Now, you’ll notice below that my only purchase at Grange Barn was a postcard. This is because when we returned from visiting nearby Paycocke’s House and Garden (see previous entry) there were vans parked along the front as deliveries were being made for a WWII event to be held over the weekend. I knew I should have taken a photo when we first arrived! And so, I cheated – the picture above is a photo of the postcard, although it did look very similar to this before the vans arrived, even down to the clear blue skies.
If you have read my write-up about Paycocke’s House and Garden, you will know that I was a hot, bothered and generally frazzled visitor today, but just like the Tudor cloth merchant’s house, the Grange Barn was a pleasantly cool environment in which to escape from the heat.
The Barn is again another slight oddity within the Trust’s property portfolio. As it is simply what it says it is… a barn. But it is certainly a very impressive example and, more importantly, a very old example. It is said to be one of Europe’s largest and oldest timber-framed buildings, having served as a tithe barn (known as the Great Barn) for the nearby Cistercian Abbey way back in the mid-1200s. It apparently underwent a rebuild in 1380, resulting in a shortened building with the two large porch-covered doors on the south side, through which visitors still enter today.
When Henry VIII’s heavy hand swept away most of Britain’s abbeys and monasteries, the barn became part of the Dairy House Farm alongside, and by the 19th century it belonged to the large house opposite, which was known as Grange Farm, hence the new name of Grange Barn.
The barn is certainly a striking building, particularly on the inside with its cathedral-like timber vaulted ceiling, and it houses several old farm machines and carts from the Victorian and Edwardian times that might be of interest to farm history buffs or school parties. For me, though, the most interesting thing about the place was the tale of its restoration. There is a series of display boards inside that detail its history, and one of these reports how the barn was starting to collapse by the 1970s. However, it had been given listed status in 1966 so permission to demolish it was refused, and in 1980 a Trust Fund was set up to try to save it. Eventually, it was compulsorily purchased by the local District Council and a restoration project was undertaken. This was completed in 1985 and the Barn was given to the National Trust in 1989. What really caught my eye was a quote from a local councillor when the restoration was being discussed: “I have inspected this ruin. Every councillor should do the same before taking any further action. Its condition makes possible restoration unthinkable.” Oh ye of little faith!
Visitors wanting a quiet inspection of the barn should be aware that it is well-used by the local community and is a popular venue for both public and private events (including weddings) so it is best to check out the situation before you go. You should also consider that there may even be preparations taking place the day before events, as we discovered. Alternatively, you may prefer to see the barn as a thriving community centre and attend one of those events.
On a practical note, there are prepacked light refreshments available in the barn, while you can also buy honey produced extremely locally in hives situated alongside the car park (where we spotted the beekeeper working away with his smoker). Those in search of stronger refreshment, however, might want to visit on the second weekend in September when the barn hosts its annual beer festival!
Highlights: Cathedral-like interior