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Bordesley Abbey tile
Bordesley Abbey Introduction > Report

Scientific analysis of decorated floor tiles from the gateway chapel Bordesley and the abbeys of Hailes and Bordesley

Michael J Hughes, Jennie Stopford and Susan M Wright

A report on the grant received in 2001 from the Royal Archaeological Institute: Tony Clark Memorial Fund for Archaeological Science

A chemical composition and provenance study was designed (by SMW and JS) to compare floor tiles, dated to c 1300, from the gateway chapel, Bordesley (Worcestershire), with tiles decorated with the same stamp/design from the midlands abbeys of Hailes (Gloucestershire) and Bordesley. Tiles were selected (by JS) to ask tightly focused questions about the sources of specific tile types. Hailes tiles were kindly made available by English Heritage.

Tiles and kiln furniture from Bordesley Abbey have been the subject of a provenance study by the British Museum using neutron activation analysis. The more widely-available and economical analysis method of ICP-AES (inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry) is now being used routinely.

Powdered samples from 45 tiles were analysed by ICP-AES at Royal Holloway College. The analysis results were interpreted (by MJH) using the multivariate statistical method of principal components, which produces a kind of chemical 'map' of the chemistry of the body fabrics.

The results showed one fairly large group of tiles representing the Bordesley composition (including all the Bordesley tiles, and nine of the Hailes), and a small group of eight Hailes tiles which are clearly different in chemistry. These differences imply two significantly different clay types, and seem to correlate with different geological settings at Bordesley and Hailes. The group of eight Hailes tiles has a small composition spread, suggesting a closely similar production; it includes all the tiles of one design from Hailes. Tiles with this design are also found at Bordesley and fit into the large Bordesley group.

This relatively small-scale and tightly focused project has had a successful outcome. It is concluded that the eight tiles from Hailes which show a distinctly different chemistry from the rest were produced locally at Hailes. All the rest of the tiles, including tiles in a number of designs found at Hailes, were made locally at Bordesley.




Abbey church

Gateway chapel

Precinct, watermills




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