Grange Barn, Coggeshall

Grange Barn, Coggeshall

Grange Barn is in Coggeshall, Essex. Grange Barn was built by the Cistercians in the 13th century to serve Coggeshall Abbey. It underwent significant structural alteration in the 14th century. It is Grade I listed. The barn is 36.57 metres long, 13.71 metres wide and 10.67 metres high. For comparison, England's largest medieval barn, Harmondsworth Great Barn, is 58.55 metres long, 11.3 metres wide, and 11.9 metres high. The barn has a nave and two aisles. There are two midstreys (gabled porches) which would have provided access for wagons: these are 18th century.

Coggeshall Grange Barn has a history dating back eight centuries, from the time when the Abbeys were all powerful and communities paid their King's Tax as tythes. Tythes mean 'one tenth' because people were supposed to give the church one tenth of all the income they earned.

Coggeshall Abbey was founded in 1140 on the banks of the River Blackwater. The Cistercian Monks farmed a wide area of land known as a ‘monastic grange’. A large barn would have been needed to store and process their crops. The barn was probably built in the mid-1200s. The barn’s size and the skill involved in its construction give us an impression of the power and influence of the medieval Abbey at that time. The monks would have been diverting the river, building a new bridge and a new chapel at the same time.

The Abbey was dissolved in the 1538 by Henry VIII, but it has left us a rich legacy of buildings and documents. The structure of the barn has been adapted several times since it was built. Major changes were made in the 1300s to raise the walls, strengthen the roof and include larger doors and porches. Since then, other changes have been made, including the replacement of the wattle and daub walls with brick. Although no longer a working agricultural building, Grange Barn continues to be used for a range of events – including food, craft and antique fairs and theatre productions.

Delve into the working life of a local craftsman. Bryan Evett Saunders was born in 1893 in Coggeshall. His father, Harry Bryan Saunders had a furniture and hardware business on Market Hill. He was apprenticed to Samuel Marshall, a master carver of Bridge Street, Coggeshall at the age of 14 in 1907. He completed his apprenticeship in 1914, taking over the business with glowing references from both Mr Marshall and the vicar, Rev.M.B. Eardly Wilmott.

In 1914 Bryan tried to enlist in the army, but was turned down due to varicose veins, thought to have been developed while working on a mechanical lathe during his apprenticeship, which would have prohibited him from the long marches required of a soldier. Later, in Bryan’s own workshop, no mechanical aids were allowed and the constant noise of sawing was a fond memory of his two daughters.

Following the First World War he was trading in harsh economic times and accepted any work that would come his way. However, as his reputation grew, he took on an increasing number of private commissions, and a large amount of ecclesiastical work both locally and further afield. In 1919, Bryan was married to Victoria Maude Norfolk and took the lease of a house on Market Hill, now 2 Stoneham Street. Initially Bryan’s workshop was upstairs, while Mrs Saunders had a china shop downstairs, but as more work came in, the china shop closed and Bryan moved his workshop downstairs to more room and better light.

Bryan took on an assistant in 1929 named Ernest Prentice who had also served his apprenticeship with Mr Marshall, and the two worked together until after the Second World War. Bryan’s work continued to build up and there are examples of his work throughout his native Essex and further afield.

His work was celebrated with a good deal of publicity during his lifetime; as early as the 30s he garnered an article on his work in the 'monthly pictorial', but it was in the 50s and 60s that his publicity was at its height, winning second prize for his table at the ‘Essex County Fayre and Social Services Exhibition’. He was also featured in several glossy magazines including 'The Sphere', 1953, 'The Field', 1964, 'Essex Life', 1966, and 'The Essex Countryside', 1953, in which the author, in tribute to Bryan’s craft wrote:

  • “ can stand enthralled for hours and watch Mr Saunders take an inanimate piece of wood and create a thing of beauty and skill that none can rival.”
  • - The Essex Countryside Magazine

    Not many people outside of the immediate family were aware that Bryan was very ill for several years prior to his death, but he sent a letter explaining that he could only take on light pieces of work in 1953, which may account for the large number of picture frames he was commissioned to make together with workboxes. As his health deteriorated, even large frames were too much, and his daughter Janet was always on hand to assist with the polishing and lifting. By this time, he had been diagnosed with cancer, and his suffering was apparent, but he continued to work up until a few weeks before his death.

