Westgate Oxford: Medieval Tile Display. Are you curious?

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Is it a bird, an animal or a map? Are you curious? The new installation featured in the Middle Square of the new Westgate Centre, Oxford is adding to the curiosity around the new shopping destination. The display happens to be the archaeological tiles discovered within the former Greyfriars Cloister during construction. 

The tiles were discovered by Oxford Archaeology during the south excavations which saw up to 50 dedicated archaeologists working on site to reveal the extensive remains of the medieval Greyfriars friary (AD 1244-1538) during the construction. The works was recognised by the British Archaeological Awards as ‘Best Archaeological Project 2016’.

An estimated 350 tiles are displayed in their preserved pattern. The study by Oxford Archaeology showed that the surface formed the south-east corner of the cloister walkway which would have run around the entire main cloister. The main cloister would have connected the most important buildings in the friary; the church to the north, the sacristy and chapter house and the lodgings and libraries.

Oxford Archaeology used photogrammetry as a quick and accurate method of recording the tiles. The pavement was properly cleaned with water and sponges and recorded with high resolution digital photos. These images were combined using software which uses algorithms to produce an accurate 3D digital model. A scaled print-off of the entire pavement was then used on site to record the outline of each tile with a unique ‘small find’ number before the tiles were lifted.

The tiles were probably made near Newbury in West Berkshire and are of the ‘Stabbed Wessex’ type, whose main period of use was between AD 1280–1350.

These were probably laid in the 1240’s–50’s when the friary was constructed. The larger tiles are about 15cm square and 3cm thick and have very deeply-inlaid white slip patterns including daisies, fleur-de-lys and curved-sided 4-pointed ‘stars’. The reverse is characterised by ‘stabbing’ of the wet clay during manufacture, these indents help to keep them mortared into place.

The display work was completed by the specialist heritage contractor Cliveden Conservation in time for the opening of the shopping centre in October 2017. Solid Structures designed the steel frame work to aid sequencing of the restored tiled panels ensuring the finished structure and fixings would not be visible.

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