Where there’s a wall…

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Where there’s a wall, particularly an old wall, you can sometimes find odd items embedded in it. These are often bits of stone that are out of place with the rest of the wall, on occasions they can be finely sculpted pieces. Such foreign items are nearly always from the demolition or robbing of another building, quite often close by. Occasionally, more random items are found cemented into a wall and some can be rather intriguing…

Recently, whilst taking a tea break during the recording of a 16th century roof in Hemyock, Devon, our attention was drawn to a set of neighbouring barns that  were being redeveloped. The barns themselves were early to mid-nineteenth century but something caught our eye on  one of the gable walls. Taking a closer look we noticed parts of two decorated floor tiles embedded into the wall. We knew straight away that both were medieval and certainly not related to a humble farm building. Such tiles are more commonly found adorning a high status building such as religious houses, manors and castles.

The first tile is broken in half but features two birds facing each other but heads turned away with a fleur-de-lis sprouting from their back feathers. With the pattern set diagonally, the motif is inlaid with an amber/ yellow slip. Only a quarter of the second tile survived but it would have represented a floral spray design with a thin-cross and elaborate trefoil-ended tendrils. Also inlaid with an amber/yellow slip, both tiles would have measured around 13.5cm square and 2cm thick.

Despite being different designs, both have been found together on tiled floors in neighbouring Somerset including Athelney Abbey and St Declan’s Church, Watchet. The tiles are a little earlier than the barn wall in which they were embedded, around 550 years to be precise and are dated to the late 13th century!

So where did they come from? Well, we’re still searching but the most likely candidate at the moment is Hemyock Castle, just a short distance away in the centre of the village. The castle began life as a manor house but was fortified in 1385. Parts of the castle walls, towers and moat still remain. We have yet to contact the castle owners to see whether any similar tiles have been found but we’ll update this post when we find out.

If anyone else has found any curious items embedded in a wall, we’d be happy to hear from you…

One Response to “Where there’s a wall…”

  1. Richard McConnell Richard McConnell

    A similar tile showing the two birds was recently matched to a number of tiles that form a pavement in the chancel of the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Muchelney, Somerset. The tiles here were originally thought to have come from the adjacent, and now ruined, Muchelney Abbey.


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