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Historic Westenhanger Barn reopens

Restored barn at Westenhanger Castle, near Hythe
Restored barn at Westenhanger Castle, near Hythe

By Tricia Jamieson

A glorious day is how Westenhanger Castle owner Graham Forge described the opening of a restored medieval barn on the castle estate.

Work on the Smythe barn was completed thanks to a £500,000 grant from English Heritage – the largest single amount given in the south east by the organisation for some years.

The barn, which straddles the East Stour river, is unique in that it has a hammerbeam roof more often seen in royal palaces.

For the restoration, which took two years and nine months, the near derelict barn was painstakingly dismantled, each piece labelled and then rebuilt by craftsmen using traditional techniques.

Mr Forge, whose family bought the castle in 1996 and the barn in 2002, would not be drawn on the total cost of the project.

"My ambition has always been to restore the building, simply because it was worth it," he said.

"It has been very difficult to get the money but it is glorious to see it now. We are so grateful to everyone who has supported is, especially English Heritage as we could not have done it without their help."

English Heritage has been working with the family since they bought the castle and Tuesday’s official opening of the barn removed the buildings from the organisation’s at risk register.

Peter Kendall, who leads English Heritage’s team in Kent and East Sussex, paid tribute to the painstaking work.

"If people do not value buildings like this they have an uncertain future," he said. "The barn is Grade 1 listed and is a scheduled monument and you don’t get much better than that. Today is a milestone in our involvement."

Lead carpenter on the restoration was Peter Massey who said no expense had been spared when the barn was originally built.

"It has been an honour to be involved," he said. "It has been done to the highest standards out of respect for the history of the building."

The barn was officially opened by historical author Alison Weir.

The Forge family also own an adjoining barn which dates back to early 1500s and hope to restore that as well.

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