HEREFORD, The Cathedral Barn
Ron Shoesmith, Hereford Cathedral Archaeologist
The barn, a Grade II*-listed building on the English Heritage ‘Buildings at Risk’ register, which stands at the northeastern corner of the close, is being renovated and will be used as a school party centre. Apart from trenches for services, three exploratory archaeological trenches - one internal and two external - were excavated. The small sizes meant that it was not possible to reach natural gravel, but the excavations have totally changed our understanding of the building.
The clearance of the later floor levels within the barn exposed a massive stone wall just within the southern side of the barn and almost, but not exactly, on same alignment as the building. An external trench to the east of the barn demonstrated that this wall turned to the north and a further examination of the stone fabric (particularly the northwestern corner of the barn) has shown that it was incorporated as the west wall of the barn. An additional trench to the north of the barn confirmed that the wall did not continue any further northwards.
The wall is about 0.7m wide and stands to varying heights inside the building (all below the latest concrete floor level). At the northwestern corner of the building however, it stands some two metres high and is faced on the west, north and almost certainly on the east sides. It originally joined the surviving fragments to the south, but most of this wall was demolished when the double doors were inserted. The hole against the south-western corner exposed some three courses of the wall, all well-faced and coursed and evidently above ground when the wall was built - they are certainly not foundations. Several of the few surviving stones comprising the wall in the western entry were taken out to make way for new services. They were massive - at least 0.3m cubed and well-squared. As there was no dating evidence from the external trenches, an internal trench was excavated adjoining the massive wall and just to the west of a later internal partition wall. The north face of the early wall was also well-faced and, as the excavation continued, floor levels containing pottery dating from the 13th to the 15th centuries was found together with large amounts of metal-working waste material. The lower levels in the trench, probably associated with the construction of the massive wall, contained pottery of 11th- and 12th-century date. It rapidly became apparent (and was rather worrying) that the later layers were far too low to be associated with the timber-framed building, dated by tree-ring analysis to 1253-88.
The purpose of this massive wall is as yet uncertain, but it may have been a precinct wall, with the turn to the north representing the eastern side of an entry to a building to the north (perhaps a predecessor of the Canon’s House). It does not appear to be part of a building, but the presence of metal-working debris in the area between the walls may well mean that the metal workers, engaged in the construction of the cathedral, had their working area here, just as the present-day masons have their yard adjoining the cathedral. Metal-working involved considerable heat and the danger of fire, so their yard would be well away from the cathedral. It is evident that this massive wall remained in use well into the 15th century, allowing some build up of the surrounding ground.
Timber frame construction as used in the Cathedral Barn
Photographs of the Cathedral Barn undergoing restoration are available from the Hereford Cathedral website
The first phase of the development of the present building took place on a different site; one which will probably never be identified, but was probably reasonably close to the position of the present barn. The original timber-framed building, (dated by tree-ring analysis to between 1253 and 1288) looked completely different from the present barn, for it was both wider and longer. The increased width included aisles on each side, and the building was half-a-bay longer than the present barn. As built, it would have been approximately 15.5m long (51ft) and about 7.5m (24ft 6ins) wide externally. Each of the aisles would have been about 1m (3ft 3ins) wide leaving a clear area in the centre some 4.3m (14ft) wide (allowing for the outside walls and aisle posts). The whole building was probably of timber construction and the roof probably consisted of five scissor-braced trusses forming four bays. Two diagonal braces rising from each arcade post helped to support the arcade plate and stabilise the building. This building, erected in the mid-13th century, was an aisled hall of some stature and could well have been one of the canonical houses that surrounded the close at that time. It is tempting to suggest that it may have been the predecessor of the 16th-century cross-wing of the Canon’s House just to the north of the barn. It has to be assumed that by the latter part of the 15th century, the canonical hall, then being over 200 years old, was not in the best of condition and was due for replacement. But could parts of it be re-used? Like all timber-framed buildings, it would originally have been laid out in a framing yard and each joint would have been numbered for ease of re-erection. The process could be reversed.
The Cathedral Barn showing details of the construction of the roof
There must have been a need for a building in the immediate area, perhaps as a coach house or simply for storage, and by that time the solid precinct wall had served its purpose. The southern part was demolished down to ground level (by this time quite a bit higher than it was when the wall had originally been built), but the western section was left. The aisled hall was carefully taken down and the parts no longer required were disposed of (perhaps due to their poor condition). They included the outside walls and the roof - the areas that would have suffered most from the weather. What was left was the aisle posts and the wall plates that held them together. These remaining timbers were moved to a new site at the north-eastern corner of the close, and a new building was erected utilizing the western section of the precinct wall as a stone west wall. As it so happened, the original building was slightly longer than the available site - had it been built it would almost have blocked St John Street - so most of the eastern half-bay had to be lost and a totally new east face was constructed. Over time, the old building had suffered from age and the eastern part of the northern wall-plate was renewed. The building also needed a new roof, to a more modern design. Five bays replaced the original four, the wall plate being adjusted to accommodate them. With just aisle posts on the north and south sides, new timbers had to be inserted and the new panels were probably filled with wattle and daub. The new building, essentially constructed from prefabricated parts of the aisled hall, has been well dated - for the tree rings on one sample are complete to the bark edge, giving a felling date late in either 1491 or early in 1492. Other samples are compatible, and as green timber was usually used, a construction date early in the last decade of the 15th century seems most probable - about the time Columbus discovered America.
As time went on the lower sections of the eastern gable and south wall were replaced in stone. The internal floor at this time must have been at a higher level than at present in the western part, but it may survive in the higher, undisturbed eastern part of the barn floor adjacent to St. John Street. At some time the wattle and daub panels on the south face were infilled with brick, weather-boarding was applied to the other faces, and a first-floor was inserted into the building.
There have been many alterations to the building during the last 200 years including lowering the floor level in the western three-quarters of the building, underpinning the north wall with stone, and inserting new double doors in the western face. At one time in its later history three WCs were laid out in a row in the centre of the building, whilst the western part was apparently a two-room accommodation unit, possibly for the stable boy.
Within the cathedral itself eroded stone has been replaced in the south wall of the nave. Some corbels on the clerestory were replaced with ones carved with the faces of people involved in the work of the cathedral for many years and who have retired or are about to retire. Four corbels of the Hereford Six are shown with their retiring real-life counterparts below.
Left to right: Ron Shoesmith, Cathedral Archaeologist for 14 years; Sir Thomas Dunne,
KCVO, KG, Lord Lieutenant of Herefordshire for 30 years; Michael Baylis, Dean's Verger
for 14 years; Sir John Cotterell, Bt., Chairman of the Mappa Mundia Trust for 20 years.
(Sculptures by Paul Sheldon)
The two other members of the Hereford Six are Andrew Eames, Lt. Col.(Ret'd), Chapter Clerk and Administrator for 12 years and the Rt. Rev. Michael Hopper, Priest, Archdeacon, Bishop of Ludlow for 40 years in total.