    By 1973 regular visits to the hospital were necessary. On his last visit he must have been in great pain and aware of his coming death. He cried out that he wanted to be taken home, and a bed was set up downstairs in the sitting room behind the workshop where he spent the last three weeks of his life watching the comings and goings in the shop through an open door. His end came peacefully, with his wife and daughters beside him where his life had begun; in his beloved Coggeshall.

    Bryan’s daughter Janet opened a small museum as a tribute to her father and later generously gave the entire contents including his tools to the National Trust in 2003, so that they could preserve it and make it available to the widest possible audience. Janet sadly passed away in June 2010 but was able to see her father’s workshop recreated in a temporary exhibition inside the barn. The exhibition was moved into a permanent space in a converted byre onsite at the barn. The rehomed exhibition was dedicated to the memory and generosity of Janet Saunders and opened in 2011.

    ** – Grange Barn and Paycockes circular walk – **

    This pleasant circular country walk with the National Trust, takes you from the Barn, via the Essex Way and along the River Blackwater footpath to Paycocke's House. See also St Nicholas Chapel and the 'guesthouse' Abbey ruins. Fine for families. Classified as Easy, the walk is 3 miles long, is dog friendly and should take about one and a half hours.

    Start: Grange Barn car park.

  • 1. Exit Grange Barn car park and turn right on to Essex Way going straight through Grange Farm and keeping the hedgerow initially on your left hand side. Once past a large oak tree, the hedgerow comes over to the right. Keep going until the end of this hedgerow. Look out for rabbits and pheasants in the fields either side.
  • Grange Barn was once part of the Coggeshall Cistercian monastery, dating from the 13th-century. It was on the brink of demolition, when in the 1980s, the local Coggeshall community managed to save this magnificent building for future generations. Previous owners include King Henry VIII. It has an interesting collection of old farm machinery.
  • 2. Turn right off Essex Way at end of hedgerow and walk down by side of another hedgerow on right. Go over a small bridge in the corner then bear right and left and aim towards an arched footbridge (Nunn's footbridge) over the river. Look out for a variety of wild flowers and watch out for boggy areas after rainfall.
  • Nunn's footbridge. Nunn's footbridge was originally made in 1896 by local blacksmith and public rights of way campaigner, Dick Nunn. Recently the footbridge has been repaired and strengthened. Take care crossing.
  • 3. Carefully cross over the river at the arched footbridge then turn right and follow the river along the footpath. Look out for any wildlife activity in the river and/or observe the general area for trees and plants. Follow the footpath, round the horseshoe in river, and approximately 5 minutes later turn left on the path up to the right side of Coggeshall Town football club, leading to the main road (West Street).
  • River Blackwater. A clear and clean stretch of river to follow along for a short period once you've crossed over the footbridge. Look out for bird-life, such as swans. Other wildlife including otters, water vole and mink have all been seen by locals at various times.
  • 4. Now turn right and in approximately 200 yds or so you will reach West Street Vineyard, which is well worth a visit.
  • West Street Vineyard. The vineyard has been in existence for 30 years. After becoming run-down and neglected it was bought in 2009 by the Mohan family, and the existing 800 Faber wines extended to include 3000 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It offers wine walking tours, wine tasting and, of course, a modern and informed café.
  • 5. After visiting West Street Vineyard, retrace your steps and go back to the football club entrance, cross over the road, turn right, then left at footpath sign. Keep on footpath through gate then keep ahead to second gate, with paddock on your left. Keep straight ahead with wall on your right. Cross straight over track and onto open field. Take right fork by some trees and with copse on your right, keep ahead until next path junction.
  • 6. At the path junction turn right through the gate, through the car park to the main road. Cross over road turn left and along to Paycocke's House.
  • Paycocke's House is built on top of a Roman road. Built around 1500 for Thomas Paycocke, the house is a grand example of the wealth generated by the cloth trade in the 16th-century. Marvel at the stunning woodcarving and elaborate panelling inside this merchant's house, while outside there's a beautiful and tranquil cottage garden. Enjoy a stroll through the garden simply sit, relax and enjoy the peace and quiet, or enjoy a coffee in the new coffee shop.
  • 7. On exiting Paycocke's, turn right along West Street - there's a memorial garden on right hand side that's worth a detour. Go straight over at road junction to the next junction at The White Hart Hotel close to town.
  • 8. At The White Hart Hotel junction you have the option of going into town and exploring the antique shops and cafés and look out for the Victorian Clock Tower. Otherwise, turn right at this junction, signposted Kelvedon and Grange Barn. Before the bridge there's a picnic area on right-hand side where ducks will often be seen. Cross the bridge and half way up hill to the Essex Way by Grange Barn.
  • Victorian Clock Tower. It was decided that a clock tower would be built in Market Hill for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. However, the money raised fell short of the sum required, so it was decided to increase the height of the existing old tower and install a new clock. The clock was made by the Midland Clock Company, now owned by Smiths of Derby, who still service and repair the clock.
  • 9. Now cross over the road from Grange Barn and follow the Essex Way footpath eastwards to see St Nicholas Chapel and after another 10-minute walk, the 'guesthouse' Abbey ruins further down on the left. When finished, return back along the Essex Way, cross over main road then back into Coggeshall Grange Barn. Spend some time here if you did not do it earlier, and look at the exhibits.
  • Abbey ruins and St. Nicholas Chapel. The Abbey was founded in 1140 by King Stephen of England and Matilda of Boulogne as a Savigniac house, but became Cistercian in 1147 upon the absorption of the order. The Abbey finally closed in 1538 during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. St. Nicholas chapel dates from c 1220-1225, and was originally part of the Abbey. It was restored in 1863-4, 1896-7, and again in 1996. Services are held once a month.
  • End: Grange Barn car park.
  • Nunn's Footbridge, River Blackwater

