Local history uncovered: Stoke Gifford’s medieval barn

Photo of excavations on the site of Court Farm.

By local history enthusiast Adrian Kerton.

In 2014, an archaeological investigation was carried out by Absolute Archaeology on behalf of the Trustees of the Old School Rooms prior to the construction of the new St Michael’s Centre which was designed to serve the communities of Stoke Gifford, Bristol and beyond. It was opened in 2015 as part of the audacious Heart of the Community project at St Michael’s Church, Stoke Gifford. What was discovered surprised and delighted the archaeologists as the foundations of a medieval barn which had disappeared from the minds of the good folks of Stoke Gifford was uncovered. Beneath the old engineering works was evidence of a 19th century planned farm which had sealed the masonry of a probable medieval tithe barn.

That such a barn existed was not surprising, considering that Stoke Gifford was primarily an agricultural community which continued into the 1970s. Indeed, when one looks at the older maps, one can see little change until the arrival of the Bovis ‘Royal Estate’ off Sandringham Road in 1978. Tithe barns were the repository of the produce required from the farmers of the rural community when, in medieval times, the church took a tenth of everyone’s income in addition to any taxes they paid to the crown, and this barn would have been an essential part of the life of Stoke Gifford.

The site had previously formed part of Court Farm, which was a planned farmstead founded in 1862 as part of the Beaufort Estate programme of modernisation. This was the year when the Beauforts constructed the school, the Court Farm farmhouse and the two cottages around the green which form such an iconic representation of Stoke Gifford.

The Terrier of 1757 (a record of farms) cites a number with a barn, stables, an orchard and garden, perhaps ours belonged to Widow Millet who also owned Court Paddock. The 1842 valuation shows the farm had grown but the farm was very unproductive and run down and the surveyor suggested bringing ‘Bristol dung’ to the farm to improve its productivity. No doubt the farm was improved when it was taken over by the Beaufort Estate.

Unfortunately, we do not have a sketch of the barn, or do we? A sketch on an early 18th century map shows a barn-like structure, the sketch is different to the other sketches of houses around the village; it is much larger so perhaps it is our barn. The sketch is very small and faded, so some detail is lost.

Finding such a significant building points to the importance of archaeological investigations of brownfield sites. The complete archaeological report, courtesy of Absolute Archaeology and the Trustees of the Old School Rooms, with site photos by Kalvin Smith, can be found on our local history site at www.stokegiffordhistory.wordpress.com

This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of the Stoke Gifford Journal news magazine (on pages 26 & 27). The magazine is delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to over 5,000 homes in Stoke Gifford, Little Stoke and Harry Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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