Titchfield Abbey
Titchfield Abbey © Historic England BB015905
Titchfield Abbey © Historic England BB015905

Titchfield Tithe Barn, Hampshire

Titchfield Tithe Barn has been transformed from a monastic grain store to a distinctive theatre and wedding venue that sits at the heart of a rural community.

The barn, a Grade I listed building, is a medieval monastic timber-framed aisled barn dating to the 15th Century. Although the barn has been altered over the years, it still retains a large amount of original features, such as the unusual and beautiful timber roof structure that contributes much to the internal appeal of the barn.

History of Titchfield Abbey

A village in southern Hampshire, by the River Meon, Titchfield has a history stretching back to the sixth century. During the medieval period, the village operated a small port and market.

Near to the village are the ruins of Titchfield Abbey, a place with strong associations with Shakespeare, through his patron, the Earl of Southampton. The barn, approximately 50 metres long by 15 metres wide, sits within the larger Titchfield Abbey site, which includes a Tudor mansion house and the whole site is roughly three acres.

Titchfield Abbey is recognised as an important archaeological ruin and is protected as a scheduled monument. The Abbey, founded in 1232, by Peter des Roches Bishop of Winchester was the last of 33 Premonstratensian houses of that order to be founded in England (named for the town of Prémontré in France where the religious order originated). The abbey estate comprised 15 manors, containing 60 villages and had 500 tenants. It had 1,000 acres of arable land and 1,500 sheep.

While in the early 13th century, the abbey estates used the open field system of agriculture, by the 14th century much of the abbey's lands were enclosed and sheep rearing began to take over from arable farming. The abbey barn, built to centralise grain storage, was not constructed until the early 15th century.

The abbey had many royal admirers and visitors. It was visited by Richard II as well as Henry V on his way to the wars in France. Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou enjoyed part of their wedding celebrations at the abbey.

During the dissolution of the monasteries, the Abbey at Titchfield was closed and the monks left in 1537. The abbey was converted into a mansion, known as Place House, by Thomas Wriothesley who had been given the abbey by King Henry VIII.

Most of the house was demolished in 1781 by the Delme family who had acquired it in 1742, in order to provide materials for a new house they built in Fareham. The barn, however, survives substantially intact, but with some later alterations.

New commercial use of the barn

The barn was converted into a theatre by the Titchfield Festival Theatre group. They are one of the UK’s largest amateur theatre groups and have three venues on the South Coast.

The theatre company stages a number of productions across its three venues throughout the year. The barn is used as the venue for the annual ‘Bard in the Barn’ festival, a celebration of William Shakespeare. The interior of the barn provides raked seating for 175, a bar/café area and an additional reception area.

When not in use for theatre, the barn can be hired to host weddings as well as other private functions. The history of the building as well as the architecture is one of the main draws for people when booking private functions at the barn.

The building now has a new economic and community role within the area. The conversion to a theatre and wedding venue has meant that the building has provided jobs to the area as well as bringing in money to the local community.

Contribution of the historic elements of the Barn and Abbey to its new function

Although the barn is listed at Grade I, the fact that the interior was an almost blank canvas meant that the space was flexible enough to be able to be converted into a high quality theatre, without losing the heritage features of the barn. The structure adds to the experience of seeing a performance there due to its highly unusual roof construction.

However, it is not just the barn that makes the site such a wonderful venue. The setting of the barn within the Titchfield Abbey site has led to it becoming a popular wedding venue, as it's an extremely photogenic location.

The conversion of the tithe barn is an extremely accomplished adaptation of a historic building which no longer functions in the way originally intended. Not only does the conversion mean that the rare Grade I barn is preserved for future generations; it also demonstrates that it's possible to adapt and reuse a highly listed and unusual building.