Visiting Paston Great Barn with Ash Murray of Natural England
The Paston Great Barn was built by William Paston in 1581. It is over 164 ft long and is one of the largest in the county. The inscription with the date of the Barn is over the small north west door. There is another inscription plate on the north side above the road.
It is likely that the stone and some other building materials were taken from Bromholm Priory, as some of the stones have a distinctly ecclesiastical flavour; in particular the small stone head over the top double door south east side.
The long cattle sheds and square fodder room on this side are later additions. They would have made two enclosed yards for over-wintering stock.
The barn is mainly brick, flint and thatch. The thatch would have been taken from the reed beds on the edge of the parish that belonged to the Hall Estate. It is interesting that brick has been rendered to look like stone on some door frames. Stone was a prized and rare material in North Norfolk and it all had to be shipped for long distances. Flints were the commonest building material and are used with great skill in the barn in long even graded rows.
The timber frames for the doors and roof of the barn were built on the ground and then hoisted into position. The door frames are original. The roof bosses are all numbered in Roman numerals. To save timber (even by 1581 timber of this size and quality was becoming scarce) hammer and tie beams alternate in the Paston roof. The effect is magnificent, in some ways, because the whole structure is open to view. It is as imposing as the church roofs of the medieval period. It is particularly interesting to compare this roof to the covered angel roof at Knapton Church, a mile down the road.
The niches in the interior wall were for lamps. It is not known why Paston Great Barn is so tall, even taller then Waxham Barn. There are no signs of
gallery, and the floor was sub-divided into stalls.
As recorded in the "Educated Pin", the Barn was used not only for agricultural purposes but for village gatherings. The last occasion was the dinner given by the East Anglian Real Estate Property for farmworkers and families in 1976.
The barn is now the property of the North Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust and is in the last stages of restoration. Work can only be done at certain times of the year, because the barn is home to Britain's only known maternity colony of the very rare barbastelle bat. Access is limited to guided tours on official open days. The Great Barn is an international site of scientific interest.
Ash Murray of Natural England leading one of his
unique and popular bat walks at Paston Great Barn.