The medieval monastic barn at Croxley Green

Croxley Great Barn (TQ 0700 9459) is a hidden, almost forgotten, gem. It is situated just to the south of the London Underground Metropolitan line to Amersham close to its junction with the Watford branch, and in close proximity to Croxley Hall Wood where the original Croxley Manor is believed to have been sited.1 The barn is located on private land within playing fields belonging to St Joan of Arc School and access to view the barn must be sought from the owner. Indeed, it is now very difficult to get a clear sight of the barn, the best point from which to view it in the splendour of its natural setting being the Ebury Way, the disused trackbed of the former LMS branch line from Watford to Rickmansworth. And yet here is a building with a long and significant history and of considerable architectural interest.

Prior to the dissolution of the monasteries, the manor of Croxley, like so many other manors in south-west Hertfordshire, belonged to the Abbey of St Albans. The farm was allocated to the abbey’s cellarer and it supplied the abbey with grain for the monks’ food and drink, barley being used to make malt. This area of southwest Hertfordshire had very fertile land in those days and the farm was very profitable.

Entries in the St Albans Abbey Chronicles give a few details about the building of the barn. Some time between 1396 and 1401, Abbot John Moote paid 100 marks (about £66) for making a very large barn and other buildings at Croxley. (Gesta Abbatum Monasterii Sancti Albani 1396-1401, p 447.)

Given to the Monastery of St Albans by Offa, King of Mercia (757-796), at the Dissolution in the 1540s the Manor of Croxley became Crown land and was tenanted by William Baldwin under a 44-year lease. It was sold in 1557 to Dr Caius who was educated at Gonville College, Cambridge. He endowed and greatly enlarged the College, obtaining permission from Queen Mary (1553-1558) to be a co-founder and to change its name to Gonville and Caius College.

The Manor and barn were owned by the College from that time until 1972 when the barn and part of the adjoining land were effectively donated to Hertfordshire County Council to form part of the enlarged St Joan of Arc School complex. The barn was by this time in very poor condition, the roof having collapsed by the early 1970s, and the County Council undertook extensive repairs to restore it to a good state before handing it over to the school in 1975. A fuller chronology, both of the barn itself and of events in the wider world, appears on the following page.

1 - Hertfordshire County Council Sites and Monuments Record No 828/874


1327 Richard of Wallingford returns from confirmation as Abbot of St Albans by the Pope at Avignon to St Albans ‘landing in England, he came to his Manor of Crokesly for rest and repose, here he found himself afflicted by a severe pain in his left eye, which brought on a total blindness.’ (Newcome Pg 215)

1340 Black Death.

1381 Poll Tax protests, Wat Tyler murdered by Mayor of London in presence of Richard II.

1396-1401 Abbot John Moote. Croxley Great Barn built.

1398 Harpendenbury Farm: Kinsbourne Barn built by Westminster Abbey (similar to Croxley)

1399 Richard II deposed & killed in prison. Henry IV (Bolingbroke) declared King.

1400 Geoffrey Chaucer believed to have died - no record of his death, no grave, and no commemoration.

1520’s Cardinal Wolsey became Abbot of St Albans. Sometime resident at The Moor whilst Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII until dismissed 1529.

1536-40 Dissolution of monasteries.

1538? Manor of Croxley leased by Crown for 44 years to William Baldwin.

1547 Bequeathed to sons Thomas & Richard.

1557 Manors of Croxley and of Snells Hall purchased by John Keys (Latin: Caius) from Queen Mary (1553-58) for £461 = 20yrs annual rent value.

1557 Caius obtained Charter of Foundation for Gonville & Caius College and donated Manor of Croxley to the College.

1570 John Caius wrote ‘Treatise on Englishe Dogges’ first ref to characteristics of Border Collie.

1640’s Cromwell’s troops allegedly billeted in barn. (evidence welcome)

1692-1868 Farm tenanted by Bovington family (?)

1796 James Bovington in arrears of Tithe rent to John Alexander, Vicar of Rickmansworth.

1804 Legal action: Bovington v Strutt.

1868 Mrs Bovington on G&C ‘Quit Register’- now ‘T Warwick Esq.’ and ‘Shirley West.’

1875 George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) b 1819 lived for a short while at 'The Elms' Rickmansworth, not far from the ancient Barn, whilst there she wrote 'Daniel Deronda'.

1894 A pair of cottages built close to barn for £365.

1900? Tenant Charles Samson (watercress grower)

1909 Visited by surveyor for Royal Commission on Historic Monuments- photographed, Report published 1910 by HMSO.

1912 Photographs of barn used as illustration in ‘Biog History of G&C College’ Vol IV.

1921 Watford Observer prints large sketch of barn by W E Edwards and brief history.

1951 Min of Housing&LG designate barn Grade III, admit error in Sept of that year and promise reclassification to Grade II.

1962/3 Press reports and photo of severely collapsing roof etc: continued unchecked until August 73.

1963 Press report: E P Weller, Bursar of G&C College has offered barn as a gift to Rickmansworth UDC.

5/1963 Report by R Andrews, architect, to Rickmansworth UDC on possible uses for barn.

1970 ‘Listed Building’ regrading confirmed: now Grade II*

9/1972 Property Deeds transfer ownership from G&C College to Herts.County Council.

8/1973 Renovation commenced by County Architect, proposed cost £17000+ £4500 Gov Grant. ‘will take some months’

9/1975 Restoration completed (2 years), timbers sent for dendro dating and barn avail for St Joan School. The final cost and the whereabouts of the specifications /working drawings are still unknown.

5/1995 Property Deeds transferred ownership at no cost from Herts.CC via ‘ Education Assets Board’ to Governors of St Joan of Arc + additional 6 acre sportsfield.

2000 Barn timbers dendro-dated to winter 1397/8 by Dr Martin Bridge (UCL) for Eng Heritage: Report 25/2000.

2002 Placed on English Heritage ‘Buildings at Risk Register.

2003 Barn proposed but not selected for first series of BBC TV’s Restoration series.

2/2005 Feasibility Report (90pp.) by Scurr and Partners Ltd, Architects.

11/2005 Condition Survey (14pp.) by R M Crump Ltd. Laser scan of structure to produce full 3D CAD model.

2006 Considered for second series of Restoration but, after visit by programme director, again not selected.

5/2008 St Joan of Arc School allows Three Rivers Museum Trust to offer interior viewings by arrangement with school.

5/2008 Fleetingly seen in Christina, a BBC4 TV programme by Michael Wood, mediæval historian.

2/2012 Ownership of barn transferred to private company, The Croxley Great Barn Foundation (Company No. 07962740).