But in the past, some barns were in fact specially constructed tax collection centers. And now the tithe barns are put in the spotlight by West Midlands author Joseph Rogers.
His new book highlights surviving examples of this part of British heritage and shows how they found new roles, including as wedding venues, restaurants and family homes.
Not that an old barn is, or was, a tithe barn.
âFor much of Britain’s past, the concept we know today as the tax came from the unifying authority of the Church,â Mr. Rogers said.
“With a large part of the British population working in agriculture, this was often what formed the basis of ‘tithe’ – a tax made up of one-tenth of a farmer’s output.”
The cloth was to be kept somewhere, and large hollow stone and wooden structures known as tithe barns were built.
In the 1830s, the system evolved into paying tithing in cash rather than goods, and he says it wasn’t until 1966 that the tithe system in England officially ended.
While Mr. Rogers says it’s reasonable to assume that most parishes would have needed a tithe barn, it appears larger towns and cities have completely destroyed all evidence of them.
So the hunt for real medieval tithe-specific barns is quite an undertaking, and in the industrialized Black Country, probably a bit abandoned.
âHere, tithes were phased out during the 18th century, as much of the land previously used for agriculture was dug up, made sterile and industrialized to make way for coal mines. Rogers.
“It’s no surprise that the remaining tithe barns in this part of the Midlands are hard to find. In fact, they are arguably non-existent.”
This is a better picture in Shropshire, where he chooses several examples, and says that perhaps the most important medieval barn in the county and, some would say, in the whole country, is the ruin on the site of the castle of Acton Burnell.
Only the gears are still standing. It is not, however, famous for being a tithe barn, but for having been the site of what would have been the first meeting of the Parliament in England, in 1283. He is surprised that it is not spoken about more.
“The references outside of Shropshire to the first convening of the English parliament are surprisingly modest,” he says.
An example of a tithe barn still in operation can be found at the Hundred House Hotel in Norton, on the A442 between Telford and Bridgnorth. Dating back to the 17th century, this is an award-winning wedding venue that uses the woods and original imprint of the barn.
It is believed, he says, that it was built to replace the nearby 15th-century courthouse barn – it’s the black-and-white thatched-roof barn that’s familiar to passing motorists as it is located on the road.
And Joseph says the hotel itself is a beautiful building.
âCollectively, the three buildings create a setting spanning up to 500 years of history, which is perhaps why the Tithing Barn was voted the best wedding venue in the West Midlands in 2018 and 2019.â
Mr. Rogers had a career in manufacturing, pharmacy and tourism before becoming a writer, focusing primarily on travel.
Tithe Barns is published by Amberley and is 96 pages long and costs Â£ 15.99.