Potted History of Saddlescombe Farm

Farmers shoeing an ox at Saddlescombe Farm

You'll discover a wealth of history here at Saddlescombe Farm, from the prehistoric era right up to its life with the National Trust today - and here are the highlights.

Prehistoric Saddlescombe

Nestled in a fertile, winding valley, Saddlescombe made a perfect prehistoric settlement for farming. A variety of archaeological finds have been found nearby - including Bronze Age loom weights and axe heads, and Mesolithic arrow heads.    

The Middle Ages

The farm changed hands from Saxons to Normans and the Domesday survey of 1086 provides our first detailed record of farming life at Saddlescombe. As a sheep and corn farm it provided large tax revenues and had an estimated population of 135 people.    

The Knights Templar (1234 - 1308)

An inventory from 1308 gives a glimpse of farming life in the late medieval period. The Templars continued to manage Saddlescombe as a sheep and corn farm, with agricultural profits helping to pay for protection of the pilgrim routes to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.  

Saddlescombe Farm's rare and wonderful Donkey Wheel
Wooden Donkey Wheel well house
Saddlescombe Farm's rare and wonderful Donkey Wheel

The Donkey Wheel

You can visit Saddlescombe's most famous building all year. This huge wooden wheel, powered by a donkey or small horse, drew water from the 50-metre deep well. This was the only reliable source of water for the residents for centuries.    

Early modern farming (1600 - 1850)

The story of Saddlescombe today can be told through its buildings, and most of these date from this period of great change. Three huge barns, the manor house, the smithy, and the Donkey Wheel still stand today.  

Saddlescombe Farm pig sties, lambing barn and cattle shed
Aerial view of some small farm buildings and large barn
Saddlescombe Farm pig sties, lambing barn and cattle shed

Victorian Saddlescombe

From the earliest dawn of farming, little changed for thousands of years until the beginning of mechanisation. This period is brought to life in Maude Robinson's book, A South Down farm in the 1860s - a collection of childhood memories of life on a Victorian farm. Maude's story is remarkable in its simplicity and is a treasure trove for the farming historian.    

The twentieth century

This period sees the end of sheep farming at Saddlescombe after 3,000 years. Machines replace people, and two World Wars massively change the human and physical landscapes.  

Spring lambs exploring their new world
Spring lambs standing with their mothers in a pen
Spring lambs exploring their new world

National Trust and the future

Our renovation of a flint-built barn to become a learning space for schools and community groups is an example of the National Trust's work to bring Saddlescombe back to life. As part of these changes we’ve also welcomed our new farm tenants Camilla and Roly - the first sheep farmers to live at Saddlescombe since 1942.    

Video diaries

The National Trust and Photographic Pathways have produced a series of short videos about life at Saddlescombe in the early twentieth century.    

Join our team

Do you have a passion for history and would you like to share it with our visitors?   We are always on the lookout for new tour guides and researchers into the farm's fascinating history.   Interested? Email our team to join in.