Barn Club by Robert J. Somerville

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Twenty years ago I remember seeing a Grand Designs programme for a stunning property. Known as the Cruciform House, this amazing building was a perfect marriage between oak and glass. It sparked an interest in oak framed buildings, learning how they were built, that some of the techniques used in building these structures are having to be relearnt. One day I would love to be able to afford to build my own, but it isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

When craftsman, Robert Somerville moved to Hertfordshire, in the home counties, he discovered by accident an ancient barn nearby in a place called Wallington. He was fascinated by the way the pre-industrial revolution craftsmen had made and constructed this barn and it had a literary link too, it was the inspiration for Animal Farm by George Orwell.

He was commissioned to make a small barn in a traditional way, but his clients had an unusual request. They wanted this to be a hand raised barn. They had been involved in a previous barn project and wanted this to be a project where volunteers could also join in and learn some life and practical skills. Somerville was as committed as they were to the project.

Until I picked this book up, I didn’t realise two things; one, that you could build a structure with elm, second, that there are still elms tree left! But Somerville knows where to look in the vicinity and manages to source the trees that he needs to start the project. They are going to have lots of volunteers with very different skill levels working on the site, they made the decision not to use any power tools for safety reasons. It is a decision that has lots of benefits, the biggest of which is that it becomes a social event as people can talk over the sound of hand tools, something that they would be able to do with power tools.

I thought that this was a really enjoyable book, Somerville takes you through every step of the processes of making a tree into a barn. He shows what trees to choose, and how to select the component parts from the trunk and branches and there are outline plans, details on how to build the plinths, how to make the frames and details on how to make the joints all done with delightful line drawings. I thought that It was very well written, he is generous with his knowledge with all the people that volunteered and us the reader. The structure that they build is beautiful and looking at it makes me want to find out if there is anything similar to this going to be happening in Dorset. If you have any interest in architecture or traditional crafts then you would probably like this. It is well worth watching the video on YouTube here

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Oh, this looks fabulous, certainly one to look out for.

    • Paul

      I thought it was. My neighbour who is an architect has borrowed it

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