In January 2015, the Museum embarked on the dismantling of a late 18th century barn and early 19th century stables at May Day Farm, Pembury Road, Tonbridge. The buildings were in the path of a road widening scheme on the Tonbridge-Pembury section of the A21 in Kent. The work was led by Museum Carpenter-in-Residence, Joe Thompson, and the project has been funded through Balfour Beatty, the contractors for the road scheme. After careful dismantling, the timbers were conserved and stored at the Museum, before re-erection in early 2018.
Two very different organisations had to find a meeting of ways to enable the dismantling of the buildings to take place, explains Joe Thompson. On the one hand was the Weald & Downland Living Museum (a designated centre of excellence in historic buildings) and on the other was Balfour Beatty (the UK’s largest construction company).
“The good news is that both parties wanted the same thing – a safe, well documented and careful dismantling. My initial building report preceded the dismantling work, and this interprets the standing buildings based on the stylistic and documentary evidence.
As the dismantling proceeds and further information is uncovered the initial interpretation is either developed or revised.
The threshing barn
The three-bay, oak, threshing barn I interpreted as dating from 1780 to 1830, the significant features being the ridge board and the stud framing utilising a significant amount of re-used timbers and re-sawn slabwood.
The two-bay, oak, stables I thought was either contemporary or probably slightly later, say 1800 to 1838 (the latter date based on map evidence), again with ridge board and re-used and re-sawn timbers.
Drawings of the buildings ‘as found’ were made and I labelled the components. Next, Steve Turner, John Russell and Hamish Glover-Wilson assisted me in carefully dismantling and stacking the timbers. As the stables were dismantled, Richard confirmed the position on the front wall of the original doorway, but also discovered a second contemporary doorway, that had at first appeared to be a later alteration. Otherwise the stables conformed with and confirmed the initial interpretation.
In contrast, the barn had more phases than first seen. The evidence points to it being hipped originally, before being altered to the current gabled form, probably in the late 19th century. The original wall frames that survived had a legible numbering system and a significant number of reused timbers.
The last elements of the barn to be removed from the site – stone footings to the side of the threshing floor – were recovered in June 2015, following the below ground investigations by Oxford Archaeology. It was fascinating to compare notes on site with the ‘dirt’ archaeologists, as there was very good confirmation from them of all the features we had noted from the standing buildings.
The archaeologists also found furnace slag used to create a pathway/hard standing in front of the stables and evidence of a lean-to to the east of the stables which had not been obvious, but which add to our understanding of the development of the farmyard complex.”
A new exhibit for the Museum
The building materials were repaired and conserved in the Museum’s Gridshell conservation workshop during 2017, prior to being re-erected at the Museum for spring 2018. The buildings will be sited near to the Museum’s Hay Barn from Ockley and will form part of a 19th century farmstead.