Bank Barns, Boskins and Bee Boles


Heather Ballantyne

Orton and Tebay Local History Society welcomed back Andy Lowe to tell them about Bank Barns, Boskins and Bee Boles.  Members were told that farm buildings, rather than the farmhouse should be studied by rural history enthusiasts and that a farmer’s prosperity could be judged by the status of his barn.  ‘You can all be farm detectives’ Mr. Lowe advised us.

A bank-barn is a barn built on a slope,  boskins are partitions in a stable or byre. And a  bee-bole is a recess for bee-skeps in a south-facing wall.

Whether single-storey or two-storey, built up the slope of a hill or along it, a bank-barn was planned to serve a mixed economy, used for both arable and livestock farming. On one side was the main entrance, big enough for horses to bring in the harvest wagons loaded with sheaves, and immediately opposite this entrance was another opening, the winnowing door. The barn was placed so that the south-west wind would blow through these two openings and carry the chaff away from the winnowed grain. The speaker pointed out that the entrance door is never in the middle of the barn, it is always off-centre, because the sheaves would be stored at one end and the bales of straw at the other, and sheaves take up more room than bales. The storage area was used for hay, peat, bracken or tree bark. Barn rather than farm houses could tell the wealth of the farmer. Many have date stones, some have finials to show status and others fine corner quoins. Mr Lowe then showed examples of other farm buildings such as horse engine houses also known as gin cases, these contained equipment that could be powered by horses walking around in them; pig sties, some incorporating a hen house; and dove cotes that were only found at the wealthier farms.

Boskins were, and still are, dividers between stock, high and strong to cope with aggressive behavior by horses, lower for the more placid cattle.

Bee boles were needed to protect the bee skips which were made of straw and protected the hives from the worst of the winter weather. Placing them facing south meant the warmed up earlier in the day and therefore more honey was produced. We must remember that honey was used instead of sugar.

Another interesting meeting that will get some of us looking at buildings differently.