Friday, 17 April 2015

Out on the Tiles

For today's Friday Find we're looking at the roofs of medieval Worcester. Our county is rightly renowned for the beautiful thatched cottages that can be found in our rural villages. A well-thatched roof is an attractive, cosy and efficient cover, and thatchers' skills are in high demand once again as people rediscover the benefits of this ancient and sustainable craft.
However, in the crowded city streets of medieval Worcester, thatched roofs were a problem. Fire was a constant threat, and in the 12th century alone Worcester is recorded as having been burnt to the ground in 1113, 1131, 1139 and again in 1189!
In response to this problem, from the 13th century onwards we know that ceramic roof tiles were being made in the city: a tiled roof is much less flammable than a thatched one!
Medieval 'pegged' roof tile
The tile fragment above, discovered on the cathedral roundabout dig, was made in Worcester sometime between the 13th and 15th centuries. The tapering square hole would have held a peg to hook the tile over the laths of the roof.
It seems that flaming roofs remained a problem, because in 1467 the city ordinances introduced compulsory tiling, stating that
'for the prevention of fire neither wooden chimneys nor thatched roofs shall be allowed thenceforward; by midsummer's day next coming, the wooden chimneys should be replaced by brick or stone, and the thatched roofs by tiles'
Tilemakers were also required to stamp their wares with a maker's mark, and were forbidden from forming a union or guild. This is likely to have been an attempt to enforce quality standards and free trade, as the city feared that the new regulations would lead to a sellers' market.
Post-1467 rooftile stamped with maker's mark
The tile above was found recently in St Johns, and bears a maker's stamp in the form of a cross with flared arms, indicating it was made after the 1467 regulations were introduced.
We've excavated several Worcester kilns producing both roof and decorated floor tiles at around this date. The pictures below show the structure of a kiln on the Tything. There's an article by Laura Griffin with more information on this kiln in this issue of the Worcestershire Recorder, pages 5-8.
Late medieval tile kiln, The Tything, Worcester

Late medieval tile kiln, The Tything, Worcester

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