Threshing Barn at Highover Farm

Overview

Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: II

List Entry Number: 1452743

Date first listed: 02-May-2018

Statutory Address: Highover Farm, Highover Way, Hitchin, Herts, SG4 0RQ

Map

Ordnance survey map of Threshing Barn at Highover Farm
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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Location

Statutory Address: Highover Farm, Highover Way, Hitchin, Herts, SG4 0RQ

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Hertfordshire

District: North Hertfordshire (District Authority)

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Grid Reference: TL1976530692

Summary

Threshing barn, constructed in the late C16 or early C17, and extended in the C18.

Reasons for Designation

The threshing barn at Highover Farm, built in the late C16 or early C17, and extended in the C18, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * as a well-preserved example of a late-C16 or early-C17 timber-framed threshing barn; * for the legibility of the original plan form of the threshing barn; * for the survival of a high proportion of the original queen-post roof structure, timber-framing, and flint and brick wall construction. Historic interest: * as a key surviving example of English agricultural and tenurial practice, exhibiting the agricultural prosperity of Highover Farm in the late C16 or early C17.

History

Highover Farm most likely has its origins as a medieval farmstead, and was first documented between 1287 and 1294 (Gover, Mawer & Stenton, 1938). A deed of 1438 refers to tenements, lands, pastures and meadows with hedges and ditches in the hamlet of Highover which were sold by John Poydras of Almshoe to John Pulter and Nicholas Mattok of Hitchin and Thomas Pulter, a canon of St Paul’s Cathedral. Manorial accounts of 1460 mention a messuage and a cottage at Highover in addition to John Pulter’s property there. An inquisition post-mortem for 1488 refers to Highover as a manor, reflecting the wealth of the Pulter family as wool merchants. In 1556 Edward Pulter is recorded as owning the farm called Highover with 20 acres of land for which he paid the lord of the manor 2lb of pepper a year as well as a monetary rent. Pulter was also recorded as owning a copyhold tenement and cottage at Highover, and by 1676 these cottages had been absorbed into Highover Farm. The Pulter family did not live at Highover; for much of the C15 and early C16 they resided in the parsonage in Hitchin (now the site of Churchgate) which they leased from Elstow Abbey.

In 1690, Highover farmhouse with its out buildings, barns, stables, 400 acres of land and 36 acres of pasture in the parishes of Hitchin and Great Wymondley were leased to William Maling. In the 1750s Pulter Forester was required to sell some of the family’s estates, and his son William sold Highover and his other property in Walsworth to the Reverend Thomas Whitehurst in 1766. Whitehurst obtained an Act of Parliament to enclose the open fields of Walsworth, and commissioned Thomas Bateman to map his estates in Walsworth in 1767 and Ickleford in 1771. The 1767 map shows a simpler but similar layout to what currently survives at Highover Farm, with the irregular form of the medieval farmstead, orchard and pond, surrounded by the straight lines of the new enclosures. By the 1780s Whitehurst was in serious financial difficulties; in 1783 and 1786 he mortgaged parts of his Walsworth estate, and in 1791 the Walsworth estate was auctioned to repay his mortgages and debts. The sales particulars described the estate as ‘three eligible farms’ with 605 acres of rich, arable land, meadow and pasture ‘in a beautiful and Sporting Part of the Country within One Mile of Hitchin (being one of the first Markets in the Kingdom)’ and ‘near a navigable River, which is expected to be continued through Part of the Estate’. Whitehurst’s Walsworth estate was sold in 1803, and again in 1822.

The farmstead is shown on the 1844 tithe map as 'High-Over Farm', with the L-plan farmhouse at the south-east side of a rectangular-plan farmyard, stables and hay barn at the south-west side, threshing barn and attached farm building at the north-west side, and an L-plan farm building at the north-east side. A report on Mr Wilshere’s land at Walsworth in 1861 stated that ‘Highover Farm has a very fair Homestead and a good House which is conveniently placed, but the land although of good quality has been very much neglected’. The following year Highover Farm (then with 420 acres) was let to Richard Pedder who was recorded in 1881 as farming 422 acres, employing 14 men and 10 boys, and having two resident female servants. The 1881 Ordnance Survey (OS) map shows the farmstead with the same layout as the 1844 tithe map, with the exception that a store was added to the north-west corner between the hay barn and threshing barn; the building formerly attached to the north-east side of the threshing barn was replaced by a detached range of cart sheds; and the building to the north-east side of the farmyard was replaced by a linear range of cattle sheds. The layout of these buildings has not changed since the publication of the 1881 OS map, save the addition of a small number of farm buildings to the interior of the farmyard. Alterations were carried out to the front elevation of the farmhouse about 1890, and a perpendicular two-storey extension was added to the north-east corner of the farmhouse around 1910.