    Nunn's Footbridge, River Blackwater

    ** – Visiting – **

    Make this a comprehensive visit and explore Coggeshall, a town overflowing with character. Be sure to see...

  • Coggeshall Grange Barn.
  • Just under half a mile from Paycocke's stands one of Europe's oldest timber-framed buildings. Looked after by the National Trust, it's often described as 'cathedral like'.
  • Abbey.
  • The remains of a 12th-century Cistercian Abbey complex founded by King Stephen in 1140. The monks chose this site for its peaceful surroundings and proximity to the river.
  • Coggeshall Museum.
  • Home to a variety of village treasures including a fine collection of Coggeshall lace, this museum relies solely on the generosity of volunteers and is open every Sunday afternoon until October. For more details on Coggeshall Museum click here.
  • Brewery.
  • Peek from afar at the old brewery, now a private residence. With an excellent supply of water, the town has been home to a number of breweries over the years. Coggeshall was once noted for the quality of its ales.
  • Parish church of St Peter ad Vincula.
  • Built in the early 15th-century and funded by wealthy wool merchants, this church is one of the largest in the area. See if you can find Paycocke’s merchant mark within. For more details on St Peter ad Vincula click here.
  • River Blackwater.
  • Feed the ducks and soak up the tranquillity surrounding the river Blackwater. There are a few wooden benches so you can enjoy a riverside picnic.
  • Market Place.
  • Browse the boutiques and independent shops that dot the high street. If you happen to visit on a Thursday be sure to wander around the market.

    ** – Facilities – **


  • • Toilets.
  • • Tours available, please get in touch before visiting.
  • • Groups welcome, please get in touch before visiting.
  • Family.

  • • Pushchairs and baby back-carriers admitted.
  • • Children's quiz/trail.
  • Access.

  • • Mobility parking in main car park 50 metres from the barn.
  • • Adapted toilet next to barn.
  • • Braille guide.
  • • Sensory experience.
  • • Large print guide.
  • • Building - level entrance. Ground floor accessible.
  • • Grounds - mostly grass and hard surfaced car parking area.


    Location : Grange Barn, Grange Hill, Coggeshall, Colchester, Essex, CO6 1RE

    Transport: Braintree (National Rail) then bus (70). Bus routes: 70 stops at Paycocke's House then 6 minutes

    Opening Times : April through October, Daily 11:00 to 16:00.

    Tickets : Adults £7.50;  Children £3.75.

    Tickets : Entry to both Coggeshall Grange Barn and Paycocke's House.

    Tel: 01376 562226