Conserving Lacock's Medieval tiles

Volunteer cleaning one of Lacock's Tudor tiles

Since autumn 2019, Lacock Abbey's conservation team have been working to clean and conserve over a thousand tiles dating back to the 1200s.

Lacock’s collection of tiles contains both medieval tiles, dating from the 1200s to the 1400s, and Tudor tiles, dating from the 1500s. The medieval tiles would have been used to decorate the rooms of the abbey’s iconic cloister, now recognisable from its on-screen appearances in Harry Potter, Wolf Hall and the Hollow Crown. The Tudor tiles were custom-made for Sir William Sharington, who bought Lacock Abbey from King Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries.

This Tudor stone tile was custom-made for William Sharington at Lacock Abbey
 Close-up of a sixteenth century stone tile with a scorpion design
This Tudor stone tile was custom-made for William Sharington at Lacock Abbey

After hundreds of years of footfall, the British weather and poor storage arrangements (some of the tiles were found buried underground) the tiles were in desperate need of conservation to save them from being lost. A team of trained volunteers have been working to clean, process and catalogue the tiles using specialist conservation methods to ensure that the already fragile tiles are not damaged further.

Used handmade cotton swabs from one day's worth of conservation cleaning Lacock's tile collection
A close up of used cotton swabs.
Used handmade cotton swabs from one day's worth of conservation cleaning Lacock's tile collection

The conservation cleaning of the tiles took place over two weeks in September and October 2019 and visitors to the abbey got a chance to come and watch the project progress.

" We really enjoyed sharing this process with our visitors. Normally this kind of work is done behind closed doors so it’s really special to bring it out into the open. Visitors asked some great questions, handled replica tiles and got a real insight into the work that we do to look after Lacock for the future."
- Emma Hitchings