A history of the Court Barn, Chipping Campden

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(From the noticeboard section of the Chipping Campden Bulletin. Reproduced with kind permission of Jeremy Green)
Court Barn Museum, Photo (c) Alan Crawford
Readers will be aware that Court Barn in Church Street has been renovated by the Guild of Handicraft Trust and has been transformed whilst still retaining its present external appearance. It is the site of an exhibition, meeting room and study centre celebrating the craftsmen who have lived in Campden and surrounding towns and villages since the beginning of the last century. There will be exhibits devoted to C R Ashbee and his Guild of Handicraft, to FL.Griggs, Alec Miller, Paul Woodroffe, the Harts and Robert Welch; and to others, like Gordon Russell and Katharine Adams from Broadway and the potters Michael Cardew and Ray Finch from Winchcombe.

This article, however, is about the barn itself. It stands on the edge of the grounds of Old Campden House and was built about 300 years ago. How ever did it come to intrude into the gardens of that magnificent house? After Sir Baptist Hicks’s new manor house was burned to the ground in 1645, its grounds and gardens and yards were gradually turned over to agricultural use. There is a deed dated 1691 by which the Hon. Susanna Noel, the mother of the six year old 3rd Earl of Gainsborough, leased it to Mary Rutter, a widow.

“The Great Burnt Manor House with the brewhouse with the court on which it stands, the burnt stable, the coach house the passage towards strappyard, the two porters lodges with the court in which they stand, the court on the north side of the great burnt house, the rose garden, the bleaching garden and garden house standing therein; the pool ground, the poultry yard, the garden joining to the parsonage barn, the island (about 2 acres) lying in the E end of Robert Taylor’s back, the Bridge Pool & the Stewpan all which brewhouse etc. were part of the Great Burnt Manor House”.

The clear intention was that the whole area would be used as part of a farm. The banqueting houses, which are not mentioned in the deed, were probably then being lived in. The Parsonage Barn mentioned in the deed was probably the old tithe barn on the opposite side of Church Street, and there is no mention of Court Barn itself at this time.

Court Barn was first built, probably by Mary Rutter, at the end of the 17th century as a small, more or less rectangular barn, standing against the boundary wall running down Church Street. As is evident today, a hole was cut in the wall for the double doors of the barn. It was during the 18th century that the barn was extended, its floor to the south built up above ground level and a southwest wing added. The exterior wall of this new wing was built into another of Baptist Hicks’s boundary walls which ran from Church Street to the front of the Almonry and beyond, towards the west Banqueting House. If you go into the new Landmark Trust car park (the former poultry yard) you will see, way below the floor of the barn, a blocked 17th century doorway that once led from this yard through the wall into an inner courtyard. The doorway was unearthed during excavations to form the car park. Then in the nineteenth century a less imposing wing (the gig or cart house) was erected to the northwest of the main barn, giving it its present ‘U’ shape.

Another bit of archaeology was discovered in the early stages of the present renovation. In the south-west wing of the barn, the top of a large, deep well was uncovered beneath the stone floor. Clearly a well would not have been dug within a barn, and the archaeologists have pronounced it as being older than the barn itself. This leads to some interesting speculation. It is hardly likely that Sir Baptist Hicks would have had the well dug for his manor house, since he drew his water from the Westington Hill springs via a pipeline from Conduit House across the fields to his manor house. So was this the well of the earlier manor house that we have always believed existed before Sir Baptist’s arrival? Certainly the Lodelaws, an earlier family of lords of the manor lived in Bemngton in the early 15th Century — and where better to have had their manor house than on the knoll near the church? The barn has seen many changes in use and considerable structural alteration during its long life. It seems to have started life as a storage and threshing barn, and the threshing floor between the two sets of double doors is being re-laid. At one time it had a hayloft at the mezzanine level. From time to time windows and doors have been added, walls rebuilt and the roof re-slated, while agricultural use has changed over the centuries.

However it was always in agricultural use until the early 20th century, when, about 35 years ago, after a period of redundancy, it became a builder’s store. Landmark Trust bought it about ten years ago to prevent it being ‘developed’ and after long consideration they leased it into the sensitive hands of the Guild of Handicraft Trust, who have left all its major architectural features unchanged and put it to a new use rather than it being demolished, ‘developed’ or allowed inevitably to deteriorate through lack of a role. Court Barn is a grade II listed building on the borders of a scheduled ancient monument. As such it is important that its integrity was maintained, while at the same time an appropriate use was found for it. We hope that has now been found.

Allan Warmington.

Campden and district historical and archaeological society

Related articles:

Campden: A New History: by members of CADHAS – from the Cotswold Books, Maps and DVD store
Chipping Campden CADHAS local history and archive room

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