The Robinson family at Saddlescombe Farm

Photo of Maude Robinson as a child

In 1853 Martin Robinson from Surrey came to Saddlescombe as tenant farmer under the Petworth Estate's ownership. The story of the farm now becomes very different because there is so much more detailed information than for any earlier period. This is thanks to Maude Robinson who was born here in 1859, the youngest of eight surviving children, and who wrote her memoir, The Quiet Valley; Memories of a South Down Farm, when she was in her eighties.

As Quakers, the Robinsons' management of their family, the farm and the employees was based on principles of sobriety, industriousness and morality. The children were brought up without luxuries but were well educated and delighted in the complete rural freedom which was possible at the time. 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.

Saddlescombe was still an arable and sheep farm, with dairying introduced later. Until the late nineteenth century oxen were used for heavy work rather than horses, and the Robinsons kept twelve of them, just as the Templars had done 500 years earlier. The farmhouse itself was changed very little during this period but modern ideas about animal husbandry led to the replacement of outdated farm buildings with new ones. Maude's recollections bring to life the traditional ways in which farming was still carried out in Victorian times although things were changing before the end of the century. A threshing machine was introduced for the wheat, powered at first by horses and later by a steam engine, and horses pulled the self-binding reaper which transformed harvesting.

For the first time the names of individual workers are known 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 recent times, and they had probably been here for previous generations too.

By 1881 Martin had retired, though he still lived in the farmhouse, and his sons Charles and Ernest Robinson had taken 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.