Barns and farms

There has been a huge volume of work carried out on Post-Medieval agricultural buildings, particularly barns and farms, since 2006. Of particular interest is the comprehensive review of historic farmsteads that was carried out on a national level by English Heritage (now Historic England) between 2004-15, which led to the publication of an assessment framework in 2015 (Lake 2015). A regional report for the North West was published in 2006 and provides an extremely useful overview of the key characteristics of the agricultural buildings across the region.

One of the finest aisled barns in the North West is undoubtedly Gawthorpe Great Barn, near Padiham in Lancashire, which has statutory designation as a Grade I listed building. The barn dates to c 1605 and has been subject to some alteration, but an historic building investigation in 2013-14 concluded that the timberwork is substantially original, and it has been suggested that the ox stalls might be the earliest examples in Britain (Quartermaine 2014). Dry Gap Barn near Ramsbottom (GM), an interesting example of a stone-built threshing barn, has also been recorded by archaeological survey, although in this instance in advance of conversion. Dendrochronology samples taken from the well-preserved internal timber framing provided a felling date of c 1530 (Minerva 2009). Other examples of archaeological science being applied to Post-Medieval farm buildings include Storeton Hall Farm on the Wirral, where timbers in both the floor and roof of one part of the building were datable by tree-ring dating techniques, with these areas using timbers felled during the late 17th century (Tyers 2010).

Photograph of the inside of a large aisled barn showing the wooden structure
Gawthorpe Great Barn; a large aisled barn dating to c. AD 1605 (courtesy of Oxford Archaeology Ltd)

Detailed building recording at Tomlinson Barn in Torkington, Stockport (GM), revealed that the earliest phase comprised a two-bay yeoman’s house, of which fragments of three cruck blades survived. Dendrochronology dated the earliest construction phase to the second half of the 16th century, followed by a rebuild during the early 18th century when it was encased in brick, with subsequent changes related to internal subdivision and rebuilding in parts of the brick outer walls (Fletcher 2015).

Intrusive investigations have also contributed to an understanding of agricultural buildings. In July 2009, the footprint of a tithe barn to the south of Booth Road in Waterfoot, Rossendale (L), was subject to full excavation. The building is identified as a tithe barn on 19th-century mapping, whilst excavation identified three main phases of development. The earliest of these was dated tentatively to the 16th century, based on the date ascribed to a single sherd of pottery, and appeared to comprise a stone-built structure that measured approximately 16 x 7m. The building was used subsequently for domestic purposes, as attested by a large assemblage of 19th-century pottery, providing interesting evidence for the adaptation of a Post-Medieval tithe barn (Bradley and Miller 2009).

Photograph of three people excavated the stone remains of a barn
Excavating a post-medieval ‘barn’ at Waterfoot, Rossendale, in 2009 (courtesy of Oxford Archaeology Ltd)

An important study of Post-Medieval farms has also been carried out by OA North at Cutacre (GM) between 2006-14, and included comprehensive desk-based research, geophysical survey, evaluation trenching and excavations. Amongst the sites that were subject to full excavation were Wharton Hall, which formed the highest-status building in the Cutacre area, and Ashes Farm, which represented a farmstead that was probably typical of several others that were established in this region during the Post-Medieval period. Several other abandoned farmsteads across this landscape have been subject to an archaeological survey, including Spout Fold and Mills Brow. Desk-based research traced the origins of Spout Fold to at least the 17th century, with buildings in the approximate positions of the extant farmhouse and threshing barn shown on a Bridgewater Estate plan of c 1800. This plan also shows the farmhouse and barn at Mills Brow, and whilst the barn has been largely demolished, the extant cowhouse within its southern bay revealed significant timber carpentry and hand-cut beams, suggesting an early construction date (Wild 2015).

Other Post-Medieval farmsteads that have been subject to archaeological investigation include Hale Road Farm in Speke, Merseyside (Radford 2019), and Chorlton Fold in Eccles (GM). An historic building survey of the latter farm concluded that the farmhouse was built as a two-unit dwelling during the 18th century, together with a barn and range of outbuildings. The farmhouse was expanded subsequently with a further bay added to the west elevation, followed by the erection of a rear wing during the late 18th or early 19th century. Excavation of the site following the demolition of the buildings in advance of a new residential development revealed the stone foundations of a rural cottage that probably dated to the 16th or 17th century, together with associated features (Gregory and Miller 2011). However, as is frequently an issue for excavations of this type of site, precise dating of the remains was not possible.

Photograph of the stone foundations of a building uncovered on an archaeological excavation
The foundations of the early 18th-century Hale Road Farm in Speke, excavated in 2018 (courtesy of Salford Archaeology)

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