Great Coxwell Barn
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
The barn is built of Cotswold stone, with rubble walls and ashlar corner stones for buttresses and window and door openings. The entire building is topped by huge slate roof of Cotswold stone. The sheer weight of the roof meant that the barn had to be built to an aisled plan, with parallel sets of internal posts running the length of the structure.These posts rest on stone piers or plinths. These posts are braced three ways to the side wall and the central tie beam. The complexity of the roof construction is without parallel in England; the only comparable structures at this time period are from continental Europe. A similar barn at Beaulieu St Leonards, also owned by Beaulieu Abbey, may have been similar, but unfortunately has not survived intact. So in every sense Great Coxwell Barn is a unique medieval structure.
In 1203 King John granted a group of Cistercian monks his royal manor near Farngdon to build an abbey. The monks did not stay long at Coxwell, but quite soon moved south to Beaulieu in the New Forest. However, the grange at Coxwell and other nearby properties remained an important source of income. Coxwell was just one of numerous farms in a large estate stretching from Berkshire to Oxfordshire and into Wiltshire. The actual centre of the abbey estate was at Wyke, north of Faringdon, a location that has only recently been discovered after aerial photography revealed monastic buildings. At least two of the excavated buildings at Wyke were tithe barns equal in scale to the surviving barn at Great Coxwell.
So what do all these facts and figures mean? That Coxwell was a busy, prosperous place, part of a much larger, thriving estate whose profits enriched an abbey far to the south.
We do not know exactly, but it was some time shortly after 1300 AD. The stonework suggests a late 13th or early 14th century date on stylistic grounds. Dendrochronology dating of the timbers suggests they were felled in the late 13th century, so based on the style of construction we can guess that the barn was erected in the period 1300-1310, slightly later than traditionally thought.
How was it used?
Why is a barn so large if it was only used as temporary storage for produce that was simply to be sold for profit, and the money sent to Beaulieu Abbey? It seems likely that not only was grain stored here in sheaves after harvest, it was also threshed inside the barn, in the space between the porch and rear doors. Obviously such a threshing operation requires a much larger space than simply storing the harvested grain. The monks seem to have a strong concern that the granger or other servant would defraud them, or simply make off with grain if they were not closely supervised. They left detailed instruction for checking and re-checking the amount of yielded grain against the estimated amount! Workers were to have their pockets and clothing checked for grain. Even their shoes were to be carefully checked to make sure they wee not stealing small amounts of grain.
Visiting Great Coxwell
The barn stands at the extreme edge of the village, on Hollow Way, a lane leading towards Coleshill. There is a small layby in front of the barn, with room for perhaps 5 or 6 cars. Though the National Trust website suggests an admission fee of £1.50 (current in 2013), the barn has been open to the elements every time I have visited, with an honesty box for admission. There is a very useful guide to the barn's history and construction - again, on an honesty basis. At the opposite end of the village is the very pretty parish church, which deserves a short visit.
About Great Coxwell Barn
Address: Great Coxwell, Faringdon, Oxfordshire, England, SN7 7LZ
Attraction Type: Historic Building - Medieval Barn
Location: 2 miles south west of Faringdon between the A420 and B4019. Open access. Parking beside the barn.
Website: Great Coxwell Barn
Phone: 01793 762 209
National Trust - see also: National Trust memberships (official website link)
OS: SU269 940
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Great Coxwell, St Giles Church - 0.4 miles (Historic Church)
Faringdon, All Saints Church - 1.6 miles (Historic Church)
Faringdon Folly - 2 miles (Historic Building)
Longcot, St Mary's Church - 2.1 miles (Historic Church)
Farmer Gows - 2.1 miles (Family Attraction)
Buscot Park - 2.8 miles (Historic House)
Shellingford, St Faith's Church - 3.1 miles (Historic Church)
Kelmscott Manor - 3.3 miles (Historic Building)
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