It is not easy to describe Upminster Barn and Museum of Nastalgia. Those descriptions I had read were sufficient to make me want to visit. If you read my last blog, you will understand that this may well have been on the barn’s own merit. It was however, a desire to discover what exactly was in it that enticed me out of bed early one Saturday morning in 2019.
Once on my bike it was a downhill freewheel to reach the Waterlink Way (National Cycle Route 21). This provided a mostly off-road route alongside the Rivers Pool and Ravensbourne to Greenwich. The building below is the lift shaft for the foot tunnel which I used to cross under the River Thames.
On the North side, rather than loop around on National Route 1, I took the direct route to join National Route 13. It was then head down and go East, getting more and more annoyed at some of the infrastructure layout where cycle lanes crossed side roads. Getting lost where building developers had, with permission, closed a cycle path and failed to sign the diversions, was even more frustrating.
Fortunately for my blood pressure, it didn’t take too long to reach Rainham where I turned left on to National Route 136. I had a Garmin on the bike, a smart phone in my pocket, and a battery bank in the pannier should either need recharging. If like me, you also prefer to have an analogue map tucked away somewhere; then the relevant sections of these routes are on both Sustrans maps: 9 Essex and Thames Estuary and 53 London Cycle Map.
Almost immediately, the Ingreborne Valley Way (Route 136) becomes a quiet route through parkland beside the Ingrebourne River. There was even farm land to view. I failed to stop and take pictures as I intended to return and visit some of the local nature reserves.
This brought me to Upminster Town Centre. At the exit of Upminster Park there were public toilets which, with the immediate surrounds, were delightfully never quite symmetrical. As I was about to visit a barn, I was pleased to avail myself of them.
At this point National Route 136 joins a main road through Upminster. I followed this for about a kilometre which brought me to the entrance to the barn site. Once past the station the road was not that busy and was lined by mature trees.
The Barn is a timber-framed, aisled barn, and was constructed about 1450. Built on an estate belonging to the Abbey of Waltham, it was adjacent to a hunting lodge used by the abbots. After the dissolution, that survived as a private house, but is now used by Upminster Golf Club.
Although now called the Tithe Barn, like Croxley Great Barn in my last blog, it was never used for tithes. Historic England have listed the barn as a Scheduled Monument describing it as a grange barn. Upminster had a real tithe barn but this wasn’t it.
The listing provides a potted history of early monasticism in the UK as well as a detailed description of the barn. The following is extracted from that listing.
This weather-boarded aisled barn is about 44m long and 11m wide and has nine bays. There is a gabled entrance in the centre of the north side. The thatched and half-hipped roof is of crown post construction with reversed assembly in the aisles. There is a three rail arrangement of aisle walls with ventilation at the top. …By 1813, three of the bays of the barn had been floored in oak. …It was re-thatched in 1965… Dendrochronological analysis of some of the timbers indicates a likely date range of AD 1423-1440 for the felling of the assemblage.
Before the re-thatching, it had at some time been fitted with a corrugated iron roof. It was again re-thatched after arsonists set light to the thatch in 1973. The Hornchurch & District Historical Society then took it over to use as an agricultural and folk museum, which opened in 1976. It has become “The Upminster Tithe Barn Museum of Nostalgia”.
Approaching the barn, which is only open a few days each year, I fell into conversation with one of the volunteers. Sadly, I found that they were now very few in number and concerned about how much longer they could continue. At the turn of the century I was the Press Officer for a small museum and part of the management team. One thing we recognized was that volunteering had become a very different proposition to what it had been in the decades following World War II. Perhaps wrongly, I gained the impression that here, this wasn’t really understood. I just hope the barn and museum re-open after lockdown.
Outside the barn was a delivery bike in Co-Operative Society Ltd livery. Quite a contrast to the latest Co-op cargo e-bikes.
A few other display items had also been brought outside for cleaning.
Going inside the barn I was confronted by the most incredible array of exhibits appearing to cover every aspect of society. Although at first it appeared to be chaos but later, as I moved around the barn, some sense order began to appear.
Before that though, I took the time to appreciate the structure itself.
This was not easy as whatever direction I looked there was something to distract me. I quickly decided that I would need to return with a camera to photograph the contents properly. I took a few pictures on my phone but never did return. Shortly after my visit a cycling accident made it difficult to walk. Six months later just as I was reaching fullish mobility, lockdown v1.0 happened.
Some of the bays within the barn had, at one time or the other, obviously been dedicated to specific interest areas. Now some were bursting with multiple layers of display and exhibits.
There was a display of cobbling paraphernalia. One of my great grandfathers had been a boot maker, and growing up some of his old equipment had been knocking around my grandparents house. Some of the equipment appeared very similar to that. Some was not so different from that still used by my local shoe repairer.
As can be seen in the next three pictures, home entertainment systems were represented. I looked at these and then at the smart phone in my hand. The delivery system may be different, but it provides recorded music, radio and pictures for my entertainment. The old adage of ‘content is king’, clearly still applies.
For me, one of the highlights was the farm machinery distributed around the barn. The Fordson filled me with nostalgia; as did the old horse-drawn cart, reaper binder, seed or fertilizer distributor, and hay tedder. Having seen similar tractor and implements in action (or used them!), I felt old.
As a young teenager I spent a couple of summers stood in front of a winnower ensuring the screens were clear, and changing and weighing hessian sacks filled with the cleaned grain. Seeing an example of the very same model on display I understood why it was now called a museum of nostalgia.
There were some old bikes lying around. How they were equiped was of more interest than the basic bikes.
I really do hope the museum will be open in the New Year so that I can return and take more photos that fully reflect the artifacts held in its collection. After all, where else will you find a telex machine these days?
Leaving the Museum of Nostalgia, I headed a little further north on National Route 136 before taking to quiet meandering country lanes that led me in the general direction of Shenfield. I paused when I passed the barn above to admire the way the different materials used in its construction had blended together.
On the edge of Shenfield I stopped at the Church of St Mary the Virgin and discovered that it has its own butterfly meadow.
The clouds were beginning to build at this point so, when I saw Shenfield station, I decided to take the train into London. My Freedom pass meant that the journey was free. By the time I left Liverpool Street Station the sun was once again shining. Even pre Covid, the cycle lanes meant that passing across Central London and heading South was relatively quick and easy.
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