Farmsteads in the Suffolk Countryside

derelict farm buildings

The team in the Historic Environment Record (HER) are working on a project, funded by Historic England, to record all the lost and existing farmsteads in Suffolk.

Farming has been a major factor in the development of Suffolk’s landscape, both physically and socially throughout time. The farm buildings can help us to understand the agricultural practices and their development since the medieval period.

Many farm buildings have become redundant in the post-war period due to changes in agricultural technology and farming practise. The survival of historic farmsteads in England is not reliably recorded, as many of these buildings are not individually listed.

The team are using aerial photography and historic maps, such as Ordnance Survey maps and tithe maps, to identify all farmsteads and isolated barns in Suffolk. For every farmstead they will record:

  • Farmstead name and type
  • Form or layout, including the position of the farmhouse
  • Date of the farmhouse and working buildings
  • The degree of change and survival of their historic form
  • Whether they are currently recorded on the HER

The team are currently over halfway through the project and 70% of the county has been mapped. All parishes in East Suffolk and West Suffolk have been completed with Babergh Mid Suffolk left to complete.

We can’t wait to see the finished results!

The aim of the project is to raise awareness of the importance of these undesignated heritage assets and improve their long-term management to ensure a sustainable future for Suffolk farmsteads.

The Pilot Project

All this started with a small pilot study in 2017 to support the main project proposal. 12 sample parishes were selected to represent the different National Character Areas identified by Natural England. The pilot project confirmed what we knew about the existing characterisations of farmsteads, but it also showed that there was a lack of tangible data.

Out of the 12 parishes, only 17.5% had an existing HER record – all the farmsteads had undergone various alterations, 26% had been completely lost, 11.5% retained their historic layout, and roughly the same percentage had lost all historic farm buildings which were replaced with a modern layout plan.

Even this relatively small pilot study sample suggested that the number of historic farmsteads is dwindling at possibly a higher rate than previously estimated. This highlighted the need for a county-wide survey before this valuable information is gone forever.

Explore our online map.

Examples

Yew Tree Farm . This is a rare example of an intact ‘model’ farm that hasn’t been converted to residential use and has minimal later farm buildings added to it.

Low Farm – Not all farms prospered in the 19th century. Whilst it is very common to see an increase in size in the 19th century some farms either have the traditional farm buildings demolished and replaced with more modern farm buildings, or in this example they disappear altogether and no trace is left.

Bush Green Farm (Elm Farm) + Elm Green Farm – parishes are often a mixture of layouts. Elm Farm is a loose courtyard arrangement and Elm Green Farm is a regular courtyard arrangement.

extract of 1880s Ordnance Survey map showing the farm buildings
1880s Ordnance Survey map showing Elm Farm and Elm Green Farm

Bullocks Ley –  an unusual example of an extant outfarm, including a covered yard (used for cattle). Outfarms are complexes of buildings set away from the main farmstead to save on labour.

This project is funded by Historic England.

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