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The history of Saddlescombe Farm

Farm buildings and a tractor, with a hill behind, at Saddlescombe Farm and Newtimber Hill, West Sussex
The farm at Saddlescombe Farm and Newtimber Hill | © National Trust Images/Rob Stothard

Saddlescombe Farm has been a home for farming communities for over 1,000 years, but its history goes much further back as a landscape that supported early settlers. From Saxons and Normans to the Knights Templar and Victorian farming families, this is a place that’s steeped in Sussex history.

Saxon origins

In late Saxon times Saddlescombe belonged to Earl Godwin of Bosham, the most powerful lord in the country. His family also owned much grander places so the farm was rented out to a tenant.

After William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 he rewarded his nobles by giving them land that had belonged to Saxon lords. Saddlescombe was given to William de Warenne who also brought in a farm tenant, Ralph de Quesnay. By this time the population was around 135.

The Knights Templar and Saddlescombe

In the 1220s the farm was given to the Knights of the Order of the Temple and the profits from sheep and arable farming here went towards protecting Christian pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land.

The Knights Templar were disbanded in 1312 and their property was transferred to the Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. John the seventh Earl of Warenne intervened at Saddlescombe and obtained the manor for his illegitimate son Sir Thomas Nerford who lived here until 1397 when Saddlescombe was given back to the Hospitallers.

The religious order was disbanded and had their property seized by Henry VIII in 1536. The king gave Saddlescombe to one of his most trusted courtiers, Sir Anthony Browne of Cowdray at Midhurst, and it remained in that family for nearly 300 years.

An evolving farm

The records of Newtimber Parish Church list the names of the tenants occupying the farm during this period. Some of their graves can be found in its churchyard. The earliest surviving barn, the donkey wheel and the oldest parts of the farmhouse date to the early 1600s.

By the early 1700s a large kitchen had been added and the house had four bedrooms for the tenant farmer’s family and four attic rooms for servants. A Georgian-style extension providing fashionable parlours and grander bedchambers was added around 1800.

The Robinson family

In 1825 Saddlescombe was sold to Lord Egremont of Petworth. His tenant from 1853 was Martin Robinson. 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 farming historians.

In 1921 the Petworth Estate sold Saddlescombe to Martin Robinson’s son Ernest who became the only owner to have actually lived here. Ernest died in 1926 when the farm was bought by the local authority.

Ewe and suckling lamb in a field at Saddlescombe Farm and Newtimber Hill, West Sussex
Ewe and lamb at Saddlescombe Farm | © National Trust Images/Laurence Perry

Sheep farming

The 20th century saw the end of sheep farming at Saddlescombe after 3,000 years. Machines replaced people on the land and two World Wars massively changed the human and physical landscapes. There was a brief period of occupancy by the Canadian military during the Second World War.

The farm was acquired by the National Trust in 1995. Renovation of a flint-built barn into a learning space for schools and community groups is an example of how the National Trust is working to bring Saddlescombe back to life.

As part of these changes, we welcomed farm tenants Camilla and Roly in 2013, the first sheep farmers to live at Saddlescombe since 1942.

A timeline of Saddlescombe Farm

Bronze Age

Prehistoric Saddlescombe

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

Walkers on a butterfly spotting walk at Saddlescombe Farm and Newtimber Hill, Sussex. Walking across a field with hills in the s

Discover more at Saddlescombe Farm and Newtimber Hill

Find out how to get to Saddlescombe Farm and Newtimber Hill, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

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