At the time of The Domesday Book (1086) Brook Manor was held by the Archbishop of Canterbury and managed by the Prior and monks of Christchurch Priory in Canterbury generally by installing a bailiff. Following the first major plague in 1348 the manor was let out to tenants and this continued when the manor was passed to the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral after the reformation. It was sold into private ownership in the late 19th century and then to The Agricultural College in Wye in 1957.
East Kent is particularly rich in timber barns as the area has long been used primarily for farming. Brook barn is a large aisled barn with a crown post roof and six full bays - two of which have threshing floors joining the front and back doors (passage bays). The type of scarf joints used to connect the horizontal timbers – splayed and tabled scarf joints - point to it being built in the 14th century as does the shape of the jowls at the head of the main upright posts.
The barn may have had a Kent peg tile roof when it was constructed as the brick works at nearby Naccolt produced some of the finest roof tiles from an early date. In the 1970’s the roof was re-tiled and most of the original tiles were used. It was recommended at the time that roofing felt be put under the tiles to keep the elements and birds out. In the 1950’s windows were installed on the rear side of the barn to improve lighting.
The principal purpose of the barn was to store the harvest for processing in the winter. In the photo at the top it can be seen that the passage bays extend outside the main aisled construction at the rear of the barn. The wagons carrying the corn entered through these large doors and after unloading, the wagon left through the smaller doors on the opposite side. The inferior construction of the large door entry bays suggests that they were constructed at a later date than the rest of the barn, when larger wagons came into use.
One of the passage bays has a hardwood floor. In the winter the sheaves of corn were laid on this floor and beaten with a flail, the latter consisting of two pieces of wood about a metre long with a universal joint between, generally made from leather. One piece of wood was the handle and the other, after being swung over the head, was used for striking the sheaf. This was called threshing and broke up the ear of corn into the grain and chaff. On a breezy day with the boards removed from one barn door and the opposite barn door open, the chaff and grain were thrown in the air to separate them. This was called winnowing.
Between the front of the barn and the road there is a horse gear. This consists of a large gear wheel at ground level to which a shaft is attached. The shaft was coupled with chains to a horse which walked round driving the gear wheel. The latter was attached to a drive shaft which went into the barn to drive various types of machinery. At the beginning of the 19th century threshing machines began to appear and these took away the winter threshing work from the poorly paid farm workers.
The growing of hops in Kent used to be a major industry with the result that a large number of oast houses were constructed to dry the hops.
Up to the beginning of the 19th century oast houses were generally square but early in the 1800’s the circular oast was introduced. It was thought that with a circular kiln the hops would be dried more evenly than with a square construction.
This was later shown not to be true, but the consequence was that Kent inherited a wealth of circular oasts with their attractive tiled roofs, white cowls and wind vanes. Most of these oasts have been converted for residential use but the Brook oast, which was built in 1815, remains largely intact.
When the hops were picked they had a moisture content of about 80%, which had to be reduced to around 6% so they could be stored. The circular part of the oast is simply a chimney for the furnaces at the base. The Brook oast is a rare example of one with an inner circle, shown in the sketch below (a). The inner circle consisted of brick vaulting, which was keyed in to the outer brickwork of the kiln. Four furnaces were constructed at the base, equally spaced around the inner circle, some of which has been removed to enable visitors to view the full construction.
The wet hops were placed on the drying floor above the furnaces (b in the sketch). The pokes, which contained the wet hops, were almost certainly brought into the oast by a hoist in the roof. It is thought that the roof was re-tiled in the early part of the 20th century, with the dormer containing the hoist being removed. The wet hops were then moved from the upper floor (e) and placed on a horsehair mat on laths, which made up the drying floor. The hops were laid to a depth of about 300mm and then dried for 8 to 10 hours.
Charcoal was originally burnt to dry the hops but in the early 20th century hard coal, such as anthracite was introduced. A pan containing sulphur was placed on one of the furnaces whilst the hops were being dried and the resultant sulphur dioxide (plus combustion gases) passed through the hops giving them the distinctive bloom required by the hop merchant.
After the hops had been dried they were brought out on to the cooling floor, (d) in the sketch. The hops were still hot when they were taken from the kiln and it was necessary to cool them and stabilise the moisture content before they were pressed into sacks. The sacks used for storing the hops, called pockets, were hung under the hop press at the far end of the cooling floor. The cooled hops were placed in the pockets and then compressed some 14 times until the hop pocket was full and rigid.
In 1987 the cowl was replaced on the oast house. It was made in the traditional Kent style by Mr. D W Hayes who is a member of The Guild of Master Craftsmen. Below are some photographs taken at the time (click to enlarge)