Look out in May for yellow iris around the pond in Aldbourne. They make a real splash of colour, together with the pink blossom of the horse-chestnut trees. This year at about the time they first appeared, I spotted a fascinating article by Karen Andrews (aka ‘Botany Karen’) setting out some other common names for this flower; including ‘Yellow Flags’. You can read Karen’s full article here. Karen connects to a 14th century tile in the Louvre, which reminded me of six tiles of a similar age found in Aldbourne and now in the British Museum. I’m not sure when these tiles were found, but it may have been sometime in the 19th century. There’s a mention of ‘medieval tiles’ as part of Mr Walter Lawrence’s collection, proudly displayed at the Crown to visiting members of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society in 1894. Possibly the first instance of a ‘pop-up’ Museum in the village. The six tiles found at the Court House were acquired by the British Museum in 1947, are just a tiny part of the huge collection belonging to the 9th Duke of Rutland (1886-1940). We’ll probably never know if Mr Lawrence discovered his tiles at the Court House, or if the newspaper article refers to other discoveries; or (if they were the Court House tiles) how they found their way to the Duke of Rutland. Dating tiles is a mystery to me. At least one of the six in London is listed as ‘made in Clarendon’; how do they know that? Mind you, I’ve seen an article that speaks of tiles from the mosaic at Littlecote House having been made at Minety, which is fascinating, but that’ll be another article for another day!
Returning to the Yellow Iris, or Fleur-de-Lys, there was an interesting display during 2018 at the Aldbourne Heritage Centre, researched by Warwick Hood and reproduced in part here with his very kind permission.
THE COURT HOUSE TILES
The four decorated floor tiles shown here are the best examples from six medieval tiles that were found in the garden of Court House. The six date from between about 1280 and 1412 and are now held by the British Museum.The tiles form part of the Rutland Collection, assembled by the 9th Duke of Rutland (1886-1940) and originally kept at his family seat, Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire. The collection was sold to the British Museum in 1947 by his son, the 10th Duke.
Two of the six tiles date from before 1300, evidence that a substantial house or hall existed on the site at that time. The pattern of one of the other tiles, dating from the 14th century, resembles a fleur-de-lys. This was a prominent feature of the coat of arms of the Dukes of Lancaster in the 14th century, as can be seen in the tunics of Henry of Grosmont and John O’Gaunt, both pictured below
The Hall, the oldest part of the present house, has a fine fireplace into which have been carved a rose and a fleur-de-lys. Both the Rose of Lancaster and the fleur-de-lys are closely linked with John of Gaunt. The presence of these carved symbols has therefore been cited as evidence for the link between John O’Gaunt and Court House.
The puzzle is that the fireplace dates from 100-200 years after John’s death in 1399! Maybe the symbols were added later to celebrate the earlier link with John? Or perhaps they mark a later connection with the Crown, which held Aldbourne Manor for much of the Tudor and Stuart period up to 1627? All of the Tudor and Stuart monarchs used the fleur-de-lys and the rose – by then the Union Rose combining the roses of Lancaster and York – as important symbols.
The yellow flags by the pond, and the fleur-de-lys have also made their way into the exquisite ‘Awborne Gospels’. a current illuminated manuscript project by Jenny Greaves, inspired by the beautiful works of Medieval scribes and artists. The manuscript initially set out to present John Wycliffe’s fourteenth century translation of the Four Gospels into English – this unauthorised translation enabled Aldbourne’s Medieval residents to hear, for the first time, the Bible in their own language. The challenge of these “Awborne Gospels” is to illustrate each page with something to do with our village. As Jenny’s project progresses, the breadth and depth of our village’s history and culture are proving to be near infinite.
With thanks to Karen, Warwick and Jenny