Bird’s Farm barn is one of the most important and interesting buildings in the village. Consequently, we are grateful to Wendy and Simon Maddox for their permission to create this webpage. We wish to thank David Andrews of Essex County Council for his permission to reproduce his report written just before the barn was converted to residential use and also to Dr. Ray Moore of the University of York for his assistance.
A report on the barn
Birds Farm Barn is an early modern barn prominently located at the western entrance to the village. It stands close to the 16th century Bird’s Farmhouse which is listed grade II, and hence is a curtilage listed structure. Planning permission and listed building consent had been obtained to convert the barn to residential use. Conditions attached to the consents include one requiring a programme of archaeological investigation before work starts. This report was prepared to satisfy that condition, and the criteria set out in a brief issued by Essex County Council Place Services.The farmhouse
The house is important as it provides the context for the barn. It is grade II listed. The list description is uninformative:Early C17 timber-framed and plastered building. Two storeys. The upper storey is jettied on the south front and there is a later lean-to addition at the east end. Two window range, mainly casements. Roof tiled, hipped at the east and west ends. (RCHM 6).In 1977, John McCann wrote a report on the house for the owner (ERO T/P 250/7). He noted that the house was originally of three bays, two about 9ft wide and a middle one about 6ft. The middle one he interpreted as for a timber framed chimney later replaced by the existing brick chimney. Subsequently the house was enlarged by a bay on each end. He dated it to the 16th century. The apparent lobby entry plan however means that it must be late 16th century, whilst the crown-post roof indicates, in the present state of knowledge, that it is unlikely to be later than c.1575. The frame of the first phase of the house is of very substantial timbers which present a striking contrast to the framing of the barn.
Maps of the 1840s show that the house was larger, with a wing attached to the front, and the barn had been extended to the south. The 1st and 2nd edition OS maps of the 1870s and 1890s show the house without the added wing, and a range of outbuildings to the east of the barn forming a yard. The barn is said to have been used as a slaughter house at one time.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the owners or residents must have ceased to be actively involved in agriculture. The 1901 census has Mary Ann Snow, a dressmaker, living there (www.henham.org/bygoneHenham). Sale particulars dated 1931 record that it was leased in 1917 by Russell Prichard to Joshua Grant, at a rent of £45 p.a. The property included an orchard, a pond, and a 4 ½ acre paddock (the former arable field), and was then known as Prestons, a name which seems not to figure in the records of the village. The present owners have lived at Birds Farm since 1990. The property is now about 2.5 acres in size.
Description of the barn as originally built
The general pattern of the framing of the trusses of the northern four bays is late medieval, 15th or 16th century. The arcade posts have (or had, as some have been removed) jowls. The top plates are extended in length with edge-halved scarf joints, which typically have a date range c.1350-1575. There are braces from the aisle ties to the arcade posts. The north wall has external tension braces above the mid rail.
On closer examination, the frame displays little consistency. The second truss from the north has been inserted under the top plates. The tie-beam runs under them in what is known as reversed assembly. If this truss is put to one side, the bay at the north end of the barn to the midstrey is 5.4m long, almost 2m longer than the two bays to the south. The truss might have been inserted to strengthen the barn, but against this, there are no signs of structural weakness at this point and the character of the truss resembles the others. On balance, it seems therefore that the truss was not an afterthought but original to the construction of the barn.
These features, when seen together, reveal that the barn does not have a consistent and systematically designed frame, even by the standards of later framing after c.1600 when reused timber was more widely employed. It is therefore concluded that the barn was built from elements of an earlier one and other reused timbers. The clasped purlin roof, and primary braced walls, point to a date around 1600 or in the 17th century. Some of the timbers in the midstrey, notably mid rails and top plates, are rather different and look purpose made, which would be consistent with reuse of timber from a barn which did not have a midstrey. The top plate of the south wall of the midstrey is of elm, as is the tie-beam of the ‘inserted’ second truss from the north. Elm was increasingly used in Essex timber frames from about 1600.
Later alterations to the barn
Uses of the barn
The midstrey doors were later lowered in height, wide doors were inserted in the north wall, and a small one in the south wall. These doors are 19th or 20th century, and relate to the wider, non specifically agricultural, uses to which the barn has been put in recent times. Of these, the best attested is stabling for horses. In the second half of the 20th century, there was a riding school based in it. The southern part of the barn had partitions for stalls, and the walls were rendered to a height of about 5ft. The partitions and render had almost entirely been removed at the time that the barn was inspected. A concrete floor was laid in the north and south halves of the barn, replacing an older asphalt one which survives in the midstrey. In the south half, there is a crude shallow drain in the concrete for the stables. It was probably in the 1970s or 1980s that the three wooden windows were inserted in the east wall, a clear reflection of the different uses to which it was being put.
References: ERO Essex Record Office