Our house, Lea Barn, dates from the seventeenth century when it was a one-up-one-down timber-framed farmhouse facing onto a farmyard with an open-bayed cartshed to one side and a low timber barn to the other. In Victorian times the house was extended and the present barn was built using the timbers from the old barn, but creating a higher structure by building six feet of brick wall and then timber wall above. The size, shape and design of the barn is typical of threshing barns in this area; the two large opening doors on opposing walls providing a through draught and good ventilation for stored crops.
When we moved here in 1992 the barn was in reasonable shape, but needed insulation and heating to reduce the impact of the good ventilation and change its suitability from that for crops to that for making music. Our first concert, a performance of Mendessohn’s Octet in the autumn of 1992, required the use of clothes pegs to keep the music on the stands and many of the musicians wore fingerless mitts despite the fact we had calor gas heaters blasting out throughout the performance.
After much research we were fortunate to meet environmental architects Adele Mills and Andy Simmonds who were demonstrating bodging and living willow sculptures at our daughters’ primary school. They in turn introduced us to Neil May, a local builder specialising in renovating local buildings using traditional methods and materials, sourcing these locally if possible.
The renovation of the barn and then the cartshed was a real adventure involving, among other things, digging a pit in the garden and slaking lime from Pinkneys Green for the lime mortar, inviting the school environment club to come and have a go at the wattle and daub, learning about flint footing and timber-frame building and finally digging and planting a reed bed for dealing with the waste from the house and barn. It was fascinating throughout – to us and the local building regulation team and men from the water authority who made several visits for their own interest.
We were very pleased for ourselves, and for Neil, Andy and Adele, when we received a Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Architectural and Environmental award in 1996.
West Wycombe Chamber Music Festival
The West Wycombe Chamber Music Festival was founded in 2011 by the internationally acclaimed viola player, Lawrence Power. It is an amazing three days of concerts in September held in St Lawrence’s Church on the hill in West Wycombe – quite the most exciting concerts that we have ever attended. In 2015 the Friends of the Festival came into being with the intention of helping to ensure its future success and as part of that we have hosted two very enjoyable Friends’ evenings here at Lea Barn in the spring of 2015 and 2016. They have been recitals by Lawrence with his duo partner Simon Crawford-Phillips and followed by drinks and home-made canapes. We felt very privileged to have had music such as this in the barn!
Cookham Wildlife Supporters
Since September 2015 we have been hosting events for Cookham Wildlife Supporters. These have included talks about birds, the night sky, hedgehogs, and twice we have had a bat walk and talk. In November 2016 the group made birdboxes in the barn with participants from 3 to 80-odd.
From 1992-2002 we had a children’s production every August involving around 20 local youngsters. In 1992 Peter Pan was fairly low-key event with the children, the oldest of whom was eight, acting together with a narration and taped music. Needless to say, each year brought new complexities and challenges and the final production was a musical play ‘Out of This World’ written specially for us by a friend Jeremy Rowe. The children ranged in age from four to eighteen and had musicians performing music composed by Sophie and Robert Behrman. A unique, and I suspect unrepeatable, feature of this production was that Robert playing his violin in a glamorous long blond wig. In the intervening years the young people had tackled Mozart (the Magic Flute), Gilbert and Sullivan (Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore), Shakespeare (The Tempest) and Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales). Several of the children who took part have gone on to careers in the performing arts and others retain a strong interest.
Between 1997, the year that the Breastfeeding Network was founded with Deborah as one of the founder tutors and 2007, the barn hosted 20 weekend meetings for the tutors and supervisors from all over the UK. In addition there were several weekends devoted to the training of new tutors.
Sponsored cycle rides
Another regular event has been the annual sponsored cycle ride in aid of the stroke units at Heatherwood and Wexham Park hospitals. The ride starts and finishes at Lea Barn and follows two routes, one a 22 mile route including Marlow, Frieth and Hambledon and the other a 45 mile route which does a further loop reaching out almost to Princes Risborough. Employees of the hospitals and their friends and families come along and some have cycled every year. The ride ends with tea and home-made cakes in the barn or the garden depending on the weather; sometimes people are searching for shade, or come into the barn to cool off, but one year most people lay on the floor and steamed as the underfloor heating dried off their sodden clothes! Over the years several thousand pounds have been raised for the two stroke units.
In addition to these regular events, the barn has been used for talks and demonstrations in aid of Thames Valley Hospice and other charities.
The one principle covering all events is that the only people who benefit financially from events in the barn are the various charities; players do not receive a fee and we never charge for the barn or the refreshments.
Deborah Behrman, December 2016