The Great Coxwell Barn
Last week, my friend Elaine said she would kidnap me for a couple hours to take me somewhere special.
That somewhere special turned out to be this amazing place…and, right within my ten mile radius of West Cottage, so happily fit into my Ten Mile Project!
This is the Great Coxwell Barn. It’s the only surviving Medieval, Gothic carpentry, monastic tithe grange in England!
In English, this translates as: a c 1300 barn, owned by the Cistercian monks of Beaulieu Abbey, who used it to collect grain from their tenant farmers.
Sometimes you get real estate agents write “a wealth of old oak” in house descriptions, but there really isn’t anything else one can say. I mean, look at these amazing beams! The beams hold up a massive and heavy stone (slate) roof.
Can you imagine, there are no nails or screws or anything metal brace-like holding these beams together. The beams are held together by mortise and tenon joists and the pressure they force on each other. Modern technologies used by Houston barn builder are reliable, of course, but I believe this is amazing how our ancestors used to build such timeless constructions.
The walls are about two feet thick, and I bet that helps to support the massive roof, and there are stone piers which support tall aisle posts, which are double braced three ways at the roof.
Here is a photo of Elaine walking thru the barn, so you can get some sort of idea of the scale of this building. To me, it’s just as spectacular as any cathedral I’ve ever seen.
Although not a classic interpretation, the barn does have that cruciform architecture so common to medieval buildings. This is the east end and one of the original doors. This part had a second floor with a little office where ledgers were kept.
The west end door has a dove cote above it.
The north and south giant barn doors were a Victorian addition. (those darn Victorians modernising the hell out of everything)
Some tallies were kept right on the stones themselves. Imagine touching marks made by hands hundreds of years ago.
The grain was brought in and stored at one end in sheaves, thrashed at the other end, and tallied and counted.
One original set of fully audited accounts for 1269-1270 remains in the abbey records. In that year, the total account for the grain produced was 582 quarters, mostly wheat and oats, but also rye, barley and corn. I looked up the weight of a “quarter” in medieval times, did some math, and it seems that this totalled to 124 tons of grain!
But this barn was just a small part of a major farm. In the accounts was the total economy of the surrounding farms, which included: 5-6000 sheep, 13 horses, 45 oxen, 1 bull, 11 cows, 18 young calves, 134 swine, which produced: four tons of cheese and six tons of butter, and the bees produced four and a half gallons of honey. There was also some fish from the fish pond, but the amount isn’t qualified in the accounts.
What an amazing farm this must have been. I’m so glad that the barn is now under the protection of the National Trust.
And then, like some Lady of Shalott, I let it float on the fish pond, and we drove to Faringdon for tea.