|Though its exterior esthetics are sort of humble compared to Saskatchewan barns, this is one of Britain's most famous barns, Coggeshall Grange Barn, which was built more than 700 years ago, making it one of the country's oldest surviving barns.|
British barns are completely different from western Canadian barns. The word barn itself is derived from the Old English bere (barley) and ern (house/place), thus the word itself originally meant "the place for barley." Historically, barley and wheat were the two most important crops in Britain. Nowadays, agriculture is just as industrialised as here in North America, but prior to about 1800, crops were sown, reaped, and threshed by hand. The barn was an incredibly important building in that it was a sheltered place where the grain could be processed throughout the winter and stored. In that era, every single grain was precious. Failed crops meant famine. To see how grain was threshed by hand using a flail, check out this short YouTube video with accompanying cool English folk tune.
Thus, the barn was vital to the entire functioning of society. Very few barns from the medieval era (roughly 1000-1500) still survive, and those that did tend to be exceptional barns, ones that were built as store houses by religious orders, such as Coggeshall pictured above.
One of the informants I interviewed in Britain, upon hearing that I was from Saskatchewan (he just so happened to have taught here in the '70s) remarked "your barns have got the doors in the wrong side."
|Coggeshall Barn is dressed up for a wedding, but you can make out the bays, which are the spaces between trusses (the squarish things composed of posts and beams which support the entire building).|
|Carts like these (displayed in Coggeshall Barn) hauled precious loads of grain from field to threshing floor.|
The comment about doors, and the ensuing explanation, demonstrate how widely buildings can vary according to their intended use. Some Saskatchewan barns are still bring used for what they were originally intended, but no British barn is. The focus of my paper in England was the adaptive re-use of British barns. I will discuss this more in a future blog, and if there are any lessons Saskatchewan barn lovers can learn from the Brits in terms of preserving and/or re-purposing barns that are doomed to neglect.
You may have noticed the gigantic size of these barns and the huge timbers that were used to build them. When I showed my dad the photo below of the timber in Upminster Tithe Barn, he remarked, "Ten million dollars!", meaning it must have cost a fortune to build. They did even in their time, but now such timbers like that (all oak) simply don't exist anymore, especially not in England.