Manor Barn, Frindsbury

Building Type – Tithe Barns were special types of agricultural buildings used in most parts of Northern Europe in Middle Ages for storing tithes. ‘Tithes’ were a form of taxation when the one tenth of the grain produced by the local farmers were given to the church as an obligation to support the church and clergy. These barns were usually owned by the village church or rectory and monasteries also had such buildings to provide funds for the upkeep of their buildings and the maintenance of the church assets. The ownership by the church did not mean a special form or used different building techniques. Tithe barns were constructed using the same architecture as many other agricultural barns throughout the country. They only varied in shape and materials following the traditions of their regions.

Location – Frindsbury is a village in Kent in South East England near the town of Rochester and close to the river Medway. The forests of Southern England produce good quality oak timber (Quercus robur) which was used both for timber buildings and for boats. The English navy was renowned for its oak battle ships known as “The wooden walls of England”. The demand for oak timber was particularly high in ship building areas, such as the Medway River towns in Kent. Kent hosts a number of medieval barns similarly to other regions of England. The ones here are mostly timber-framed aisled barns with weatherboarded aisle walls and hipped roofs. This structure has a clear consistency through the ages – starting from the 13th till the 18th century.

History of Manor Barn of Frindsbury – Frindsbury Manor Barn is thought to have been built in early 1400’s and this is confirmed by tree ring dating (dendrochronology). It is called the ‘queen of Kentish barns’ as being one of the finest example of its type, while it is also often referred to as the longest medieval timber structure in Britain. The barn was built for the St Andrew’s Benedictine priory as a Tithe Barn. As well as providing storage for grain, the floor of the barn was also used for threshing to separate the seeds from the plant. During the Reformation under King Henry VIII the monasteries were broken up and lands and buildings confiscated. The barn remained in agricultural use and has been used for housing animals as well as grain and vegetables over the years. The barn has suffered a lot from neglect and vandalism. It was overloaded with potatoes at one stage causing the walls to be pushed out and splitttng some of the posts which were repaired with metal straps. Then in 2003 the barn suffered an arson attack and fire destroyed one third of the building.

Structural Description – Frindsbury Manor Barn is exemplar structure typical of early medieval Kentish barns. It’s oak framed structure incorporates a main arcade and two aisles on either side of the main nave with exceptionally large dimensions: 10.6 meters width and 65.6 meters in length for the original building. Along the lenght it consisted of 14 sections, called bays, of which only 8 remained undamaged after the fire in 2003. The structure includes a conventional crown-post roof with mortice and tenoned collars supported by a collar purlin from below. The crown post stands on the main arcade’s tie beam which under-props the collar purlin, while diagonal braces fix it both longitudinally (to the collar purlin) and crosswise (to the tie beam) to stiffen the frame, and reduce racking. The barn is also an example for an archaic feature called ‘reversed assembly’ when the aisle (eaves) plates are laid upon the tie beams connecting the arcade and the aisle posts. At later periods most of the barns were built using the normal order: with the tie beam in top position. Investigation of the Carpenter’s numbering marks show that the assembly of the barn started from the north-east end: at that part the elements of the first truss are numbered 1, the second 2 and so forth. As the marks are hidden within the joints, it was only the investigation of fire-damaged elements that could reveal this sequence.

Reconstruction After Fire Damage – After the heavy damage resulted from the fire in January 2003 the barn is now in the process of restoration to recover the collapsed 4 bays on the north-eastend. A thorough investigation was started in June 2003 tried to identify and locate all the fallen elements and this was organised and carried out very systematically, as the position of the burnt elements could provide iclues as to where they have fallen from. Altogether 65 identified elements were tagged and kept for further use and evidence to help later restorations. The second but equally important outcome was to collect the fallen debris from the ground, and clear the site to enable temporary protection to be installed until restoration can proceed. After the reconstruction works the barn will be the heart of a teaching, recreational and residental development, which will revitalise the whole surrounding (including a old quarry) and this will preserve this monument for the future. The model of Frindsbury Manor Barn in the TRAWCOE workshop shows the state that will be reached as part of this masterplan.


Jowled Post With Normal Assembly – The jowled post arrangement is a complex timber connection system utilising several different joints. The connection resolves the meeting of the tie beam and the arcade plate arriving from perpendicular directions atop the arcade post. Both beams are mortice and tenoned to the arcade post, while the tie beam of the arcade joins the arcade plate with a lap dovetail joint. Just above the lap dovetail the principal rafter joins the tie beam with a mortice and tenoned joint. All connections are pegged. The arcade posts are cut from inverted oak trees approximately 7m high, and the widest part of the trunk is used to house the connections to the adjacent timbers. The whole connection is fixed further with the arch brace and spandrel struts, while in the other direction normal braces stabilise the position of the arcade plate.

Splayed Scarf Joint With Key – Exact definition of the scarf used at Frindsbury Manor Barn is ‘splayed scarf joint with under-squinted and sallied butts, four face pegs and a face-key which is twice edge-pegged’. This is a very archaic type of scarf jointing which first appeareances in Britain in the first half of the 13th century. The pegs used for fixing the key is a more recent feature however, later than the period of the original constuction. The scarf joint is used for extending the lengths of the collar purlins and the arcade plates, the main longitudinal elements of the structure. The under-squinted and sallied solution at the nibs and the use of interlocked element (a wedged key) with the pegs makes this end to end connection more secure. However the face position of the key was notthought to be sufficient on is own and wedges were inserted from the edges in later versions of scarf joints. The direction of the scarf joints is consistent with the capernter’s numbering of the trusses and therefore confirms the presumed sequence of build phases used for the assembly of the original structure.

Lap Dovetail Joints – Lap dovetail joints are used in two situations within the structure of the barn. At the meeting point of the tie beam and the arcade plate it has been used using the normal assembly: tie beam upon the plate. The connection of the aisle tie and the aisle (eaves) plate is an example for a more archaic feature, showing the use of reversed assembly (plate upon the tie). This is effective without any other mechanical fastening while working against the tensile forces of the tie beams. Inthis situation the tie beam’s tails are housed in the sockets of the plates in a blind way.

Aisle Wall With Reversed Assembly – The aisle posts are actually doubled at Frindsbury Manor Barn connected to each other with pegged loose (floating) tenons. The outer aisle post is part of the weather boarding and flush with the vertical boards.These are shorter elements than the inner ones as they start from a higher level – from the top of the longitudinally running sole plate. While the inner part stands on the post plate, together with the arcade posts. At the top both posts are housed into the aisle tie beam. On both top and bottom ends the aisle posts are connected by pegged mortice and tenons. The aisle (eaves) plate lays atop the aisle ties in a reversed order with lap dovetail joints. Weatherboards are pegged to the mid-rail mortice and tenoned to the outer aisle posts and fitted into the grooves of the top aisle and bottom sole plates.