Last month, Lily Flintham re-discovered two boxes full of tiles being stored in one of the old gaol cells at Lichfield Guildhall. After carrying out research at Lichfield Record Office, her suspicions that these were some of the medieval tiles which once paved the floor of Lichfield’s Franciscan Friary were confirmed. Over to Lily to tell us what happened next….
“I met up with Jo Wilson Museums, Heritage Officer at Lichfield City Council and Karen Slade, Medieval Tile Expert at the Guildhall Gaol Cells on the 3rd March 2015, to take another look at the tiles, and to try and get some better photos.
While we were waiting for Karen, me, Jo and my Mom started laying out all the tiles on the tables, we started taking some photos. Then Karen arrived, and showed us some tiles that she had made, to give us an idea of what they would have looked like originally. Her tiles were really bright, and I was amazed at how vivid they looked.
Karen explained that she had found a few of the tiles we found mentioned in reference books and that they had been found at Much Wenlock, Polesworth and the tile with the Fleur de Lys which has a ‘special squiggle’ on it had been recorded at Lichfield Friary and Karen had also seen a photo of it taken at Lichfield Cathedral Library. Karen had even searched all the tiles held at the British Museum to look for the patterns too. Some of the patterns she still could not find, maybe they only existed at the Lichfield Friary?
She also explained how the tiles were made, most of the square ones would have been made in moulds, and then had a pattern stamped on them, they were called line impressed tiles. And the circular pizza shaped tiles would have been cut by hand, and not in a mould. I learnt sooooooo much over the four hours we were there about how they were made, glazed and fired.
Some of the tiles were still really dirty, even after we had brushed all the dirt and dust off them a few weeks before, so we used a tiny bit of deionised water and cotton pads to clean some of them, like Karen’s husband (who works in building conservation) would do, to get a better look at the patterns.
On two of the tiles we found a few more detailed patterns on them, and a different one, made no sense to us at all, it had worn away too much, the pattern was still just the same as when we first looked at it.
I helped Jo to start recording and archiving the tiles, by putting them in bags, and numbering them. There were 92 tiles (and fragments of tiles) all in all!
Before we had to go, Karen showed us how to make a tile, she used a wooden mould, and then put the clay in, then scraped the extra clay off.
Next she stamped the pattern on with a block of wood with the pattern carved into it.
Then she poured white slip into a cow’s horn with a goose feather in the tip, and dripped the slip into the impression on the tile.
Then I got to have a go
I had a really fun time :D”
I think it’s worth emphasising that it’s only thanks to Lily’s curiosity and perseverance, that two boxes of old tiles have gone from obscurity in Lichfield to potentially being of national interest and importance. Just shows that you shouldn’t always listen to the grown-ups kids. Although Lily found an amazing ninety two complete and partial tiles, we suspect there may be even more out there. We know from a Lichfield Mercury article dated 22nd September 1933, that during Cllr Thomas Moseley’s excavation of the Friary Church,
“Many broken floor tiles were found but in the passage (probably Cloister) leading from the Chancel to the Friary, the tiles were still in position about two feet square. People commenced to take them as souvenirs, and they had to be removed.”
If you’ve looked at the photographs and thought ‘Hmmm, I’m using something similar to that as a garden ornament/door stop/drinks’ coaster’, then please do let us know.