A Quaker family farm - The Robinsons (1853-1926)

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 In 1853 Martin Robinson, a Quaker farmer from Surrey, came to Saddlescombe as tenant under the Petworth Estate's ownership. 

The story of the farm now becomes very different.  Maude Robinson who was born here in 1859 and the youngest of eight surviving children, wrote the famous book - 'A South Down farm in the 1860's'. The detail is remarkable and gives us a unique account of growing up on a downland farm in Victorian England.

A Quaker family farm

As Quakers, the Robinsons' managed their family, the farm and the employees on principles of sobriety, industriousness and morality. The children were brought up without luxuries but were well educated and delighted in complete rural freedom. Martin Robinson disapproved of overcrowded cottages and built several new ones which raised the standard of living for his workers.   Although, a deep social gulf existed between the worlds of the men and their master.

Ancient farming practices slowly begin to change

Saddlescombe was still an arable and sheep farm, much like the previous 3000 years.  Dairy cows were introduced later.  Until the early 1900s, oxen were used for heavy work rather than horses and the Robinson's kept twelve of them, just as the Templars had done 600 years earlier. 

The farmhouse itself barely changed during this period but modern ideas about animal husbandry led to the replacement of outdated farm buildings. Maude's recollections bring to life the traditional ways in which farming was still carried out in early Victorian times. Near the end of the century, farming began to change forever.  A threshing machine, powered at first by horses and later by a steam engine, replaced workers who had threshed wheat by hand for millenia.  Likewise, the self-binding reaper meant people were no longer needed to cut and bind crops by hand.

A remarkable archive

For the first time, we know the names of individual workers and photographs were taken of the people, the animals and farming activities: the shepherd and sheep-shearing, the ox-teams and ox-shoeing. From 1841, the ten-yearly censuses show that some of the families' names persisted through generations to tenants living at the farm today.

The Robinson legacy

In 1881, Martin Robinson retired.  Though he still lived in the farmhouse, his sons Charles and Ernest Robinson took over the running of the farm.  In 1921, the Petworth Estate decided to sell Saddlescombe and at that point Ernest Robinson bought it, becoming the only Lord of the Manor known to have actually lived here.  Maude Robinson went on to become a well known botanist, writer and wartime helper.