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50 & 20 Years Ago

50 Years Ago: Structural steelwork up on the farm

From Building with Steel, May 1960

Interior of double-span dutch barn with feeding line down centre

Despite the quiet revolution which has turned Britain’s agricultural industry into the most highly mechanised one in the world, only scant public attention has been paid to that indespensible adjunct of both smallholding and estate farm: the farm building. Yet to the farmer, with vaulable machinery, crops and livestock to protect, the problem of providing cheap and durable accommodation is an important one.


Modern cowhouse of welded portal construction giving maximum unobstructed headroom

What a farmer looks for, ideally is a building which can be erected speedily and simply and which, once in place, will require a minimum of maintenance and attention. He will look for a material which will not chip with misuse, nor crack with extremes of frost and heat: a material, also, which will not rot in damp weather nor succumb to the termites and fungi which may attack farm buildings. If, in addition, the buildings can be dismantled and re-erected, shortened or extended, then the farmer will probably be satisfied.

These ideal properties are not arrived at by accident; a farmer with a limited budget, supplemented perhaps by a Ministry grant, must consider all these aspects pertaining to the life and use of his buildings if he is to get full value for the amount he is prepared to spend.

Only one material can meet these specialised needs.


All over Britain farmers are selecting structural steelwork for buildings ranging from the simplest barns to the largest buildings to house livestock.

The buildings on the Great Yorkshire Showground, recently built at harrogate as the permanent site for one of the country’s major agricultural events, are almost exculsively steel framed. As the most important collection of agricultural buildings to be erected in recent years, it is significant – and valuable testimony to the esteem in which structural steelwork is held – that this medium was chosen above all others.


Take first the speed of erection: any building operation is likely to dislocate farming activities to some extent but steelwork, which is fabricated away from the site, can be erected with the minimum of disturbance.

Ministry of Agriculture grants for steel buildings stipulate that the columns shall be etected on concrete foundations. This preparatory work, site levelling, excavation and concreting can be carried out by the farmer himself in accordance with plans which will normallt be provided by the contractor; in neither case need it disrupt the other work of the farm. The usual prodedure is for the farmer to do the work himself.

Once these foundations are prepared the steel structure can be erected and the buildings completed by the addition of roofs, walls, doors and windows, rooflights and drainage, as required. Here again, the farmer can elect to carry out some of these cladding operations if he so wishes. Also, thanks to the adaptability of steel, he can amend his original plans at any time: innovations can be made, doors resited and widths and lengths modified.


This is a recurrent expenditure in all industries, and for the farmer it is essential that these costs should be kept as low as possible. Steelwork meets this condition best of all materials.

Farm buildings inevitably suffer some abuse during their lifetime. A carelessly reversed trailer can chip or break other materials and cause irreparable damage if not collapse. The worst that can happen to steel is that it may be bent, and it can be straigntened and remain as good as new.

Whereas other materials deteriorate internally in the course of time, either as a consequnce of damage by natural causes such as damp summer heat, sharp winter frosts or attack by spores, steel corrodes only on the sufrace, where the need for maintainace can be seen and quickly remidied.

It is usually protected by two coats of paint at the time of construction, of which the first coat, applied at time of manufacture, should preferably be of the rust inhibiting type and the second coat, applied at site should have a hard gloss finish and may be of any colour desired.


Any building required by the farmer can be built in steel. Lean-to’s can be added, wall removed, roofs raised, and any number of alterations made without affecting the soundness or stability of the original structure under technical advice from the manufacturer, which is freely given. No other material can offer such faithful and versatile service at such low cost.

On these pages we depict just a few of the buildings produced by various manufacturers.

Six bay cattle yard building, 90 ft long by 60 ft wide in one span

Self feed silage with pitched roof, lean-to on one side

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