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Barns and tree rings

Agricultural buildings are now relatively rare in Birmingham but are important survivors of the city’s rural past. Detailed recording of barns as part of conversion and new development has included dating their construction, sometimes to the actual year, by dendrochronology (tree-ring dating). The widths of growth rings in oak, the most common timber used in historic buildings, vary from year to year according to the growing conditions. The pattern of ring widths forms a “barcode” that can be matched against timbers of known date.

The oldest barn dated so far is at New Shipton in Sutton Coldfield. Its roof is supported by pairs of curving timbers (“crucks”) made from trees cut down in 1425. Nearby, a barn at Minworth Greaves Farm on Kingsbury Road was built between 1453 and 1476.

Thatched cottage


In Kings Norton a barn at Primrose Hill Farm was built in 1457 next to a farmhouse built in 1440. The roof timbers of a barn near Monyhull Hall in Kings Norton had some poorly fitted joints which indicated that they were from an earlier building. Tree-ring dates showed that the timbers were from trees felled between 1466 and 1501. They may have come from an earlier Monyhull Hall.

A detailed record of farm buildings near Peddimore Hall prior to their conversion to dwellings showed that they had also been constructed with recycled timbers. The oldest surviving building is a timber-framed barn, with its walls resting on stone footings. Only parts of the original timber-framed walls remain, because they were mostly replaced by brick at a later date, but there are substantial roof trusses which include timbers reused from earlier buildings. Tree-ring dating showed that the barn was built in the early 18th century using timbers from 16th and 17th century buildings, possibly earlier barns.

Rafters inside a thatched cottage


Langley Heath farmhouse in Fox Hollies Road is probably 17th century in date with an 18th century wing. The west building range of the adjoining farm buildings contained a barn, stable, granary and loose box. Tree-ring dating showed that its roof timbers were made from trees cut down shortly before 1775.

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