A bank barn or banked barn is a style of barn noted for its accessibility, at ground level, on two separate levels. Often built into the side of a hill, or bank, both the upper and the lower floors area could be accessed from ground level, one area at the top of the hill and the other at the bottom. The second level of a bank barn also could be accessed from a ramp if a hill was not available..
Examples of bank barns can be found in the United Kingdom, in the United States, in Norway, in the Dordogne in France and in Umbria, Italy, amongst other places.
Bank barns in the United Kingdom
Bank barns are especially common in the upland areas of Britain, in Northumberland
in the north of the country and in Devon
in the south west.
The origins of bank barns in the U.K. are obscure. The bank barn had made its first appearance in Cumbria by the 1660s on the farms of wealthy farmers: here farmers bought drove cattle from Scotland and fattened them over winter before selling them in spring. The bank barn at Townend Farm, Troutbeck, Cumbria was built for the prominent Browne family in 1666. The great majority of bank barns were built in Cumbria between 1750 and 1860, and the last bank barns were built just before the First World War (1914-1918).
Usually stone built, British bank barns are rectangular buildings. They usually have a central threshing area with hay
(cereal) storage bays on either side on the upper floor; and byres, stables, cartshed or other rooms below. The threshing barn on the upper floor was entered by double doors in the long wall approached from a raised bank: these banks could be artificially created. Opposite the main doors was a small winnowing door which opened high above the farmyard level. A common arrangement had an open-fronted single bay cartshed below the threshing floor, with stables on one side and a cow-house on the other. The entrances to these lower floor rooms were protected from above in many cases by a continuous canopy or pentise carried on timber or stone beams which are cantilevered from the main wall. The barns may less commonly be brick-built.
In the 1660s, Sir Daniel Fleming of Rydal Hall in the Lake District housed 44 cattle in his 22m (74ft) long bank barn at Low Park. The cattle faced the side walls and backed on to a central manure passage. In other bank barns in Cumbria the entrances, in the side walls, gave access to a cow-house, stable and cartshed; some 19th century examples have four-horse stables, root houses (for storage of root crops for fodder) and feeding and dung passages for the cows.
As well as the true bank barns that occur in a small concentration in Devon , a variation on the bank barn is also found in Devon and Cornwall where the upper floor is accessed by external stone steps rather than the hillside or a ramp.
Brunskill states that, although the British examples are older, the term 'bank barn' is an imported American term "to describe a type of farm building which is so common in certain parts of Britain that it has developed no descriptive term of its own".
Bank barns in the United States
Bank barns were a popular 19th century barn
style in the United States. These structures were sometimes referred to as "basement barns" because of their exposed basement story. Regionally, this barn style could be known by other names as well, including, in Vermont, Yankee barn, which is a name more often associated with English barns
. In the United States, the upper floor was a loft
and the lower a stable
The design of a bank barn allowed for wagons to enter directly into the hay loft, eliminating the need to move hay from the loft to the stables. Below the stables a basement usually acted as a manure collection area. Many bank barns simply have a small incline leading up to the loft area as opposed to a ramp. Some bank barns are constructed directly into existing hillsides while others are fitted with built up earthen and stone areas to create the trademark bank. The design is similar to English barns except for bank and basement aspects. The basement space could be utilized for animals while the area above, easily accessed by wagon because of the bank, could be used for feed and grain storage. Bank barns can be thought of as English barns raised up on an exposed full basement.