| An unusual brick granary at Tytherington, Wiltshire. It boasts brick
arches over piers and an elegant Dutch gable doubling as a dovecote.
The revolution in
English agriculture, which
took place from the mid-1700s, had a dramatic effect on the landscape
of the countryside. In particular the enclosure of large spaces of open
land enabled crop production to be substantially increased to meet the
demands of the rapidly growing population. As well as having a major influence
on the landscape, enclosure and the introduction of new farming practices
also contributed to England’s stock of farm buildings. New buildings were
required to accommodate stock and equipment on the new model farms. They
were also needed for the storage of grain. Most of the surviving granaries
date from the time of Enclosure – the late 18th early 19th centuries.
are farm buildings which were specifically designed for the long-term
storage of grain, particularly seed grain. According to Brunskill (see
Recommended Reading), there are four main types of granary; the free-standing
granary, the granary raised over a cart shed, the granary raised over
a stable and the granary combined with food preparation. This article
will concentrate on the first of these types, which are found throughout
the south of England, from Cornwall to Suffolk.
double storey granary at Fosbury with modern windows and cladding.
Hidden inside is a remarkable interior complete with grain bins
are typically square, single-storey timber-framed structures. Exterior
walls are usually weather-boarded, tile- or slate-hung, or with panels
of brick-nogging. Roofing materials vary from thatch to slates, stone
tiles or pan tiles, although the hipped pyramidical roof is most common.
Some early granaries rested on wooden posts, but from at least the early
1600s a grid of staddlestones or brick piers was used tosupport
the structure and to keep the grain dry and out of the reach of vermin.
Hollowell states that the word staddle is derived from either stathol
(Saxon), stadal (Old High German), stothull (Old Norse), or stathlaz (Germanic),
all of which mean a stand or base.
are most common
in the main arable areas of central southern England (over half are found
in Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire and Hampshire) where the limestone
is relatively soft and easily carved. Carved limestone staddlestones are
most common, although brick piers were sometimes used instead. There are
also later examples of staddles made from cast iron. The staddlestones
raise the granary approximately 600mm off the ground. The sides of their
posts and the underside of their projecting caps are smooth, so that they
cannot be climbed by rats or mice. They also provide firm support for
the granary’s stout floor beams, both designed to bear the heavy weight
of the grain being stored.
The design of these
granaries also satisfy a number of other vital requirements. After harvesting,
corn continues to respire, taking in oxygen and giving out both carbon
dioxide and water. This moisture posed a major threat to the stored grain,
as damp conditions could cause either premature germination or mildew.
The ventilation provided by air beneath the floor of the granary helped
prevent either of these two problems from occurring. Inside, the grain
was stored in sacks or bins to reduce its bulk, further helping it to
A third problem was
theft. Although grain was best kept dry by storing it in sacks, these
were easier to steal than loose grain. In this respect, bins were preferred,
and granaries were always kept locked. The free-standing granary in the
centre of the farmyard also offered the advantage over other forms of
granary that the farmer could keep it under surveillance. Wiliam remarks
that grain stored over cartsheds was easy prey for waggoners, who would
make discreet holes in the loft floorboards to steal grain for their horses.
The grid pattern of
staddlestones on which the free-standing granary rested was typically
12 stones arranged four by three, although the designs of the granaries
ranged considerably, as shown by the photographs. Many were square, single
storey buildings, but some were large rectangular buildings of two storeys
or more. The granary at Tytherington, Wiltshire, for example, is entirely
of brick with brick arches over piers and an elegant Dutch gable doubling
as a dovecote.
Moving from the base
of the granary to its roof, the shape of this was also designed for a
specific function. Usually pyramidal, hipped or half-hipped, the shape
of the roof assisted access into the granary, for farm labourers having
to carry heavy sacks. The main entrance to the granary was typically reached
with the use of removable wooden steps. Permanent steps would have given
rodents easy access to the grain. Similarly, the nuisance of birds getting
at the grain was prevented by the use of grilles or shutters over any
window openings included.
Inside, the walls
were smooth, either lined with close-fitting boards or plastered and limewashed.
In many, the bins still survive.
Those with upper floors often had chutes with simple wooden traps through
which the grain could be poured into sacks below.
typical small staddlestone granary shows timber boarding over timber
in transportation during the second half of the 19th century brought about
a substantial increase in the importation of food, and grain in particular
from North America, Australia and other British colonies. The mass exodus
from the countryside to the cities was a product of this decline as much
as of the rise of industry, but it also fuelled the crisis. According
to Harvey, in the 1870s 75 per cent of British food was indigenously produced,
but by 1925 this had fallen to 25 per cent. The greatest impact was on
arable production, as meat and dairy produce remained
relatively protected from the worst affects of the recession until the
development of refrigerated transportation. This decline had a huge detrimental
impact on farm buildings associated with arable production. Many fell
into disuse and, with the emergence of larger arms and increasing mechanisation
in the 20th century, were in any case inadequate for new methods of farming.
granaries were among the first agricultural buildings to be made completely
redundant. Their small size made them suitable stores for small tools
and other items that could be carried up the steps, but little else. Like
many other agricultural buildings, the cost of repairing and maintaining
them through the 20th
century far outweighed their economic benefit, and the number of isolated
staddlestones now used as odd garden ornaments provides a reminder of
the numbers which have been lost. Yet many complete staddlestone granaries
have survived: 743 examples are listed on Images of England, the on-line
database of listed buildings.
