This is a barn.
It’s a rather beautiful barn I think. It sits on the side of the hill just down from my studio. I’ve always wanted to do something with it. It has a lot going for it – its size, its proportions, the way it clings to an impossible slope, the backdrop of little peaks in the fells behind, the way it draws your attention from the road – half a mile away.
In many ways it sums up the this remote, isolated, hostile landscape. Once this was a thriving agricultural landscape. It still is an agricultural landscape – there’s not much else you can do in these hills. There’s two main features of the uplands of the North Pennines – field barns and Swaledale sheep. The barns were built to store feed and provide essential shelter from the harsh winters. This barn is a typical field barn in this part of the North Pennines where the agricultural history goes back to the Vikings and has many similarities with the upper parts of the Yorkshire Dales. This particular barn was probably a Hogg House – hoggs being sheep in their first year. In bad weather the sheep were herded into the barn overnight, or during the day if it was seriously bad. These barns date back to the late 18th Century and in turn replace wooden structures on the same site. In a way, these barns have always been there. The hogg houses were largely made redundant through the breeding of sheep who could withstand the driving rain and snow by taking shelter behind drystone walls. As hill farming in the latter 19th Century moved from an existence model to a more commercial model so livestock was bred to save money and time – sheep were bred for their resistance to disease as well as adaptability to the landscape. Different breeds cope with very different landscape environments. In a way, the demise of the barns was due to the success of the Swaledale sheep.
I wanted to play with the building, explore its setting and heritage in a subtle way. I’ve played with redundant architecture in the landscape before:
I’ve also played with the role of sheep-breeds in the identity of the landscape:
I want to somehow link the barn with the sheep breed. As it is, it clings to the hill like the sheep, but I also like the relationship between the barn and the breed as points in the history of agriculture and this landscape.
The Prince of Wales is heading up a campaign for wool and part of that is the creation of a National Wool Week in October. The dates this year coincide with the annual Tup Sales in Kirkby Stephen – one of the biggest events in the Swaledale breed’s calendar. It seems fitting therefore to try and do something as part of that. Without funding or a commissioner it has to be something fairly straightforward to do and affordable for me.
First off though was to ascertain the state of the barn and environmental issues. There are birds nesting inside, and I’ve also seen bats flying about who may well be living in this barn so whatever I do I’ll have to leave all entrances open and not work inside. There’s also a very worrying crack down one wall which definitely rules out doing anything to encourage people to go inside. There is a thick patch of bracken on the western side, although the current sheep have kept it clear fog the barn all around so there’s easy access to the whole site.
Here’s a computer model of the barn I made from some initial measurements and photos.
Research done, time to get the sketchbook out I think…