Alongside St James Church is the Library, Cafe and Museum inside a very large community building called Tithe Place. It is named after the tithe barn foundations discovered when the old library and residential homes were demolished in 2013.
So what was a tithe barn? Tithes were a type of tax payable on all things arising or nourished from the ground, such as corn, wood, sheep, eggs, etc, and the produce of a man’s labour, particularly the profit from mills and fishing. A 10% of all the parish produce would have been stored in the tithe barn for collection, in Southam’s case, by the monks of Coventry Priory.
In 998, King Ethelred had granted Southam to Alderman Leofwine, who was the father-in-law of Lady Godiva. Her husband Leofric, Earl of Chester, founded the Benedictine Monastery in Coventry in 1043, which was endowed by him with half of Coventry and twenty-four manors, including Southam.
During the 13th century, times became extremely difficult as the Priory tried to please both the Pope and the King. The continuing strife caused prolonged and costly litigation. So to raise more money, Henry III granted the monks a weekly Monday market at Southam giving it the status of a market town, plus an annual Charter Fair.
Henry VIII, at the dissolution of the monasteries, gave Southam to Sir Edmund Knightley, who died a year later and the town was divided between his five nieces. Tithes were no longer sent to Coventry, but it is not known when or why the barn eventually went out of use and was demolished, but the earliest map of Southam in 1778 shows no buildings on this site.
In the church warden’s account it states that on 16th September 1756, 2 shillings were paid for the laying out of one John Hartop, a pauper and weaver, who was killed when one of the ‘tithe barn’ doors blew down in high winds and broke his thigh, from which he subsequently died.
Then a few years later In 1761 Southam was enclosed. One object of the Enclosure Acts was to get rid of the obligation to pay tithes. This could be done by the allotment of land in lieu of tithes, or by a cash payment and at Southam it financed the building of the Charity School. It is possible that as the doors blew down the barn was in poor repair and maybe the townsfolk helped themselves to the stones for repairs around the town. Whatever, the barn disappeared.
An archaeological excavation was carried out in advance of the construction of Tithe Place and the foundations of three sides of a substantial stone building aligned east to west were discovered. The walls, about one metre wide, are constructed of local limestone and the only floor to survive is an entrance on the southern side which has a cobbled surface, similar to the cobbles by the church.
The exposed foundations were 18 m long and over 10 m wide, but it is thought that the barn would have originally been about 40 m long. The walls would have supported a substantial oak frame and a tiled roof. Internal posts would have formed bays within the barn and a porch at the entrance. The foundations were buried and Tithe Place was built.
Article courtesy of the Southam Heritage Collection and Southam Advertiser