Minety Ware Tile Found at Berkeley

A partial tile fragment was uncovered in the south-west area of Trench 8 on Monday 3rd June by two of our First Year students: Katrina and Omar.
Katrina and Omar excavating slot against southern trench section to investigate pre-Tudor demolition deposits

In its unwashed pink-clay stained state, this object sparked debate between the dig supervisors who could not agree whether it was made from stone or ceramic. After a wash, it was clearly seen to be made from clay and had evidence of finger marks sweeping across as decoration or perhaps from fitting the material into a mould.  

Clay tile fragment in situ within context 8710

The exact nature of this object was a bit of a mystery, and it was suggested to be some kind of wall decoration or 'cladding'. This was solved after we sent some cleaned-up photos to our pottery expert Paul Blinkhorn who said that from the images, it looked like a Minety ware roof tile.

Clay Tile after cleaning

The village of Minety is in Wiltshire and has a local clay, known as Oxford Clay, which is suitable for firing. Minety ware has a limestone tempered fabric and was used from the 13th to 16th centuries in the manufacture of tiles, jugs and pots which were sold in nearby towns. Much evidence for Roman tile-making has also been found in the Minety area, some excavations of which were visited by OGS Crawford in 1921 in order to record their location on the Ordnance Map! 

This means there is a chance that our tile fragment is a residual Roman example rather than Medieval, but our piece is of a reasonable size and the broken edges look quite fresh rather than worn which would likely be the case if it was of Roman date and had been rolling around in the ground since then!

Stone and clay deposit 8710 to the right of wall remnant - note the Tudor reddish deposits in section

The clay tile was found in context 8710, a compact deposit of stone fragments and pink clay that runs along the west side of a short N-S wall. This deposit was related to the construction and/or use of the wall which was demolished when the area was terraced to build The Crown Inn, the main building of which lies to the south of Trench 8.

Anna and Mark helping to take a level on the clay tile

As the clay tile fragment was an unusual find for Berkeley, it was given a ‘small finds’ number (SF 966) to differentiate it from other artefacts, such as pottery, slag and animal bone, found in this context. In addition, before removing it from the ground, it was photographed in-situ and a level taken on its location. After cleaning and drying, it was packed with newspaper into a tough plastic box for safety.

Katrina excavating the clay tile

After doing some research, we may have an idea as to why this type of roof covering was used in Berkeley. The use of clay roof tiles is important as it shows a shift away from straw and thatch, which would have been a clear fire risk. Historical records contain numerous examples of medieval towns burning due to flammable building materials, which led to places like Gloucester banning thatched roofs in the 13th century after which tile became the norm for roof covering. 

In the 1420’s the Great Fire of Berkeley struck the town, destroying many houses, and making it another victim of straw roofs. After such devastation, it seemed natural to find an alternative. The move towards clay tiles could have been viewed as a necessity to avoid disasters such as this and protect homes, and this may have been the case at Berkeley. We know that a number of buildings once stood in Nelme’s Paddock field, where our trench is located and further consultation with the castle archivist and their maps may assist further with an idea of which house our tile may have come from! 

Katrina Affleck, Laura Rouffiac and Amelie Wiseman

Sources Used:

Ancient tile-factory at Minety, Wilts. (1921). The Antiquaries Journal, 1(3), 238-239. doi:10.1017/S0003581500089320

British History Online. 2011. A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 18 (Originally published by Boydell & Brewer for Victoria County History). Available at: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol18/224-244

Mellor, M, Cowell, M, Newns, S and Vince, A. 1994. A Synthesis of Middle and Late Saxon, Medieval and Early Post-medieval Pottery in the Oxford Region. Oxoniensia, Oxfordshire Architectural & Historical Society, pp.93-100.

Minety Parish Council. Nd. Discovering Minety: Minety Parish Council Guide to the Village and its Footpaths. P.6.


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