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History of Great Coxwell Barn

Exterior of Great Coxwell Barn against a blue sky
The 13th-century Great Coxwell Barn | © National Trust Images/Robert Morris

Great Coxwell Barn in Great Coxwell village is the only surviving part of a thriving 13th-century grange that once provided vital income to Beaulieu Abbey. Built from Cotswold rubble-stone walling, the barn is an impressive reminder of the skills of Gothic carpenters and the wealth of great monastic orders. For many years it was thought that Great Coxwell Barn was built in the early 1300s, but scientific testing has shed new light on this theory.

The origins of Great Coxwell Barn

Thought to have been built at some point in the 13th century by the monks of Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire, Great Coxwell tithe barn would have been just one of many farm buildings that made up a ‘monastic grange’.

This grange would have been operated by a group of lay brothers and servants and would have stored wool, seed, animal feed and crops ready to be sold. All the proceeds would have been paid in coinage to the abbey.

Under new ownership

In 1538, Henry VIII dissolved Beaulieu Abbey and took possession of its estates, Great Coxwell being one of them. He sold both Great and Little Coxwell to man called Thomas Moore, who was the Bailiff of Faringdon.

In the 18th century it became part of the Coleshill Estate and was given to the National Trust to care for in 1956.

Dating the timbers

In 2014 a scientific method called dendrochronology (a dating method that uses the growth rings of long-lived trees as a calendar) was used to narrow down the period in which the barn was built.

Using a cherry picker for access, samples 16mm in diameter were drilled from the core of ten of the timbers supporting the vast roof. They were then taken away for analysis and dating.

Winter wood

The analysis showed that the wood used for the roof timbers was felled from 1253 onwards. One of the samples still had the bark edge preserved making it possible to say this had been felled in the winter of 1291/92. Samples from two other timbers in the barn also came from the same parent tree.

A final answer

It was common practice at the time to build timber frame structures with green or unseasoned timber, usually within 12 months of felling.

So how old is Great Coxwell Barn? It’s most likely that the barn was under construction in 1292 or shortly after – earlier than originally thought - making it over 700 years old.

Great Coxwell Barn seen in the distance with a blue sky and vivid green grass in the foreground.

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