To the inexperienced eye the barn at Great Coxwell might appear big, but apparently as monastic barns go, it’s a bit on the small side. Measuring 152 feet and 7 bays long, records reveal examples of others double that length.
Situated along the Hollow Road, the medieval barn formed part of the monastic farm or grange belonging to Beaulieu Abbey. Built in around 1300 the Cotswold rubble-stone walled barn with purlin roof is today admired for its architectural features.
But those medieval builders knew a thing or two about efficiency and everything was designed to make life just a little easier for both builders and the over worked agricultural labourer.
The canny 14th century architects sited the barn on a natural stony outcrop thereby avoiding the need to dig foundations and prolong building work. The barn itself was constructed by a team of masons and carpenters. The square holes in the walls, ‘putlog holes,’ supported the builders scaffolding poles and on completion provided crucial ventilation, creating a constant movement of air through the barn.
Threshing - separating the grain from the stalks by beating with a flail - took place between the porch and the back door where a through draft of air assisted the winnowing process to remove the inedible chaff from the grain.
With security a top priority the barn had its own resident caretaker, a granger, who had a room above the west porch where the laden carts came through. Tally marks scratched on the pillars reveal primitive account records made by the granger who was closely observed to ensure he wasn’t fiddling the books. The farm bailiff meanwhile checked that the threshers and winnowers left with empty pockets and were not smuggling out the grain in their boots and shoes.
Other marks in the stone work include some ancient graffiti and a circular motif called a daisy or sun wheel. This symbol was inscribed to ward off evil spirits and to protect the harvest.
Central to work on the medieval monastic grange the barn was not simply a place to store the harvest and it is quite possible the building was also used for annual village events as well.
The nineteenth century saw the Victorians getting up to some DIY in the barn, but thankfully it was just a bit of repair work and not the sometimes destructive restoration of which they were rather fond.
Local neighbour William Morris, prime mover in the arts and crafts, kept a keen eye on the property, escorting guests at his home in nearby Kelmscott Manor on visits to the barn. Morris, founder of SPAB, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, famously described the barn as ‘unapproachable in its dignity, as beautiful as a cathedral, yet with no ostentation of the builder’s art.’
The barn was acquired by the Pleydell Bouverie family in the 18th century and became part of the Coleshill Estate. Ernest Cook, who bought the estate in 1945, bequeathed the Coleshill property, including the barn at Great Coxwell to the National Trust on his death in 1956.
The barn is open all year from dawn to dusk. For further details about this and events at the Coleshill and Buscot Estate, telephone the Coleshill Estate Office on 01793 762209.
The above three photographs are of the grangers accommodation within the barn.