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Building a Medieval Tile Kiln

Norton Priory Museum, Runcorn Cheshire ( ) was excavated as a community archaeology programme through the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Excavations uncovered the life of a rich and influential Augustinian Priory active from the 12th Century to 1536 and also its later incarnations as a Tudor and then Georgian house. The data recovered was enormous and Norton Priory has an extensive skeletal, pottery and tile collection which is important internationally. See

In the 1980’s the excavation team in conjunction with Liverpool University built a replica tile kiln, similar to one recovered on the site, and fired it over several summers, producing a range of floor tiles.

I wanted to reconstruct this experiment to look at some of the issues that had been raised by these earlier experiments, such a kiln design and firing techniques. We were assisted by Mr John Hudson, an experimental potter who expertise was essential for the project ( ) and also by interested ceramic students from UCLan.

The kiln took several months to build using authentic materials and techniques and was fired over one weekend at the Priory. It took 12 hours to fire up to 1000 degrees and another 12 hours to cool down, so we could unload the tiles. We burned 3 tonnes of wood, used four tonnes of clay, two tonnes of sand and eight straw bales.

With this experiment, we not only explored questions of an archaeological nature but the team of students also gained practical experience of project planning, working with a client; time management and report writing.

Images of the team building the kiln


The kiln and a selection of finds