Sunday, November 22, 2020

Aylton, Herefordshire


Buildings great and small 

A while back, well before the curse that is Covid 19 restricted everyone’s movements, my son and his girlfriend, who live in London, came to visit us in the Cotswolds. At some point their two laptops were placed on our dining table, along with my own. So there were three silver laptops, all made by Apple and including one (belonging to my son) that had a much bigger screen than the other two. I was instantly reminded of Horace Walpole’s remark about the Brighton Pavilion: ‘It is as if the dome of St Paul’s had come down to Brighton and pupped.’ A similar thought stirred in my mind when I passed these farm buildings in a remote Herefordshire setting. This is an unremarkable sight – corrugated iron barns and sheds are everywhere – but I feel that part of what I’m for is to notice the unremarkable, which often seems to me to be standing around waiting to have remarks made about it.

It appears to have been in the 1820s that an engineer called Henry Robinson Palmer had the idea of putting corrugations into thin iron sheets, to make them stronger. He took out a patent in 1829 and designed large sheds for the London Dock Company, for which he worked, with corrugated iron roofs. These roofs were curved, giving them still greater strength and enabling water to run off, and from the mid-19th century onwards curved corrugated iron roofs – on everything from large railway train sheds to tiny trackside lamp huts – have been common.

The barn in my photograph is typical of this – capacious, curved-roofed, and bought prefabricated from a company that specialised in this kind of structure. As usual, their name appears on the gable end. This one bears he name Phillips & Co of Hereford, but many companies made iron buildings and Britain’s once extensive railway network allowed them to be delivered to a more or less convenient station, from which a local carrier would bring them to the site. This one did not have to travel far, but firms like Boulton & Paul of Norwich, Frederick Braby of Glasgow, or Hill & Smith of Brierley Hill, sent a variety of corrugated iron structures far and wide, including to distant corners of the British empire.

Next to this barn is what looks like its tiny offspring. At first, distant glance I took it to be a railway lamp hut repurposed for the farm, and maybe it is. But its sides don’t seem to be corrugated as they are on the classic lamp huts used for example by the Great Western Railway, so I think it’s more likely to be a home-made wooden shed roofed with corrugated iron to take advantage of this durable, practical, and inexpensive material. Whoever made it, I hope it still has years of service ahead of it.

No comments: