medieval tiles, made on site to re-floor the Abbey church in the later 13th century. These tiles were found in July 1996 at the corner of Colonels Lane next to the Abbey Field, just across the road from this museum.
Other tiles had previously been re-discovered and at the time it was thought that they had been made in France as the idea of laying a floor of plain or decorated tiles was a continental one, which only caught on in England after about 1220. However, in 1922 the kiln in which the Abbey tiles were then fired was discovered, along with some discarded tiles, proving that the tiles were made on site.
The tiles are made with red and white clay, differences in colour is caused by the amount of oxygen in the kiln during firing. A shortage of oxygen results in the dark greens and browns, in contrast to the brighter reds and oranges.
The first stage in the manufacture of the tiles would be to cut the raised design in to a wooden stamp (metal was probably used for more complex designs). Then the stamp is
pressed into the soft clay which is then left to dry. Wet, white clay is then applied to fill the hollow design, and left to dry to a ‘leather hard’ state. Then the extra white clay is scraped off to reveal the design. Then the tile is trimmed to shape and fired. Normally a lead glaze would be applied before firing to protect the design, it also gave a yellow tinge.
Chertsey Abbey tiles are known as ‘the most famous tiles in England’ and are considered to be the finest medieval decorative tiles of their time produced in this country. The individual tile designs were used as part of tile mosaics as early as 1250 AD. The tiles consisted of large pictorial roundals with the surrounding design being made up of numerous smaller pieces. Popular designs included zodiac signs, the farming months of the year and legends, as well as decorative patterns.
The eleven complete medieval tiles on display in this gallery were purchased from Genet Holdings Ltd in September 1999 after a successful fund raising campaign by local people.
Chertsey Abbey boxfile, Chertsey Museum Research Room
`Romance tiles of Chertsey Abbey’, Lucy Wheeler, published by Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. Ltd., 1913,
‘A Tile Kiln at Chertsey Abbey’, J.S. Gardiner and Elizabeth Eames, reprinted from the Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 3rd series, Vol. XVII, 1954