When one thinks of barns, one may think of the iconic red barns of the northeast United States. If one thinks of the medieval period of England, one is likely to think of castles, churches, and the like. But the people of the medieval period built much more than just castles and churches - they had barns too and these can be impressive attractions in their own right.
One of the most impressive and, architecturally, one of the finest barns in England is the Bradford-on-Avon Tithe Barn. It is one of the largest in England measuring 168 by 33 feet (51 by 10m). This 800-year-old barn is only a short drive from the stunning Roman Baths of Bath (that really are worth the hype).
History of The 800-Year-Old Medieval Barn With The Nuns
It is thought that there would have been an even earlier barn from around 1300 built on this site - but there is no evidence surviving today. The current barn's exact construction date is a little uncertain, but it likely dates from the 1330s - and probably c.1332 - it is known it was definitely built before 1367.
- Location: Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, England
- Built: In The Mid-14th Century - Circa 1332
- Original Owner: Abbey of Shaftesbury in Dorset
- Richest: The Abbey of Shaftesbury Was The Richest Nunnery In England
Bradford-on-Avon Tithe Barn or just Tithe Barn served as a granary until around 1400. It was part of a medieval grange belonging to Shaftesbury Abbey - the richest nunnery in medieval England. The barn was used for the storage of tithes in the Middle Ages with the Abbey taking 10% of the produce of its tenants.
- Destroyed: The Shaftesbury Abbey Was Destroyed - One Can See Its Ruins Today
- Background: The Reformation And The Splitting Of The Anglican Church From Rome
The Shaftesbury Abbey in Dorset once housed nuns and was first founded around 888. But in 1539 King Henry VIII (the one with 6 wives) disbanded monasteries, priories, convents, and friaries in England, Wales, and Ireland. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the abbey was destroyed but the barn survived. After the dissolution of the abbey, the grange passed into private hands and became a farm.
The Tithe Barn As A Private Farm and Conservation
The Tithe Barn was then part of a working farm. The barn continued for hundreds of years in its role on the farm until 1914 when it was superfluous to the farm's requirements. By that time the owner was Sir Charles Hobhouse, and fortunately, instead of demolishing it, he donated it to the Wiltshire Archaeological Society. Eventually, the whole farm was purchased by Wiltshire County Council in 1971.
- Retired: The Barn Served The Farm Until 1914
- Listed: A Grade I Listed Protected Building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument
- Owned: By English Heritage (Managed By the Bradford on Avon Preservation Trust)
- Opening Hours: 10.30 am to 4.00 pm
- Admission Fee: Free
While visiting, check out the rest of the impressive manor farm as well as the town of Bradford-on-Avon.
- Fun Fact: "Bradford" Is From "Broad Ford" So Means The "The Place With A Broad Ford On The Avon River"
Size And Architecture of the Great Tithe Barn
The Tithe Barn (also known as the Great Barn) is the largest building in the medieval Barton Farm complex and one of the greatest to survive today.
- Size: 168 by 33 feet (51 by 10m)
Externally the barn is all cut ashlar stone that's braced by stone buttresses (other than a part of the gable wall that was rebuilt of rubble stone). The roof is covered by many thin limestone tiles. The roof tiles weigh a hefty 100 tons.
- Roof Weight: The Roof Title Weigh 100 Tons
The most stunning part of the barn is the ceiling. As one goes into the barn, one can't help but admire the roof trusses of its timber roof. It has fourteen trusses which are in three patterns - it is thought that's because it was difficult to find the right number of trees with the same shape to make all the trusses the same.
- Trusses: 14 Impressive Trusses Of 3 Patterns
- Restored: The Barn Has Been Carefully Restored Over The Last 100 Years
As the roof it so heavy, by the 1980s its weight was bending the walls out. In response, the walls were underpinned and iron cross-ties were installed to shore it up.
The apertures of the barns were left unglazed to allow owls to enter the barn and hunt vermin that would be feeding on the grain.
If one would like to see another famous attraction on the Avon River in England, then upstream in the Midlands is the stunning Stratford-upon-Avon - the hometown of William Shakespeare.