We’d been to the Aisled Barn in Littlebourne, Canterbury, Kent, lots of times for summer and Christmas fayres and also art shows, but I’d never really looked around the empty barn to see how it was built and to discover the history of this magnificent barn.
I met up with Irene Taylor and Nancy White from the Littlebourne Barn Committee for a tour of the barn and to learn about its fascinating history.
The barn is one of the finest and best preserved aisled barns in the UK.
Littlebourne Barn is a thatched, aisled barn with 7 and a half bays and two large entrances for Wagons. It can be found just by the church and is 172 feet long and 76 feet wide.
Where is Littlebourne Barn?
Littlebourne is a beautiful little rural parish on the outskirts of Canterbury in Kent. It has a population of around 1500 people.
Who Looks After It?
The barn was purchased by Canterbury City Council in 1991 with assistance from English Heritage. It is now a Grade 1 listed building.
A grade 1 listed building means it is a site of exceptional national, architectural or historical importance. Grade 1 listed buildings are rare because of their historical importance.
The barn is now run by Littlebourne Barn Committee who organise events and lettings to local and national groups for suitable uses. All proceeds from this go to the upkeep of the barn.
Littlebourne Barn History
The barn was built in 1340 and originally it was built on land belonging to St. Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury. It is one of the largest and oldest barns of its kind still standing in the UK.
You can see some of the Lee Priory stones which were donated to the barn by Megan Taylor after the Priory’s demolition in 1950.
Standing looking down the barn you can see how they have constructed it with oak tree trunks that have been squared off and trimmed as they were.
It’s incredible to think that these supports have been there for nearly 400 years !!! There were no nails used when it was originally built, it was just slotted together.
The oak trees were thought to have come from Blean Forest nearby.
You can also clearly see the notches that supported a second floor for the barn. This floor would have been where they stored the grain.
The barn has bays running along the length and there were used to house animals, probably oxen who were used to help tend the barn.
It has two really large wagon doors for the carts to come in and out. One of these huge doors has a smaller door for people to come in and out of the barn. It is quite low so you will need to mind your head.
You can also see some burn marks on the supports of the barn and you can find out more about this on the tour of the barn.
There is a part of the original floor which can be seen right at the back of the barn and you can see some of the original markings on the beams where they had marked it when it was built
The barn also has an adjacent brick built building which houses a working kitchen and toilets, and is used as a tea room serving refreshments during events.
What was the barn used for?
The barn wasn’t used for storage, it was used to process crops such as wheat, oats, barley and rye.
We know this as there are 2 sets of winnowing hatches in the barn and these were used to create a draft that blew the chaff away from the grain.
The chaff was used for insulating houses between the floor and ceiling joints so nothing was wasted from the harvest.
The two large doors were enlarged in 1962 to enable them to get bigger equipment into the barn.
The fact that the barn is so large tells us that the land owner was very wealthy and the crops were very large.
The barn has 7 and a half bays along the length of it. It is thought these were used for animals such as oxen or horses throughout the barn’s history.
The roof is thatched with water reeds that can be found near the marshes in Kent. Originally it would have been straw thatch taken from the working farm.
The Littlebourne Giant
At the end of the barn you will find a giant called Torrent. He was the first of the giant figures to be built in East Kent. He was inspired by the River Nailbourne which runs through Littlebourne. He has two smaller helpers called Ebb and Flo.
There are 7 other giants in East Kent. There’s Flora the giant of Singleton in Ashford, Harry of Hawkinge, John Drury of Sandwich, Lily of Herne Bay, Joss of Margate and Captain Sam of Whitstable. Each giant was inspired by the town it was created in.
The giants help to create a sense of community and pride. They bring joy and happiness to the villages in East Kent.
Torrent lives in the barn and helps to preside over events and he has previously attended festivals and events throughout the UK and abroad.
Littlebourne Village History
The name “Littlebourne” is said to have been used for this parish since the year 690 when a Jutish King called Withred gave the 5 ploughlands to St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury.
It was alleged that the abbot had a vineyard there. Indeed the church in Littlebourne is called St Vincent of Sargossa after the patron saint of winemakers.
The little Stour river runs through Littlebourne and links Littlebourne to Wickhambreux and Ickham. It was the reason why the villages were originally built.
This manor was taken over by Solomon of Ripple in the early 1300s and he rebuilt the church and barn as we see it today. He also constructed the mill along the river around 1320.
The Ivy Barn Tea Rooms
Just up the road from the Barn is a fantastic tea room called The Ivy Barn.
It’s in a converted barn and serves freshly made cakes and coffees and teas. You can also buy fresh fruit, gifts and local produce from here. Definitely worth a visit.
The Evenhill pub is a lovely village pub in Littlebourne. It was originally a cottage built in the 16th Century.
It has a lovely Victorian bar with oak beams and fireplaces. It has a top notch restaurant serving freshly cooked meals. It also has 16 en suite bedrooms if you want to stay over with a lovely garden at the back.
Also on the way out of Littlebourne you can visit Howletts Zoo.
Howletts is famous for its Gorillas. It is over 90 acres and has over 390 animals from African Elephants to Gorillas, Monkeys and leopards.
They are also the only place in Kent that has giant anteaters. They have lots of rare and endangered animals and have lots of entertainment and fun things to do for children while you are there.
They are a dedicated animal conservation charity and they help to send animals back into the wild. They have so far released more than 70 gorillas back to the wild and had over 35 wild births.
Summer and Christmas Fayres at the Barn
The Littlebourne barn committee organises lots of events at the barn throughout the year including summer and Christmas fayres, art shows and all the proceeds go towards the upkeep of the barn.
They are always really well organised and attended and much enjoyed by the village and surrounding areas.
The Christmas and Summer fayres are packed with stalls selling locally made goods and produce and there are always lots of fun family things to do including a visit from Father Christmas at the Christmas fayre.
Barn tours can be booked through the Littlebourne Barn Website.
The tours are for a maximum of 20 people, please contact the barn website for prices of these tours.
The tour of the barn has opportunities for photos and you can learn all about its fascinating history from Nancy.
There are light refreshments afterwards in the barn pantry and you can also purchase books about the barn.
If you love to learn about British history and love exploring beautiful Kent villages then a trip to Littlebourne Barn is a must for you.
The barn is simply stunning inside and out. It’s truly magnificent and such an important part of our heritage.
You stand in the barn imagining what it must have been like as a working farm in the 1300s.
The tours are fantastic and there’s tea and freshly made scones to be had after and a chance to ask all the questions that you have about the barn.