From Cow Shed to Community lights up the past in Lancaster

A new heritage project will spark memories of a Lancaster farm building which became a school kitchen and now is a community hub for 600 people every week.

Friday, 7th February 2020, 11:36 am
Barton Road Centre heritage project. Barton Road Centre as it looks today.

From Cow Shed to Community will investigate the history and development of Barton Road Community Centre, an 18th century building which many people pass every day without realising its fascinating past.

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project will involve interviewing people on film about their memories of the building from when it was a barn to its time as a school kitchen and its life as a community centre.

The building, which was known as Barton House in the 1820s, is thought to date back to at least 1780.

Barton Road centre heritage project. James Wilson Thompson outside Newsham House in Barton Road.

Locally, there is one family who lived in the building in the 1800s – the Thompsons. In 1871, the acclaimed photographer, Sam Thompson was born in Newsham House, opposite the barn.

Sam’s images of Lancaster life and local worthies taken from the 1890s-1940s won him recognition nationally and internationally and provide a valuable archive of long gone characters and places.

One of his photographs featuring his brother is a rare image of the barn in around 1910.

Barton Road, passed by hundreds of drivers every day, was originally just a track known as Barton Lane, so-called, either because it had a barn on it or because there were a lot of farmers, husbandmen and a couple of gentlemen with the surname Barton living in Scotforth in the second half of the 18th century. The Scotforth area, in which the barn stood, was a village in its own right until 1900.

Barton Road Centre heritage project. James Wilson Thompson pictured in the barn at Barton Road by his uncle, Sam.

In the 1881 census there were 2,263 people living in and around the village, mostly involved with farming or market gardening. The village boasted a post office, grocer, a butcher, a tailor, a blacksmith and two pubs – the Boot & Shoe, which still exists, and the Bowling Green.

In the middle of the 19th century, Scotforth even had a small scale pottery and a mill.

It is thought that the land, including the barn and farm, was bought for educational purposes in the 1920s and in later years the building was converted into school kitchens, while the adjacent land became a playing field, mostly used by Greaves School pupils.

Another chapter in the life of the barn began in 1988 when it became a youth and community centre run by Lancashire County Council.

Barton Road Centre heritage project. Photo by Sam Thompson of cottages just around the corner from the barn in Barton Road. Photograph courtesy of Lancaster City Museum.

The council still own the building but, in 2010, withdrew community provision from Barton Road Centre. Since then, the day-to-day management and delivery of more than 20 community activities and groups there have been overseen by trustees of the Barton Road Centre Charity.

These are local people committed to keeping the centre available as a community resource for residents in south Lancaster.

Once From Cow Shed To Community is completed, 20 films will be screened later this year and can be viewed on the community centre’s website. They will be available to local schools and churches and be sent to the North West Film Archive for inclusion in their collection.

Lancaster-based film-maker, Janine Bebbington is leading the project and is appealing for people with memories of the building to contact her or attend a free drop-in session at the community centre on Saturday, February 15 from 10.30am-1pm.

Barton Road Centre heritage project. Scotforth had its own mill, pictured here, not far from Barton Road. Photo courtesy of Lancaster City Museum.

“I would like to find people who traditionally may have been unheard in the community such as the people who came to youth groups in the 1980s to the staff who worked in the building when it was a school kitchen from the 1950s-1970s,” Janine said.

Until the 1960s there were other farm outbuildings on the Barton Road site which were converted into changing rooms for Greaves Secondary School and anyone who remembers using that facility are welcome to share their memories too.

Janine already has several interviewees lined up, including a niece of Sam Thompson, and a woman who remembers visiting the barn to collect milk from churns when she was a girl.

“We hope that this project will inspire people to continue finding out about where they live and take a more active interest in what is happening at Barton Road Centre now,” said Janine.

“They could go from being the history tellers to the history makers for a similar project in 30 years time.”

Anyone with memories of the Barton Road building should attend the February 15 drop-in, ring 01524 65622 or visit

Barton Road Centre heritage project. A view of old Scotforth which was a village in its own right until 1900. Picture courtesy of Lancaster City Museum.