30 January 2012

Betjeman's "Cathedral of Middlesex" Saved

English Heritage has secured the future of Harmondsworth Barn in west London - one of the great buildings of England. Grade I listed, the barn ranks alongside the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace for its exceptional architectural and historic interest.

Harmondsworth Barn

The barn is a masterpiece of carpentry containing one of the best interiors of the medieval age

 

Rescued by English Heritage from years of neglect and decay, the oak-framed medieval barn - dubbed by the late poet laureate and heritage campaigner Sir John Betjeman as the "Cathedral of Middlesex" - will be run by and for the local community. It will open to the public in April 2012, joining Stonehenge and parts of Hadrian's Wall in the National Collection of Historic Sites and Monuments, under the guardianship of English Heritage.

The barn was built in 1426 by Winchester College as part of its manor farm at Harmondsworth and was used to store grain. Inside, both its size and its aisles evoke the space and shape of a cathedral - it is nearly 60 metres long, 12 metres wide and 11 metres tall and 13 massive oak trusses, resting on stone blocks, hold the roof up. The barn is a masterpiece of carpentry, contains one of the best interiors of the medieval age, and for its age is remarkably intact.   

Harmondsworth Barn is located very near to Heathrow Airport, its north wall five metres from the boundary of the land previously earmarked for the now abandoned Heathrow expansion proposals. In 2006, the barn was bought by an off-shore company whose interest appeared to be only in land values and not in the history or architectural significance of the barn.

The company did not maintain the barn or use it for any purpose and in 2009, alarmed by its deteriorating condition, English Heritage issued an Urgent Works Notice for emergency repairs to make the barn wind and water tight. While settling the costs of these repairs with the owners, English Heritage purchased the barn for £20,000.

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: "Harmondsworth Barn is one of the greatest medieval buildings in Britain, built by the same skilled carpenters who worked on our magnificent medieval cathedrals. Its rescue is at the heart of what English Heritage does - protecting this nation's architectural treasures and helping people discover our national story through them. We will complete the repair of this masterpiece and working with local people, will open it to the public to enjoy." 

Harmondsworth Barn

Both the size of the barn and its aisles evoke the space and shape of a cathedral

The barn has always featured strongly in the life of the Harmondsworth community, not least because it sits beside the village green and church. That close relationship continues today. A local group, the Friends of the Great Barn at Harmondsworth, has long campaigned to secure the barn's future. The Friends will now undertake the day-to-day care of the barn and its opening to the public.

Phil Rumsey, Chairman of the Friends of the Great Barn at Harmondsworth, said: "After working to save the Barn over the last six years, it is wonderful that English Heritage have rescued this much loved building.  It will provide a great lift to the local community."

Local MP and founding Friends member, John McDonnell MP, said: "Six years ago I convened a meeting of local residents to found the Friends group to save this beautiful barn and I want to pay tribute to their hard work in securing this jewel in the crown of our local heritage. Thanks to this dedicated band of local people and the commitment and professionalism of the staff of English Heritage I am now overjoyed that we have secured this wonderful building for future generations."