Richard fitzNigel, in his Dialogue of the Exchequer, composed in the dozen or so years between 1177 and 1189, wrote of the Exchequer the following words:
The exchequer is a rectangular board, about ten feet long and five feet wide, which those sitting around it use like a table. It has a raised edge about four finger-widths high, so that nothing placed on it can fall off. Over this aforementioned exchequer is placed a cloth bought during the Easter Term, not an ordinary cloth, but black, marked with lines a foot or a spread hand's width apart.
It was from this cloth that the Exchequer took its name, patterned, fitzNigel tells us, like a chessboard, hence scaccarium, and like the game of chess, the cloth took the role of the battleground on which combat was joined between the sheriff, who was there to defend his accounts, and the treasurer, who was there to interrogate the sheriff on the ways in which he had administered the king's money in his county. The look of the cloth ought to be easy to determine, therefore: it must surely have been chequered with squares of alternate colours. Richard fitzNigel's description of it as being ‘not an ordinary cloth, but black, marked with lines a foot or a spread hand's width apart’ does not make the cloth sound chequered at all, however. Hubert Hall, in the nineteenth century, was unconvinced that a counting board would work with chequered cloth, and the first modern editors of the Dialogus took the same view.