A Rare Pair of Two-Colour English Medieval Floor Tiles from Malmesbury Abbey


Origin: English
Period: Fourteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1350-1400   
Depth: 1.5 inches
Width: 8 inches
Length: 8 inches

Reputed to have been found in the ruined portion of Malmesbury Abbey, from a four-tile design having stylised acorn leaves, double ruled lines and arches. When complete, these tiles would have formed a central six lobed medallion with central rabbit motif, though as a pair they still work together symmetrically.

From an offprint of Archaeologia- The Journal of the Society of Antiquaries published in 1907 (second series volume X) 'The Cistercian Abbey of Stanley, Wiltshire, by Harold Brakspear FSA' - it shows that the tiles center would have had a rabbit in profile facing right. It seems that  Stanley Abbey and Malmesbury Abbey sourced their tiles from the same Kiln at Nash Hill.

Seen most often in Abbeys, Friaries and Churches, tile making first became an industry in Britain in the thirteenth century and were often laid in repeated patterns or in two or fours to form large patterns. Similar to these examples, tiles were often having a red-brown ground and an overlaying design in buff with the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey having one of the most famous of medieval tiled floors. Production of these decorated tiles survived until the middle of the sixteenth century, when colourful tin-glazed tiles began to be imported from Holland.

A Monastery was first established on the site in Malmesbury, Wiltshire around 676 by Aldhelm, but the present building dates from the 12th century, and was consecrated about 1180. One of the most notable features surviving from that period is the south porch with its magnificent Norman arch containing carvings depicting Bible stories. There is also a fine vaulted roof to the nave. By the 11th century it contained the second largest library in Europe and was considered one of the leading European seats of learning. It was one of the few English houses with a continual history from the 7th century through to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It is dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The 12th-century historian William of Malmesbury was of the community.

These are an attractive pair of dense and well-fired examples from an important historical site, which could form part of a collection or be once again used architecturally as intended. One can almost hear the monastic chants…