Southam (G-B): Medieval barn uncovered

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The aerial photo showing the remains of a medieval tithe barn in Southam.

This aerial photo reavals a small part of Southam medieval history.

Archaeologists working at the town's Little Park have uncovered the remains of a building, thought to be a medieval tithe barn.

The archaeology team have discovered the foundations of three sides of a substantial stone building with walls about a metre wide constructed of local limestone blocks.

The excavation is being carried out on behalf of Orbit Homes in advance of the construction of an Independent Living Scheme, replacement library, community facilities and a community office.

The exposed foundations are 18 metres long and over 10 metres wide but it is thought that the Southam barn would have originally been about 40 metres long. A cobbled surface survives at the entrance.

Tithe barns were used to store the tithe - or a tenth of a farmer's produce - which was to be given to the Church. As this tax was paid in kind, the barn would be filled with whatever crop the farmers had been growing, often wheat or barley.

The walls would have supported a substantial oak frame and a tiled roof. Internal posts would have formed bays within the barn and a porch at the entrance would have held large wooden doors through which the crops would have been delivered by cart.

Southam manor was endowed to Coventry Priory in 1043. It is therefore likely that a large proportion of the tithes collected here would have been transported to Coventry for the use of the Priory itself. The Priory retained control of the manor through the medieval period until the Reformation, by which time the manor had become a very valuable one - the priory is for example recorded to have received over £55 in revenue in 1535.

A wide deep ditch was identified running almost parallel, some 15m north of the tithe barn. It contained Roman-British pottery shards, which indicate that there was settlement here between 700 and 1,000 years earlier than the construction of the tithe barn. It was overlain by another stone wall of similar character to that of the tithe barn, along the same alignment as the ditch, which suggests that the ditch was still visible in the landscape at this time.

Andrew Mann, an archaeologist working on the site said: "Tithe barns played a significant part in medieval life and the Southam barn would have been an important and prominent building in the town. It is not known when or why the barn went out of use and was demolished, but the earliest maps from the late 18th century show no buildings on this part of the site."