Winterbourne Medieval Barn was built in the middle of the 14th Century, a turbulent time in which one King is apparently murdered and another deposed. Throughout this period England was 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 reportedly 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 involved.
  • 1339 – 41: Political Crisis in England stemming from the financial pressures of the Hundred Years War.
  • 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 is not the only building of interest on Church Lane. Neighbouring St Michael’s Church is 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, Monk’s Pool nature reserve, the surrounding field patterns, the stone walls, the stiles and footpaths, and the open aspect of the landscape in all directions.

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

The Building and its Construction

Winterbourne Medieval Barn is a building of national importance. Other surviving medieval great barns were built by important monastic estates, 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 amassed great wealth. Only three barns of this scale are recorded as built by gentry families. Winterbourne is believed to be the only surviving example of a medieval barn of this size that was built and used by the lord of the manor rather than by the church.

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 as ‘a magnificent example of the builders’ craft’. The timbers have been dated by dendrochronology, and it’s estimated that as many as 240 oak trees were used to build the Barn’s main roof structure and to provide pegs and fixings. At its original size it would likely have been 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. 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 it appears to be 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. In 2002, urgent works were carried out using a minimal intervention approach. This work supported and stabilised the structure of the main Barn and south range, and to give protection from the elements and allowed walls to dry out. 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.

2019 saw the next phase of building works as Heritage Lottery funding and support from many other generous funders and donors, enabled the transformation of the rest of the Barn site. This included modernising the old byre workshops for use by local businesses, the addition of a south link interpretation corridor, and the renovation of the once dilapidated West Barn into seminar rooms, kitchen, and toilets. These works provide the flexibility for the Barn site to be used year round for various community activities.

Many activities at the Barn today echo the past. Dr. Oliver Rackham suggests that “the barn was not just a workaday shed, but was a work of grandeur… it will have seen not merely storage and threshing of corn, but church ales, theatricals, wedding feasts and all manner of rustic festivities”.