Past Talks

Cotswold Stone Barns

Date: 20th January 2020
Speaker: Dr Tim Jordan

Tim Jordan, who lives in a converted barn in Eynsham, told us that stone barns have been part of the landscape since the middle ages.  Examples from the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries can still be found throughout the Cotswolds.  Most of the present-day barns, however, were built between 1600 and 1900, usually grouped around farmsteads or on the edge of villages.  They provided essential storage space, shelter for livestock and facilities for shearing sheep and processing crops.  Added to which are many hundreds of small field barns high on the wolds or down in sheltered valleys. 

In the Cotswolds, a limestone belt produces stone of varying tones: grey in the south and a warmer hue in the north.  Stone tiles may be used for roofing, although early barns would have been thatched, particularly in the north Cotswolds.  Concrete tiles, blue slate or iron sheeting offered alternative roofing materials, all of which kept the building in good order. 

Countrywide, construction was similar, but regional differences are apparent.  Some barns reflected the wealth of the original owner, not only by their size but by the quality of the stonework and embellishments.  Early examples were cruck-built with the frame only visible from the interior.

The threshing floor was, originally, constructed of peat or soil, but later oak or elm floors proved better, although they still required maintenance and grain was liable to fall between the cracks.  Boards which held the threshed material gave rise to the term ‘threshold’.

Tythes were an ecclesiastical tax to support the clergy and were an early incentive for the building of barns.  Examples include Middle Littleton (13th century), Stanway (14th century – built by the Abbot of Tewkesbury), Bredon (14th century – a manorial barn owned by the Bishop of Worcester).  

Stone barns have accommodated changing farming practices such as the introduction of belt-driven machinery during the 18th century agricultural revolution and the later innovation of steam-powered threshing.  However, modern farming methods have impacted on the use of old barns.  Many have been converted for community or commercial use, or, more commonly, for housing, thus preserving this important part of our agricultural and vernacular heritage.