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′ (the same height as Cippenham’s long-ago demolished Super Cinema). The barn’s size attests to the substantial yields that could be obtained from the farm’s 600 acres of flat field, even as long as half a millennium ago when the barn was built. The climate in the Thames Valley region is excellent for cereal production. The soil quality and irrigation of the land north of Cippenham Lane made it possibly the finest in the county for corn growing. Queen Victoria’s husband, 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 great intelligence and learning who took a keen interest in agriculture. Sadly he only lived to age 42.

There is some controversy as to the age of the Great Barn. 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. In 1905, a roman coin was found close to the Great Barn, indicating there may have been somewhat earlier occupation of this particular spot. The barn is 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, date from the 18th Century.  The original roof was probably also replaced in the 18th Century and it is likely that before then, the building was thatched.

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 late 19th and earliest 20th Century the farm pursued technical advancement. For instance, a steam 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 per year for its beneficiaries. From the twenties on, people flocked from depressed parts of the country for the prospects of employment on the estate. Generations of people who went to work in the manufactories on Slough Estates mostly did quite well.  Many got to live in spacious three bedroom houses with long gardens, have a telephone, own a car, and take an annual holiday (sometimes abroad). It was an environment that rewarded intelligence, talent and hard work. Even if some weren’t satisfied, it surely had to be a more interesting life than pulling a carthorse round a field 11 hours a day with only a lump of cheese with celery and a pickled onion to eat for lunch.

When the farm buildings became derelict in the seventies, the Great Barn stayed in better condition than the other old buildings, its solid locked doors keeping thieves and vandals 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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