Bank Barns, Field Barns and Spinning Galleries

by Emma Bray

Banner image © Gordon Lightburn

Bank barns

The Ullswater area has a number of bank barns which made practical use of a slope. These traditional farm buildings are particularly distinctive to Cumbria,

A bank barn is a two-storey stone farm building, prevalent in the Lake District, which made use of sloping ground, either being built along the contour (a true bank barn) or across it. Being built into the slope, the ground floor was usually smaller in area than the upper storey and both floors could be accessed without the need for stairs. The upper floor entrance made use of the slope and the ground floor entrance was from the farmyard.

Bank barn © Gordon Lightburn

The advantage of this arrangement was that crops could be taken by sled from the upper slope into the first floor which contained a threshing floor. Some barns were built on flat ground with access to the upper floor being created by an artificial slope or ramp. A small winnowing door opposite the threshing door allowed a through-draught to be created by opening both doors when threshing took place. The draught allowed the crop to be winnowed, that is the heavier grain was separated from the lighter chaff by the current of air. The grain and straw would then be stored here until needed.

Bank barn at Beckstones © Gordon Lightburn

Animals were kept in a byre on the ground floor and a trap door from the upper storey enabled straw to be pushed down for the animals. Inside, there may have been a passage along the centre of the ground floor allowing access to feed the animals and clear manure, but the layout varied and might include a cart shed. Barns built along the slope had the advantage that the whole length of the lower floor was at farmyard level, so there could be several doors and different sections for storage, stabling or a byre.

Field barns

Field barns were outlying buildings in fields away from the farmhouse. They provided shelter and fodder storage. Like bank barns, they usually made use of sloping ground, with animals kept below and feed above. The provision of field barns avoided the need to transport crops for feed or hay back to the farmyard. Manure from animals kept in the barn could be spread directly on surrounding fields.

Most bank and field barns date from the late 18th century, but a few can be dated to the later 17th century such as the one at Sockbridge Hall.

Field Barn on Dalemain Estate © Jane Firth

Spinning galleries

Some barns also had a spinning gallery, although this could equally have been built onto the farmhouse. The gallery was covered, usually by means of an extension to the barn roof over a cantilevered platform at the upper floor level. Most were on the opposite side to the barn threshing doors. An example used to exist at Dalehead Farm, Martindale, where the gallery ran along the entire length at first floor level. However, it was dismantled in the twentieth century. Another example exists in Hartsop. Susan Denyer has questioned whether spinning would in fact have been carried out on these galleries, exposed to the elements as they were. She has suggested that the galleries may in fact have been used for drying hemp and flax or for preparing yarn for use on looms.

by Emma Bray

Spinning Gallery Hartsop © Gordon Lightburn


R.W. Brunskill, Traditional Buildings of Cumbria (2002)

Susan Denyer, Traditional Life in the Lake District (1991)

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