History of the farm land

South Downs, Managing our downland landscape South Downs Managing our downland landscape
View of Seaford Head from Michel Dean

The National Trust’s original holdings along the Seven Sisters were Crowlink, Birling Gap and Belle Tout. Their history has been extensively researched and this has provided the basis for this article.

Historically the present day estate was divided between Friston manor and Parish and Birling manor and East Dean parish. These land divisions were probably created during the Anglo-Saxon years and then were strengthened during the medieval period.

The land was split into different uses with the coastal strip retained as sheep walk and inland was arable, now reverted to pasture. This division can be seen today at Gayles farm with the arable occupying the site of the airfield and sheep walk along the coast.


The stability of the landscape during this time was due to the continuity of ownership. For instance Crowlink remained the property of the Gage family from the mid 1500’s to late 1900’s.  It was then purchased by the Gilbert Family who had owned Birling Manor from the early 1800’s. 

A plan of the Crowlink farm
A plan of Crowlink for its sale.
A plan of the Crowlink farm

During the Second World War a considerable part of the down land at Crowlink and Michael Dean was ploughed in response to the great shortage of food. Evidence of this ploughing can be found as parallel lines running across the pasture fields today.