Monday, July 25, 2022

Leigh Brockamin, Worcestershire

I still seem to be recovering from covid, which has left me easily exhausted and the victim from time to time of something I can only call brain fog. However I am now making small trips out, and plan to continue here with occasional short blog posts. This one describes a building only about 30 miles from where I live, but far, far away in terms of its architecture and structure from what we are used to in these postmodern times.

Cathedrals of wood

The great medieval barns of England are cathedrals of woodwork, and Leigh Court Barn in Worcestershire is one of the best. Its exterior a charming mixture of brick, weatherboarding and wattle with a big tiled roof, does not quiet have the grandeur of stone barns like the magnificent Great Coxwell, but the sheer size of the structure, with its pair of vast cart entrances and that sweeping roof, prepares us, up to a point, for the interior.

When we step through the door, the sight is breathtaking: a succession of eleven enormous trusses, each made of a large cruck frame held together by horizontal beams and diagonal braces. Crucks, the pairs of long timbers that form an inverted ‘V’, are normally made by splitting the trunk of a sizeable oak tree in two. Here, each side of each cruck was made with a single tree, to give thew maximum size and strength. The effect is awesome, and all the more remarkable for its early date – it was erected in the early 14th century.

This makes it one of the earliest extant cruck-framed buildings, and also the largest in Britain. It was built for the use of a farm belonging to Pershore Abbey and the walls were originally covered with wattles (panels of woven laths, looking from a distance like basketwork). Most of this original cladding has gone, and is mostly replaced with boarding. This is vernacular architecture, done by local craftsmen using local materials, to supply a practical need. But what a vivid demonstration they gave of how this ‘humble’ kind of building could produce an effect as magnificent as a great cathedral, larger in scale than a manor house. John Betjeman used to say that some churches made him immediately want to knell down in prayer. This building had a similarly humbling effect on me.

1 comment:

George said...

Thank you. In The Most Beautiful House in the World, Witold Rybczynski described cruck barns, but without ever providing a diagram or a picture. Now I have a better understanding of them.