Restoration saves rare Northumberland heather barn

A restoration project has saved a unique grade II listed Northumberland barn with a heather-thatched roof

Gareth Preece the owner of the newly thatched 18 century shed in Tow House, Northumberland
Gareth Preece the owner of the newly thatched 18 century shed in Tow House, Northumberland

A celebratory bash in a barn yesterday marked the restoration of a unique historic survivor.

The grade II-star listed Black Barn at Tow House, near Bardon Mill in Northumberland, is the only structure in England to have retained original heather thatch - once common in the uplands of Northern England.

The survival of the thatch in the early 18th Century barn gave experts the chance to learn how farming communities centuries ago built such features.

The barn is also one of only a handful of timber-framed cruck buildings north of the Tees - a construction dating from early medieval times in which naturally curved, rough-hewn wood is at the heart of the building.

Yesterday the barn was the base for a celebration to mark the completion of its restoration, following a £145,000 grant from English Heritage and contributions from the building’s owners and Northumberland County Council.

It will now be removed from English Heritage’s At Risk register.

Robin Dower, from Cambo-based architects Spence & Dower, who co-ordinated the restoration, said: “Because the barn had surviving heather thatch we could examine how our ancestors did it in terms of putting it together and it has allowed us to understand about the North of England thatching tradition.

“They used what was available, and we can look how the heather was laid and fixed, and the use of other materials like clay and layers of turf.”

Long-stemmed heather was employed in the days before moors were managed for grouse shooting and sheep.

Supplies for the restoration came from forestry moorland north of Rothbury.

The use of heather was widespread until it was replaced by slate in the later 19th Century.

Kate Wilson, Heritage at Risk principal adviser for the North East at English Heritage said: “This is a really special building, and an astonishingly rare combination of timber-framed cruck construction and heather thatch still in place.

“It’s been a privilege to work with a team of specialists and the owners to bring this building back into use. It’s now ready to stand up to the worst the weather has to throw at it.

“This project has provided us with a lot of valuable information about traditional, regional construction techniques.”

Gareth Preece, co-owner of the Black Barn, said: “We are delighted that this amazing barn has been restored.”

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