The survival of so
many mainly Georgian and early Victorian granaries after over 150 years
of redundancy is remarkable, and is perhaps due to the superb quality
of their construction, their small size and their character. Designed
to protect one of the farmer’s most valuable assets, their raised construction
has helped to ensure that they have remained both well ventilated and
relatively dry. Nevertheless, they remain a threatened feature of the
landscape. Few farmers can afford to maintain their historic buildings,
and most of these granaries remain too small for any viable economic use.
timber framed granary at Ramsbury, Wiltshire, once used as a
store by Oswald Moseley.
detail of one of its staddle stones. Movement has caused the brickwork
infill panels to become detatched, as seen by the bow
wall, and the roof has been replaced with asbestos
the clay tile hanging and the superficial disorder,
its early 19th
century timber frame still appears sound.
all free-standing granaries which survive in anything like their original
condition are listed. Usually they will be listed as individual buildings,
but they will also be protected if they fall within the ‘curtilage’
of a listed building (all the buildings in the farmyard of a listed
farm may thus be protected), and listed building consent would be required
before one could be moved, altered or demolished. Furthermore, if the
building is left to rot away, the local authority has the power to intervene
and, if necessary, can carry out emergency works to keep the building
wind and weather tight, and then recover the cost from the owner.
Moving a building
away from its original location is generally considered when the only
other option is demolition, because the setting is a vital element of
its history and, therefore, its value. Moving a building to a new location
distorts its history and in the worst case a particularly incongruous
location may create the impression that the building is a fake. Also,
the significance of the farmyard itself must be taken into account,
and the loss of such an important building could be considerable.
are necessary to enable a new use for a building are, in principle,
much more likely to be acceptable to the local authority. There are
many examples of granaries which have been converted to provide a small
office or games room, and the result can be delightful.
Apart from the sensitive
design of fenestration, the most difficult element of a conversion is
often insulation, as there is a risk that this may prevent the structure
breathing, and may introduce condensation within the walls and roof
timbers of a timber framed structure, causing the timbers to decay.
The relationship of the insulation to the vapour barrier must be considered
carefully, since if the vapour barrier is on the cold side of the insulation,
or a cold spot occurs, condensation will develop and run down the material.
If condensation occurs within the insulation, the insulation will become
soaked, again causing timbers to decay.
As with any building,
neglect, lack of maintenance and inappropriate repairs can result in
structural failure. For example if brick infill panels of a timber frame
have been pointed with a hard cement-rich mortar, the mortar will prevent
the walls moving with the natural expansion of the frame, causing damage
to either the frame or the brick, or both. The cement also traps moisture,
causing the frame to rot. Traditional mortars based on lime and sand
are more flexible and porous than modern cement mortars.
One of the most
serious problems concerning the conservation of granaries relates to
their foundation on the staddlestones. The uneven settlement of individual
staddlestones has a knock-on effect for the flooring and walls of the
building. Structural cracks can develop, threatening the stability of
settlement of the staddlestones can be exacerbated by excessive water
from a broken gutter or the position of a down pipe. Yet it is not just
water from the granary itself that can cause problems. Water from adjacent
buildings and surface drainage that flows in the direction of the granary
will soften the ground around the staddlestones.
The problems posed
by granaries and by alterations such as the introduction of insulation
are unlikely to be insurmountable, but as with all historic building
work, the alterations and their consequences must be carefully thought
through. Employing a specialist architect or surveyor for such a small
project may sound excessive, but the additional cost will be commensurately
small, and cutting corners in this area can be disastrous. Likewise,
where historic brickwork and traditional timber framed structures are
concerned, employing a specialist contractor who understands the use
of traditional materials such as lime mortar and oak framing is essential.
These projects cannot simply be left to an ordinary builder.
- RW Brunskill,
Traditional Farm Buildings of Britain and their Conservation,
3rd edition, Victor Gollancz, London, 1999
- Nigel Harvey,
A History of Farm Buildings in England & Wales, David
& Charles, Newton Abbot, 1970
- Stephen Hollowell, ‘Staddle Granary; Parkhill Farm, Castle Ashby, Northamptonshire’,
The Journal of the Historic Farm Buildings Group, Volume
- Pamela M Slocombe,
Wiltshire Farm Buildings 1500-1900, Devizes Book
Press, Devizes, 1989
- Eurwyn Wiliam,
Traditional Farm Buildings in North East Wales 1550-1900,
Welsh Folk Museum, Cardiff, 1982
article is reproduced from The Building Conservation Directory, 2004
like to acknowledge the assistance provided by JILL BETTS of the Historic
Farm Buildings Group in compiling this article.
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