Inside the Great Barn

The Great Barn is one of a group of buildings that were once the nucleus of Cippenham Court farm. Positioned on the south side of Cippenham Lane opposite Westgate school playing field, the Great Barn is a fine looking Grade II listed building of large proportion at 130′ by 36′ and standing at a height of 39′. Although the original building was extended since being built nearly half a millennium ago, the barn’s size attests to the substantial grain yields that could be harvested from the farm’s 600 acres of flat field. The climate in the Thames Valley region is ideal for cereal production, but it was the quality of the soil and irrigation that rendered the plain on the north of Cippenham Lane as possibly the finest land in the county for corn cultivation. Queen Victoria’s consort, Albert, presented the farm with a gold cup and 36 guineas for the quality of its corn harvest in 1858. Prince Albert was a gentleman of intelligence and learning who pursued a keen interest in agriculture. Sadly he only lived to age 42.

There is some controversy as to the age of the Great Barn, but it is probably the second oldest building in Cippenham after Cippenham Place house. The aisle which runs the length of the north side of the building, along with the two porches and hatch, are 18th Century additions. The original roof was probably also replaced in the 18th Century and it is likely that before then, the building was thatched. The timber-framed main part of the building probably dates from the late 16th Century, although some sources have put it as early as 1500. The farm is certainly known to have been in existence prior to 1480. The lands of Cippenham Court Farm were once part of Cippenham Manor which was gifted by Richard, Earl of Cornwall to Burnham Abbey at the time of its founding in 1266. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536), the lands of Cippenham Manor eventually came into the ownership of Eton College, which remained the freeholder of Cippenham Court Farm into the late 20th century. In 1905, a Roman coin was found close to the Great Barn, possibly indicating occupation of the site during this era. It is also noteworthy that 450 metres to the south there is an earthworking purported to have been the site of an Anglo-Saxon royal palace.

The Great Barn’s main agricultural use was to accommodate the threshing of corn and storage of the grain produced. Sacked wheat grain would have been loaded via the central hatch onto carts and from there, depending on the era, taken to the nearby Hay Mill,  the windmill at Cippenham, the windmill or water mill at Salt Hill or the steam powered mill in Slough.

In the Edwardian era the farm pursued technical advancement. For instance, a stationary engine was installed in a shed on the the east side of the Great Barn to enable powered threshing. There are anecdotes suggesting that the farm was progressive in the care and conditions provided for its workers. Despite its agricultural success, Cippenham Court underwent a sudden downturn in 1918 when all of its finest land was confiscated by the government for use as a dump to hold all of the surviving lorries, ambulances and motorcycles from WW1. The last crop of corn, although fully ripened and worth a great many thousands was burned. At this time, the population of England was undernourished and most children were suffering from malnutrition.

Two years later (1920) the government sold off the land along with all the vehicles on it to a newly-formed private company. The company reconditioned the vehicles and sold them for private use, profiting by many millions. Much of the profit was reinvested to turn the land into a business park with an infrastructure that included 49 miles of railway, independent water supply and an electric power station. That same land, as Slough Estates, is still generating billions of pounds each year for its beneficiaries. From the twenties on, people flocked in from depressed parts of the country for the prospects of employment on the estate. Generations of people went to work in the manufactories on Slough Estates and were comparatively well paid. It was an environment that provided  opportunity for the talented and hard working. It surely had to be preferable to the type of work that Cippenham Court farm once provided, such as pulling a carthorse round a field for 11 hours a day with only a lump of cheese, celery and a pickled onion to eat for lunch.

When Cippenham Court’s farm buildings became derelict in the seventies, the Great Barn stayed in better condition than the others, its solid locked doors keeping thieves and vandals at bay. In the 1980s, the barn was renovated and used as business premises, accommodating a film studio. Nowadays, the Great Barn houses a bathroom showroom. Unfortunately, this means that most of the interior walling is covered up by bathroom displays. It can be seen from the photographs below, there are some interesting views to be seen of the queen post roof construction.

A few interesting features can be discerned in the brickwork. Sometimes pagan symbols can be detected in walls of this age – perhaps this is what we see here.

For the story of how Cippenham Court Farm’s land became The Slough Trading Estate, see here.

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