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Old farm buildings of the countryside contribute to the landscape, and help define the history of the location, i.e. how farming took place in the past, and how the area has been settled throughout the ages. They also can show the agricultural methods, building materials, and skills that were used. Most were built with materials reflecting the local geology of the area. Building methods include earth walling and thatching.
Buildings in stone and brick, roofed with tile or slate, increasingly replaced buildings in clay, timber and thatch from the later 18th century. Metal roofs started to be used from the 1850s. The arrival of canals and railways brought about transportation of building materials over greater distances.
Clues determining their age and historical use can be found from old maps, sale documents, estate plans, and from a visual inspection of the building itself,noting (for example) reused timbers, former floors, partitions, doors and windows.
The arrangement of the buildings within the farmstead can also yield valuable information on the historical farm usage and landscape value. Linear farmsteads were typical of small farms, where there was an advantage to having cattle and fodder within one building, due to the colder climate. Dispersed clusters of unplanned groups were more widespread. Loose courtyard plans built around a yard were associated with bigger farms, whereas carefully laid out courtyard plans designed to minimize waste and labour were built in the latter part of the 18th century.
The barns are typically the oldest and biggest buildings to be found on the farm. Many barns were converted into cow houses and fodder processing and storage buildings after the 1880s. Many barns had owl holes to allow for access by barn owls, encouraged to aid vermin control.
The stable is typically the second-oldest building type on the farm. They were well built and placed near the house due to the value that the horses had as draught animals
Modern granaries were built from the 18th century. Complete granary interiors, with plastered walls and wooden partitioning to grain bins, are very rare.
Longhouses are an ancient building where people and animals used the same entrance. These can still be seen, for example, in North Germany, where the Low Saxon house occurs.
Few interiors of the 19th century cow houses have survived unaltered due to dairy-hygiene regulations in many countries.
Old farm buildings may show the following signs of deterioration: rotting in timber-framed constructions due to damp, cracks in the masonry from movement of the walls, e.g. ground movement, roofing problems (e.g. outward thrust of it, deterioration of purlins and gable ends), foundation problems, penetration of tree roots; lime mortar being washed away due to inadequate weather-protection. Walls made of cob, earth mortars or walls with rubble cores are all highly vulnerable to water penetration, and replacement or covering of breathable materials with cement or damp-proofing materials may trap moisture within the walls.
In England and Wales some of these historical buildings have been given "listed building" status, which provides them some degree of archaeological protection.
December 9th, 2012
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