Thursday, 22 August 2019

Great Coxwall Barn

image via V&A
John Piper painted this watercolour of Great Coxwall Barn in 1940 as part of a scheme known as 'Recording the changing face of Britain'. The project was the brain child of Sir Kenneth Clark, director of the National Gallery. Clark was inspired by several motives - at the outbreak of war in 1939, there was a concern to document the British landscape in the face of the imminent threat of bomb damage, invasion, and loss caused by the operations of war. This was allied to an anxiety about changes to the landscape already underway, such as the rapid growth of cities, road building and housing developments. The decline of rural ways of life and industries, and new agricultural practices. Together all of these contributed to the idea of a 'vanishing Britain' which Clark saw as an extension to the Official War Artist scheme. By choosing watercolour painting as the medium, Clark hoped that it would also help to preserve this characteristic English art form, and also help British watercolour artists to survive during the uncertain conditions of wartime. Over 1500 works were eventually produced by 97 artists such as John Piper, Sir William Russell Flint and Rowland Hilder.
Sitting down narrow country lanes on the eastern edge of the Cotswolds this great stone monastic barn still looms large in it's Oxfordshire landscape where it stands as a lasting testament to the skills of it's medieval builders.

In 1871 William Morris moved to his Cotswold retreat, Kelmscott Manor, which lies just a few miles north of the barn. It was a building that he greatly admired, and was a place that he would regularly visit with his house guests so that they too could wonder at the structure. He called it "as noble as a cathedral". 




A scientific method called dendrochronology has recently been used to examine the roof timbers which has established that the barn was most likely under construction in 1292 making the barn almost 730 years old.


History
During its lifetime the barn has remained largely unaltered. The stone and wood pillars and nearly all the roof trusses are original. 
The Great Barn is the sole surviving part of a thriving 13th century grange owned by the Cistercian monks of Beaulieu Abbey. It was built to store crops, and has since been used by generations of farmers. The Cistercian Order built approximately 3,000 monastic barns throughout England. The Great Barn is one of a couple of hundred that still survive today.
Great Coxwall lies in the ancient Manor of Faringdon which King John granted to the Cistercians in 1203. Two years later, he also gave them part of the royal hunting forest in Beaulieu, Hampshire, and it was there that the monks built their abbey. Beaulieu is more than 80 miles away from Great Coxswall. The Grange at Great Coxwall was run by the monks with the help of lay-brothers and people from the local villages. The crops were mainly wheat, oats, barley and rye. Livestock included oxen, sheep and pigs. Wool from their sheep was highly prized throughout Europe and formed the basis of the Cistercians' wealth. In addition they had bees to provide honey and fishponds for fish. That is a fishpond in my first photo which currently is covered in green algae!
The Cistercian Abbeys were eventually all closed down by King Henry V111 during the Reformation in the 16th century.

51 comments:

  1. What an amazing building. It took me a while to see the fishpond with the algae. It will be good to get the eyes fixed.

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    1. Even though your eyes need fixing it is not easy to differentiate between the green algae in the pond and the surrounding grass.

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  2. Amazing building and that old, it looks so good and big. Thanks for the story behind.

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    1. It is a building that I love, and I am pleased that you enjoyed its background story.

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  3. I love these old tithe barns. We have the one at Bradford on Avon which is also a beauty. I am not surprised that William Morris loved it. He liked things to be functional as well as beautiful.

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    1. We are fortunate that there are several in our locations - the one at Lacock Abbey, and another one at Ashleworth in the north of Gloucestershire. I particularly like the Great Coxwall barn because of its lovely isolated location and the fact that you can mostly enjoy it with nobody else around.

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    2. They are testimony to how powerful the monasteries were before Henry the Eighth. All of the tithes between Bath and Wells went to Glastonbury Abbey. They must have been so affluent.

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  4. Oh, this is the most wonderful and beautiful building, Rosemary. I do love old barns, and this one is fantastic. It is amazing to think it has been there that long, and it looks good for a long time yet. I am imagining it full of activity and harvested crops. Is it still used for this at all? The Gothic archway is very charming - who would build such an arch in a modern building? I hope the old barn lasts many more lifetimes.

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    1. It closed its doors to being a working threshing barn around 1956 when one Ernest Cook left it to the care of the National Trust. It is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade 1 listed. Its doors are open every day from dawn to dusk, anyone can call in, wander around, admire and enjoy it. The barn is empty which reveals and shows off its wonderful architectural features perfectly.
      The barn is in far better condition than many houses that you see around today that have no age whatsoever.

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  5. Biebkriebels showed it to me and I can say only one word , wow.

