Agriculture- farm buildings and vernacular domestic architecture

Agricultural and rural domestic buildings of the post-medieval period are a rich part of the vernacular architecture of the region; the diverse geology and traditions of the North West have produced a wide range of vernacular building forms and traditions. Timber-framing and brick are mainly found to the south of the Ribble and the south-west, and stone to the north and eastern Pennine fringe although the picture is more complex than this simplistic division; timber-framing survives in domestic buildings in the Pennines, including for internal partitions in otherwise stone-built houses, as at Withinlow a 17th century farm house near Rainow (Barter, 2017). Academic interest in the vernacular architecture of the post-medieval period flourished in mid-twentieth century Britain; at the University of Manchester, The School of Architecture was an important centre for the subject where Cordingley and Brunskill were nationally influential in the development of vernacular building studies  and a typological approach (Cordingley 1961), contributing to an understanding of the region’s buildings (Cordingley and Wood-Jones 1959; Brunskill 1957; 1958; 1962).   At Lancaster University’s Centre for North West Regional Studies, vernacular buildings are among the regional themes covered by staff and students; McClintock and Watson’s 1970s study of Fylde buildings recorded a now almost vanished group of clay buildings roofed with thatch (McClintock and Watson 1979). 

Withinlow, Rainow, Cheshire

Collaborative research by Historic England, the Countryside Agency and the University of Gloucester has resulted in the publication of regional character statements for historic farmsteads; the North West report was published in 2006 (Lake and Edwards 2006).  Significantly, vernacular architecture, including farm buildings, has also been the subject of voluntary study, generating building records and published articles in the national journals of the Vernacular Architecture Group (VAG, founded in 1952), the Historic Farm Buildings Group and locally in the journals of the Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological and Antiquarian Society (TCWAAS) and the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society (TLCAS).  For example, recent study of dairy cattle housing in Lancashire was published in Vernacular Architecture (Grundy, 2015).

Post-medieval buildings in Cumbria, particularly vernacular and farm buildings have been the subject of numerous studies, published by Ron Brunskill, David Butler (on Quaker Meeting Houses – Butler 1978), Janet Martin, Adam Menuge (Menuge 2015), Susan Denyer, Blake Tyson (e.g. Tyson 1988; 2000) and Tim Whittaker, among others.  The National Trust’s programme of building surveys in the 1980s created an important record of their farm buildings and houses in the Lake District; Denyer’s book (Denyer 1991) draws on this body of work which also provided valuable training in building recording. Tim Whittaker, one of the National Trust survey team, later published a study of Cumbrian bank barns, one of the county’s most characteristic building types (Whittaker 2001).  Peat-scales or storage huts for peat used for fuel are a feature of the landscape in Eskdale, the Duddon, Langdale and Mardale, built before 1750 (Winchester 1984). The clay buildings of the Solway Plain, locally known as dabbins, have been studied by Jennings (Jennings 2003), Harrison (Harrison 1989; 1991) and Messenger (Messenger 2000, 7-12).  The contribution of farm buildings to the cultural landscape of the Lake District is recognised in the Lake District World Heritage Site nomination dossier (Lake District National Park Partnership, 2016),  with descriptions arranged by valley  ( 

Vernacular buildings, The Duddon, Lake District

Pictorial sources such as drawings, paintings and prints are a useful source for vernacular buildings; some of the more accurate are by artist William Green of Ambleside whose prints of Lake District domestic buildings were published in the early 1800s (Burkett and Sloss 1984), part of the growing interest in the area’s topography and history encouraged by Wordsworth, West and other writers. Continuing interest in vernacular buildings is reflected in the Cumbrian Vernacular Buildings Group, founded in 2013.

In part of the Lancashire Pennines, stone-built vernacular houses are covered by Pearson’s detailed study for the RCHME (Pearson 1985), combining documentary research with measured survey. There is no comparable assessment for most of the county, with the exception of Miller’s study of houses in the Douglas Valley (Miller 2002) and McClintock and Watson’s for the Fylde (McClintock and Watson 1979).  During the 1950s, Singleton published two articles on vernacular houses in Cheshire and Lancashire, and Mercer provides plans and summaries of a small selection (Singleton 1953; 1956; Mercer 1975), but since then there has been a surprising lack of typological study into Cheshire’s vernacular houses and farm buildings in the post-medieval period.  Recent studies of farm buildings, farm houses and cottages on the Dunham Massey estate, for the National Trust, has revealed that a higher number of buildings retain timber-framing concealed within later brick re-facing than was previously realised (numerous farmstead and historic building studies produced by Matrix Archaeology since 2009, previous reports by the University of Manchester Archaeological Unit). It is not known whether this pattern exists in the rest of the county, although for Barnwell and Giles suggest that few farm buildings built before the late eighteenth century survived in Cheshire (Barnwell and Giles 1997, 127) due to later farm improvements by large estates.

In Greater Manchester building recording by the University of Manchester Archaeological Unit (now at the University of Salford) produced studies of post-medieval houses and farm buildings, for example as part of the wide-ranging series of publications funded by Tameside Council (e.g. Burke and Nevell 1996). For Merseyside north of the Mersey, a short summary on vernacular buildings is contained in the introduction to the Buildings of England volume but there appears to be a lack of recent systematic study into post-medieval vernacular buildings in Merseyside. Farm building recording has been promoted by the use of planning conditions, particularly in Lancashire, Cumbria and Greater Manchester, although synthesis of the results has not taken place; this should be a research priority. Several recent surveys are referred to in the Post-Medieval Resource Assessment. The National Trust is a significant owner and curator of rural buildings from this period, commissioning recording and analysis to inform their management of the assets and in advance of alterations, for example Oxford Archaeology North recently recorded Gawthorpe Great Barn for the National Trust, an aisled barn built c1605 (Quartermaine and Taylor, 2014).

Newton Hall cruck-framed building, Tameside, Greater Manchester

Although timber-framing is mainly associated with the south and west of the region, the use of cruck frames to carry roofs is recorded throughout the region, including in clay and stone buildings. Records of known cruck-framed buildings may be searched on the VAG database, available via the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) website (dated crucks were first published by VAG in 1973 and the database was established online in 2003 by Nat Alcock).  In Cumbria, 226 recorded crucks are associated with stone and clay buildings built for agricultural or domestic use;  on the Solway Plain they are associated with clay dabbins built to a ‘longhouse derivative’ plan form, comparable to a building form that occurs in the Mersey valley where cruck-construction  continued into the eighteenth century.  In Lancashire, the cruck database contains 292 records of crucks, variously found in high status stone barns on gentry estates as at Rivington, Stonyhurst and Harrock, as well as in lower status domestic buildings, on the Fylde for example.  Crucks are recorded in 116 domestic and farm buildings in Greater Manchester and 125 in Cheshire, but more are likely to survive embedded in altered structures.  The dating of roof structures and constructional timber by dendrochronology has contributed to the more accurate dating of buildings which could previously only be allocated to a broad date range; as for crucks the VAG tree-ring database is hosted by ADS (

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