July 8, 2024


As I made my way around and through the chairs heading towards the far end of the barn, I admired the prettiest of flowers which decorated the tables. There were 260 of us here for supper tonight and everything looked perfect.

The evening was organised by the Hampshire Farmers Club and it had in fact begun two hours earlier with a farm tour using a large number of tractors and trailers to take us around.

There were various stops where Simon our farm manager, Geordie or I could offer a little interpretation and we were lucky with weather. The barn, however was our goal.

It was an extraordinary moment for Geordie and I. This medieval barn had been deteriorating slowly over the last few centuries and, as a result, had ended up on Historic England‘s building at risk register. Now it was part of Geordie’s and my responsibility – part of our stewardship of the Highclere Estate – to save it.

When we first began to understand the project and collect quotes to rebuild parts of it, restore other parts and fix the roof, it was eye- watering amounts of money. The answer was to do it bit by bit, as and when we could. The most important thing to do was to start.

There are eight bays in this cathedral-like structure, so we began with the worst. Two and a half bays later we paused for a year or two.

Then we began again to work through two more bays and an opening bay. This was once an entrance for oxen or horses to pull a laden cart across into the barn and wait in the centre whilst its contents could be unloaded and stored. Years after we started, we have now just completed the whole barn. Step by step and determined to keep going, we have documented some of the process with the Hampshire Oak Company and shared various stages on videos with Friends of Highclere.

Hampshire Oak have, with care and time, rebuilt footings, spliced in new oak to beams or queen and king posts, re-roofed with the old tiles and, more recently, found “new” old tiles. As far as possible all the existing beams were kept, – over time they have become as hard as iron but in fact harder and more resilient than that material. Our ancestors built well with the long view in mind.

What is this barn? It is, in many ways, a testament to our ancestors. Last rebuilt in 1438, it was and is an extraordinary structure which, with its height, harmony and beauty of space, is utterly inspiring. It was built to store the harvest and was therefore vital for the local food supply. Grain was and is  an essential food source and dry storage was and is  key – bread is a fundamental and hugely valued. It was therefore entirely appropriate that it was 260 farmers who joined us to feast once more in this space.

Having arrived, the first port of call was the bar for a light libation: Highclere Castle Gin and tonic, followed by supper, prizes and a very convivial evening. The barbecue and roasted vegetables were delicious, and given the word feast is related to fiesta and joyous, it was all of that.

I wondered when there had last been a feast held inside the barn? Three or four hundred years ago? I am not sure but I spent much of the evening contemplating.

This barn is still used by the farm today – it is not ideal as modern combine harvesters and tractors are somewhat larger than a bullock cart. Our attempts to make our farming endeavours more efficient have been stuck in local planning or Zoning arguments but, with encouragement from Historic England, we are still trying to use a brown field site already in part use by the farm to save towards 400 tractor journeys, 3,000 litres of diesel and reduce the carbon footprint by over 76 tonnes of carbon.


It is all about investing for the future  in the countryside and in our food sources. I feel strongly that farming matters, food matters and reducing carbon as much and as fast as possible matters. Like many people I have watched Jeremy Clarkson fight for common sense and reason in rural concerns.

The 260 farmers in the barn simply wish to continue producing food in a volatile world. Food security is important and, like our ancestors, we need to take more of a long view rather than the  short term approach which has gone on for too long.

It was a magical evening sitting in perhaps the largest extant medieval barn in this part of the world, a familiar shape in this rural landscape for hundreds of years. “Bere” was the Anglo-Saxon word for barley and “aern” means an earth house, a home or a secret place so a barn is quite literally a home for food.

Thank you to the Hampshire Farmers Club.

Thank you to Hampshire Oak and their craftsmen and the architects Brownhill Hayward Brown.