The Chertsey combat roundels were probably laid in Chertsey Abbey’s chapter house, where a large heap of broken tiles was found, and perhaps also in the church. A fire in 1235 that damaged the monastic buildings instigated new work on the church’s east end and surrounding areas, and this new work may have continued into the late thirteenth century. It is possible that the pictorial molds used to create the combat, Tristan, and zodiac tiles at Chertsey were carried there by individual tilers or by a workshop that had previously laid some of these same tiles at Westminster Palace.
The chapter house at Chertsey was unusually large, measuring 88 by 39 feet, nearly the same square footage as the famed chapter house at Westminster Abbey, which also had a floor of pictorial inlaid tiles (Fig. 29). Chertsey’s chapter house was flanked by another room with similar dimensions just to the north; it may have been a parlor or warming room. The roof of the chapter house and the adjacent room can be seen just left of center in the Chertsey Museum’s digital reconstruction. The size of the Chertsey chapter house and the fact that it is “twinned” with a room of similar size suggests that both chambers were built with aspirations of grandeur in mind.
The unusually large chapter house and its adjacent room may be understood at least partly in light of the chapter house’s function as a social space, intended for lay and ecclesiastical visitors as well as for the local monastic community. Monasteries used chapter houses for readings and sermons, to receive postulants, and to share important announcements. Many monasteries also focused on the practice of hospitality, and chapter houses were places to welcome visitors. Visitors, including kings, queens, and bishops, had their own business to conduct and would also gather for meetings and sign paperwork in the chapter house. Therefore, the abbot of Chertsey may well have wanted to impress elite visitors with a particularly large and beautifully tiled chapter house, in which meetings would be held and business attended to.