An Archaeology of Trafford in 12 Objects Part 6: Medieval Ridge Roof Tile, Timperley Old Hall

The sixth piece in our festive look at the archaeology of Trafford in 12 objects, is part of the late medieval roof that covered the first Timperley Old Hall. The original manorial hall was built during the 13th century and was surrounded by a water-filled moat, which is still there. This site was excavated by the South Trafford Archaeological Group from 1989 to 1997 and again from 2009 to 2011. The group’s headquarters and display centre stand on the north-eastern edge of the moat.

These excavations showed that the first timber-framed hall was largely demolished and replaced by a larger brick version in the mid-17th century. Much of the rubble from this demolition was used to infill the edge of the southern moat arm. This material is now in the archaeology store in the Group’s display centre, although some of it is also on display.

Amongst this display material are more than two dozen 14th or 15th century green-glazed ridge tiles. The one shown here is 290mm and 175mm high, with an arched profile. Made from a coarse gritty fabric, and finished with a green glaze, some examples such as this one had finials shaped as conical crests projecting from the ridge. Two of the finials had been decorated with the eyes, nose, and smiling mouth of a serpent to ward off evil spirits.

Such tiles would have been made locally by itinerant craftsmen, as they were too fragile to travel any distance. Slabs of flattened clay would have been laid over an A-shaped wooden mould and pressed into the required shape and the decoration added before they were allowed to air-dry. The tiles were then glazed before being fired in a small kiln, although where this was is unknown. The absence of any flat clay tiles at Timperley may indicate that the medieval hall was thatched, apart from the ridge. This would fit in with the evidence that this first hall was timber-framed with stone foundations.

Similar ridge tiles have been excavated in the region at a number of medieval hall sites, including Risley Hall and Urmston Old Hall which the South Trafford Archaeological Group excavated in 1983. They represent a luxury decorative item for some of the most high-status buildings in the region. The glazing on the tiles at Timperley Old Hall would have glittered in the low winter sunshine reflected from the water in the moat, underlining the importance of the building in the local community and landscape.

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