Conserving and mounting a Chertsey Tile panel

Richard and Saladin Chertsey Tile panel

These ceramic tiles are among the finest examples produced in Medieval Britain and were excavated at Chertsey Abbey in 1861. Since then they have been restored many times. 

In 2009 they were put on display in the Medieval Europe gallery and further conservation work was needed. This was because restoration materials used in the past were deteriorating and had the potential to cause damage to the tiles if left in place. These materials can now be replaced with more appropriate modern materials that have been tested to ensure their stability now and in the future.   

Another reason for the work was that the way in which the tiles had been previously restored is now thought to be misleading. It was decided to reduce the amount of restoration so that the tiles looked more as it is thought they were originally intended.

The first task was to dismantle the panel and remove as much of the old restoration as possible. This was mainly carried out using small hand tools such as scalpels and spatulas. A nineteenth century repair using slate and screws was discovered which can also be seen on an X-radiograph of another of the Chertsey tile panels. Once all the tiles had been carefully cleaned, larger missing areas were filled using fine casting plaster. These areas were painted with acrylic paint to resemble, but not replicate, the original, so that it is now possible to distinguish between original and restored areas. Each tile was then bonded onto an aluminium sheet cut to the exact shape of the panel to support it when mounted in the gallery.

The tile panel took around 150 hours to conserve and mount. In accordance with conservation ethics all materials used were carefully selected and recorded to ensure the treatment is reversible. This way, in the future, all of the materials can be easily removed and replaced if necessary.

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