A tithe barn is an agricultural building, dating from medieval times, used for storing produce from local farmers, which was collected as a kind of rent or tax, by the Church. Tithe is an old English word for tenth, this being the fraction of the produce which was taken. Over a hundred of these barns are thought still to exist in Britain, and one fine example can be seen in Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire, just south of the city centre, close to the river and the Kennet and Avon Canal.
The Bradford-on-Avon Tithe Barn was built at the beginning of the 14th century, replacing a smaller earlier structure, and was part of Barton Grange, which served Shaftesbury Abbey in Dorset, 30 miles south. A grange was a detached farm that supplies a religious centre. Following abandonment of the abbey in 1539 as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the buildings at Bradford-on-Avon became part of a regular farm, which has changed ownership a number of times over the centuries, but continued to operate until quite recently; the barn was still used for storage until 1914.
The tithe barn is signed from the nearby main road, the B3109, and reached by a short side road (Pound Lane) through some playing fields. Parking is available along this road (free), and also in a small fee area at the end. The barn lies on the south side of a grassy, rectangular yard, overlooked by three other buildings; the farmhouse on the north side, some parts of which date from the 15th century, a granary of a similar age on the east side, and a smaller barn to the west, of which part is from the 1300s, while the remainder is much more recent. The tithe barn is usually open between 10:30 am and 4 pm; the doors are locked at other times though the exterior can still be viewed. The west barn houses informative displays about the main barn, and the history of Barton Grange. The canal runs past just 40 feet south of the tithe barn, and to the west soon comes close to the River Avon; the surrounding land is part of Barton Farm County Park, accessed by a path from the yard.
The tithe barn is 168 feet (51 metres) long and 31 feet (9.5 metres) wide, built of buttressed limestone walls and a timber, slated roof, which is supported by 14 crucked arches, joining the walls above the exterior buttress points. The roof is thought to weigh 100 tonnes, and is mostly original although some parts were repaired and replaced in the 1950s. Entry to the barn is via two opposite pairs of double doors, in porches at either side, which divide the interior space into three equal sections, each bridged by four arches. The northernmost porches are deeper and wider than those to the south, as these were the main entrances, facing the farmyard. Each of these has a small side door in addition to the main front doors. Around the entrances various marks have been carved into the brickwork, including overlapping or concentric circles, evidence of a medieval practice that was thought to ward off evil spirits. Known as witches marks, or apotropaic marks, the most common design with the overlapping circles (daisy wheels) was used in the belief that the resulting intersecting lines would confuse the spirits.