Winterbourne Medieval Barn was built in the middle of the 14th Century, a turbulent time in which one King was murdered and another deposed. Throughout this period England was also ravaged by civil wars, famine and the Black Death, as well as by foreign wars against the Scots and the French. The man who had the Barn built, Thomas de Bradeston, was involved in many of these events, some of which are recorded here:

  • A Time Line to a Turbulent 14th Century
  • 1306: Rebellion of Robert the Bruce.
  • 1307: Death of Edward I; accession of Edward II.
  • 1314: Scottish Victory at Bannockburn.
  • 1315 – 16: Great Famine.
  • 1321 – 22: Civil War in England.
  • 1327: Edward II is murdered in nearby Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire.
    NB: Thomas de Bradeston was closely associated with the Berkeley family.
  • 1328: de Bradeston acquires the Patronage of Winterbourne.
  • 1337: The Hundred Years War against the French begins,
    in which de Bradeston is said to have amassed his wealth
    as a Captain in Edward III’s army.
  • 1339 – 41: Political Crisis in England.
  • 1342: Construction of Winterbourne Barn.
  • 1348: First occurrence of the Plague in England.
  • 1377: Death of Edward III; accession of Richard II.
  • 1381: Peasants’ Revolt.
  • 1399: Deposition of Richard II; accession of Henry IV.

The Place and its History

As you can see from the potted history, this site and its landscape is steeped in history. The Barn forms a central feature of a compact group of buildings and yard, formerly Winterbourne Court Farm. The farm was the home of Carmelite Friars in the 13th Century, hence the Monks’ Walk and Monks’ Pool, and a reputed underground passage leading from the house to St Michael’s Church, a Grade I listed building of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. When Thomas de Bradeston had the Barn built in 1342, he held the patronage of St Michael’s and was involved in making significant changes to the Church.

This group of medieval buildings still sits in an ancient rural landscape, set apart from the main village, reflecting the pattern of scattered hamlets that would have existed in the 14th Century. It is remarkable that the Parish Church, the Barn and surrounding buildings, have remained virtually unchanged through the ensuing ages, as have the narrow lanes, the surrounding field patterns, the stone walls, the stiles and footpaths, and the open aspect of the landscape in all directions.

The hamlet has recently been granted Conservation Area status by South Gloucestershire Council.

The Building and its Construction

Winterbourne Medieval Barn is a building of national importance. All other surviving medieval great barns were built by important monastic estates, the Universities, or the Knights Hospitallers –the wealthy and powerful organisations of their day. But Winterbourne Barn was built by Thomas de Bradeston, a commoner who became wealthy as a Captain in the Hundred Years’ War against the French. Only three barns of this scale are recorded as built by gentry families; Winterbourne is the only survivor.

The Barn was built in 1342, using the green-timber construction methods which were the cutting-edge technology of that period, and has been described by one historian as ‘a magnificent example of the builders’ craft’. The timbers have been dated by dendrochronology, and experts estimate that as many as 80 oaks were used in the course of construction. At its original size it was one of England’s great medieval barns. Plans show that the Barn was originally 11 bays in length, internal size 43.5m x 7.8m (143ft x 25ft-9in). Now only 7 bays survive in their complete form.

The original 14th Century roof structure remains largely intact — a fine example of a raised-cruck construction and one of the largest and earliest raised-cruck barns. In this method the cruck blades spring from timber baulks set two thirds of the way up the walls, as opposed to true-cruck buildings, where the cruck blades stand on padstones or low sill walls. The walls were constructed from local Pennant sandstone, bound together with earth mortar.

The Repair Process

Winterbourne Barn is a Grade II* Listed Building which, due to its high risk category was purchased by South Gloucestershire Council in 1998, with the help of funding from English Heritage, and the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme. The urgent works required to support and stabilise the structure of the main Barn and south range, and to give protection from the elements and allow walls to dry out, began in February 2002 and have since been completed.

To achieve repair with the least disruption and, where possible, to avoid any rebuilding, a minimal intervention approach was adopted. Walls were injected with lime mortar after pointing, and have been protected by a thin lime plaster coat as originally existed. Roof timbers were jacked and the original 14th Century joints reinstated. The ceiling plaster incorporates more goat hair (which is less oily) and less horse hair than in the 14th Century.

Dr. Oliver Rackham suggests that “the barn was not just a workaday shed, but was a work of grandeur, designed by an architect. It will have seen not merely storage and threshing of corn, but church ales, theatricals, wedding feasts and all manner of rustic festivities”. That is an evocative thought to leave this all too brief history of Court Farm, Winterbourne.