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    1. Thank you for visiting s.c and for your kind comment. I am delighted that you enjoyed seeing this wonderful old barn.

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  6. That is quite the structure! And those old timbers!

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    1. I, like William Morris, love this building Debra.

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  7. Such a great structure, and built for the ages...which shows that 700 years ago men were good engineers and architects...so glad this building has been allowed to stand (and the roof was cared for in order to do that). Thanks for the photos, and especially the water color painting!

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    1. Thank you Barbara - I think that I must have been sitting in the very same spot as John Piper did when he painted his watercolour in 1942.

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  8. Such beautiful buildings. I LOVE them both!

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    1. It is easy to understand just why William Morris was so enamoured with this wonderful barn.

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  9. That is such a beautiful building. Thank you for sending the detailed photos.

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    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing this architectural gem - thank you for your comment.

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    1. I really admire the beautiful architecture of this very old barn.

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  11. That's quite the most magnificent barn I've ever seen - and it looks as though it's good for a few hundred more years yet. How lucky we are to have so much history just waiting for us to find it.

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    1. I agree with you wholeheartedly John we are indeed very fortunate to be surrounded by so much history which both of us enjoy.

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  12. Such a glorious building. Wonderful to think it’s still standing despite Henry viii . Love your photos too. B x

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    1. Like Morris it is one of my favourite buildings too.

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  13. Hello Rosemary, What an imposing building for a barn, and it is hard to believe that it is that old. Barns are often the first historic buildings to go, as they are not often built this well, and their rural uses become outmoded.

    Kenneth Clark was right about the vanishing landscape--so many small towns in the U.S., which used to be so beautiful, are now blighted with highway interchanges and hideous commercial development-the charm is now for the most part gone.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - I too felt that Kenneth Clark's words resonated with how things are today. Our world is now changing at an even faster pace than it did in the 1940s. I agree with you that highways and hideous commercial developments have indeed both changed and blighted the world that we knew, and definitely not for the better.

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  14. What a beautiful building, so imposing on the landscape. It's amazing to think that most of it is original.

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    1. Fortunately there are several of these Cotswold stone barns around here, but this one is the one that I most admire.

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  15. It amazes me that something can stand for over 700 years....

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    1. Many of our buildings are this age and even much older.

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  16. Well preserved for its age. Would not have guessed that was a fish pond until it was pointed out.

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    1. I think that someone needs to attend to the algae soon.

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  17. What a magnificent building and reading the history of it was fascinating. Things were certainly built to last back in the old days. It certainly is 'as noble as a cathedral' Best, Jane x

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    1. Thanks Jane this barn is always a pleasure to visit and see.

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  18. An amazing barn, almost 'luxurious ' compared to barns now a days. Love all the stones and the wood !

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    1. I think that this beautiful barn is still good for several hundred years more.

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  19. I'm fascinated by the cobbled floor, almost identical in its construction to the small fragment we've just uncovered in the sitting room.
    Hope your leaky pipe situation is now resolved!

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    1. That floor resonated with me as it did looked familiar - I think it must have been your floor that I was remembering. The pipe, I believe, cross fingers, is now finally fixed. It has taken three attempts which has been rather annoying as each one has resulted in yet another invoice through the door.

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  20. Dear Rosemary,
    Barns are my favorite buildings and this Great Coxwall Barn is the most beautiful I have seen. And to think that it is more than 700 years old. What honest and artful construction! Another fine example of practicality and beauty all in one.

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    1. Dear Gina - you have described this barn perfectly and I am so pleased that you enjoyed seeing it.

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  21. Dearest Rosemary,
    That is a rare treasure in the landscape and that from the 13th Century!
    Wondering of all those 3,000 monastic barns built elsewhere did survive as well...
    Thanks for sharing these very interesting buildings. Nothing like that to be found on this side of the ocean.
    Right now there is a fight going on for preserving a beautiful 1902 mansion that has been purchased by the First Baptist Church and they seem to be more interested into turning its surface into parking space then turning it over to the Georgia Trust. Funds have been raised for renovating it but to no success yet. A SHAME!
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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    1. Dear Mariette - there are about 200 of the Cistercian barns remaining up and down the country, but the bulk of them tend to be here in the West country. This one, however, is a favourite of mine.
      In this country you cannot pull down, destroy or alter old buildings especially ones that are of architectural merit or history. All buildings of a certain age or interest are listed and graded and require permission to change anything at all to them. Hope you have more success in saving the 1902 property from becoming a 'Car Park"!!!

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  22. What a gloriously beautiful building! I looks like a church....
    Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Thank you for your comment - I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing it.

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  23. The first impression is of a church, not a barn. By any standards it is an impressive structure.

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