Saddlescombe farm - the Saxons and Normans

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Saddlescombe was still a sheep and corn farm in the Middle Ages – much like other farms on the South Downs. But ownership was changing between some of the most powerful men in England.

Saxon Saddlescombe

Earl Godwin, the most powerful lord in the country owned Saddlescombe. His family never actually lived here - they owned much grander places - so the farm would have been rented out to a tenant. One of Earl Godwin's sons became King Harold, who was defeated at Hastings by William the Conqueror in 1066.

Saddlescombe changes hands – from Saxons to Normans

After William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 he rewarded his nobles by giving them all the land that had belonged to Saxon lords. William de Warenne, one of the few nobles known to have fought alongside William the Conqueror, became the owner although his stronghold was to become Lewes Castle. In 1086 a nationwide survey, recorded in the Domesday book,  was conducted to find out what property belonged to all these new owners - and especially how much tax they should be paying.

The Domesday survey

This is what it says about Saddlescombe:

  • the overlord is William de Warenne and the tenant is Ralph de Quesnay
  • before 1066 the overlord was Earl Godwin of Bosham and the tenant was Godwin the Priest.
  • there are 27 households of villagers and 6 households of smallholders
  • there is ploughland for 10 ploughteams to work, 3 teams working the lord's land and 7 the men's land.
  • there are 13 acres of meadow and one salthouse.

A large and thriving farm

The population of Saddlescombe, estimated by counting households to be around 135, was large compared with other places, and its value for taxation was huge. Villagers held more land than the poorer smallholders. Many of these families would have been the Saxons who lived here before 1066.

The acreage of arable land for growing crops cannot be reliably calculated from the 1086 'ploughlands', but in 1825 a survey of the farm again listed thirteen acres of meadowland.

Salt was a very valuable commodity as it was one of the few ways of preserving food, particularly fish, meat, cheese and butter. Made by evaporating seawater on the coast, it would have been brought to Saddlescombe and stored in a salthouse here.