Small Barn, Big History

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How many times have you walked past and not given a second glance to this unassuming little building? But you may not know that the oak frame of this building has stood here since  1550 A.D. Yes, you read that right, the Small Barn is 466 yrs old, we’re talking Elizabethan England (strictly speaking Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, and then Elizabeth I all reigned in the first decade of the Small Barn but let’s not split ‘heirs’). It was standing here when the first licensing of Ale Houses was introduced by Parliament, the first silver sixpences were minted, and Headstone Manor’s former owner, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, was burnt at the stake in 1556.

If that’s not old enough for you, archaeological evidence has shown that the Small Barn is not the earliest structure in that location. Other agricultural buildings stood here as far back as the first Headstone Manor House in the 1200s (that’s King John, Magna Carter, and William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge!)

Most recently, during excavations to provide new heating to the Great Barn, compacted chalk floors were uncovered near the SW corner of the Small Barn, most likely dating from the 13th or 14th centuries, pre-dating the Small Barn by at least a century. A reconstruction of a chalk floor of this type was created in the Small Barn the last time it was restored.

Back in 1550 it is likely that the Small Barn was actually two barns. Two identical a-frames still stand next to each other inside the building where the original floor levels vary. Many of you will remember the building suffering fire damage in the 1980’s and it standing under a temporary roof for about a decade before being restored. Despite this the majority of the oak frame is original and a large proportion of the roof tiles are estimated to be up to 200 yrs old.

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Great care has therefore been taken this Summer to remove all the ancient tiles, repair the roof structure and re-hang the tiles using traditional peg hanging methods. Further work to the Small Barn will take place next year and give it a whole new life as the entrance to the Museum site, complete with a film and displays about the history of Harrow from the Neolithic to the Medieval era. Once inside you will be able to see all of the original 16th century oak frame and imagine life on an Elizabethan farm.

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