It is likely that the threshing barn at Highover Farm was constructed in the late C16 or early C17. The barn for storing and threshing corn was one of the most important and impressive buildings on a farm and usually the largest. Large farms and estates benefited from the great land sales that followed the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s to 1540s, and the resultant increase of average farm sizes, particularly in the most capital-intensive arable areas, was accompanied by a general increase in agricultural incomes and productivity. The period between 1770 and 1870 was the most significant phase of farm building development throughout England. Rising grain prices from the 1760s into the early C19, and the impact of agricultural improvement, brought about a significant change in the extent of arable production in the east of England, accompanied by further investment in farm buildings of all types – not only barns, but also stables, granaries and buildings and enclosures for livestock. The traditional threshing barn plan, comprising a threshing floor with opposing doors and flanking storage bays, remained comparatively unaltered between the C12 and early C19, although the gradual demise of large, cross-ventilated threshing bays followed the advent of the threshing machine in the late C18. There is marked regional variation throughout the country, and in the arable areas of the south and east of England, threshing barns could be large, sometimes aisled, and were commonly built in groups to provide shelter to cattle yards. It is possible that the large threshing barn at Highover Farm was constructed as a semi-aisled barn, but more likely that the north-west aisle was added in the C18 (as evidenced by the red brick extensions to the flint gable walls).

Details

Threshing barn, constructed in the late C16 or early C17, and extended in the C18.

MATERIALS: the threshing barn is timber-framed with weatherboard cladding over a flint plinth, having red brick infill laid in Flemish bond, and a slate roof covering.

PLAN: T-shaped in plan, comprising a rectangular-plan barn laid out on a south-west to north-east axis, with a porch projecting from the centre of the south-east elevation, and an aisle to the north-west side, most likely added in the C18.

EXTERIOR: the threshing barn has a steeply-pitched roof with a slate roof covering, plain bargeboards at the gable ends, and catslide roofs over the north-west aisle and south-east shelters. The timber-framed structure has weatherboard cladding over a flint plinth, having red-brick infill to the corners and some rebuilding to parts, including the western ends of the gable walls where it appears the north-west aisle may have been added in the C18. The gabled porch to the centre of the south-east elevation has double-leaf plank doors with strap hinges opening externally, under a jettied gable supported by knee braces. Outshot shelters were added to either side of the porch in the mid-C19, each having three timber posts supporting a slate roof (the south roof has collapsed entirely). The north-west elevation has double-leaf plank doors opening internally, directly opposite the porch of the south-east elevation.

INTERIOR: the interior is formed of seven bays, the central bay of which retains a cobbled threshing floor. The queen-post roof structure has clasped purlins, with diagonal bracing to the principal rafters, each of which were numbered by the carpenter. The tie beams have knee braces to the principal posts, the majority of which in turn have diagonal braces to the wall plate. The collar beams are at bay and half-bay intervals. The south-east wall appears to retain a high proportion of its original timber posts, studs and diagonal braces over an original flint plinth wall. The timber posts of the former north-west wall now stand on red-brick plinths. The north-west aisle (most likely added in the C18) has aisle tie beams bolted to the north-west principal posts, and knee braces to the north-west wall, which has closely-spaced studs and some diagonal braces. The gable walls retain a high proportion of their original flint construction, while their western ends have been rebuilt in brick, possibly when the north-west aisle was added in the C18. Parts of the north-west wall and porch have been repaired with red brick over various periods.

Sources

Books and journals
Brunskill, R W, Traditional Farm Buildings of Britain and their Conservation, (2007)
Gover, J E B, Mawer, Allen, Stenton, F M, The Place Names of Hertfordshire, (1938), 10
Other
Ordnance Survey map, 1881
Tithe Map, 1844

End of official listing