High Weald

Farmstead building development

A joint research project by the High Weald AONB Unit and English Heritage suggests that adaptation and reuse of some historic farmsteads can be achieved without damaging their special qualities or the contribution they make to the character of the High Weald, one of England's finest landscapes.

Future change is possible but solutions will need to recognise and grow out of the inherited patterns of this remarkable landscape.

Preparing a masterplan for change: Good Practice Guide sets out how, through access to information on farmstead character and history, a site assessment and masterplan can be produced demonstrating an understanding of the farmstead site in its landscape context. This provides a template for future change, identifying constraints and opportunities including the need for more detailed recording and evaluation.

Weald settlement history

The early development of farmstead sites related strongly to landscape features and resources for agriculture, industry and human habitation such as routeways, water sources (ponds, gills streams and wells) and woodland. In our video Jeremy Lake, from English Heritage, explains the history of farmsteads in the... Read more

Farmstead movements and flows

Farmstead movements and flows

An understanding of the historical access into and movement or circulation within a farmstead is vital to conserving its character.  Watch an animation showing how livestock and crops were moved between farmstead buildings and neighbouring fields at different times of the year.  Read more

Assessing farmstead change

The present day character of the whole farmstead site and its surrounding landscape is the result of past change. Read more

Researching farmstead history

Late 19th century Ordnance Survey maps (c1985) provide an effective baseline for understanding the historic form of the farmstead, at the end of a major period of investment in farmstead buildings. There was some building on Weald farmsteads between the 1880s and the Second World... Read more

Understanding these principles prior to considering any development proposal will help assess options and identify design parameters.

Change in historic farmsteads takes place within the context of Government Planning and Sustainable Communities Policies and local authority local development frameworks. High rates of conversion of historic farm buildings have led to over half of farmsteads in the Weald effectively functioning as small residential settlements. Meeting sustainable development aspirations for farmstead sites requires consideration of a range of generic, type and local criteria.

The aim is to demonstrate an understanding of:

  • the degree to which the farmstead contributes to the character and local distinctiveness of the area;
  • rare or vulnerable fabric including thatch, early timber cladding, wattle and lath infill to timber frames;
  • whether the whole group or any individual buildings are rare;
  • the architectural patterning - the hierachies of scale, materials, building styles and details - that are relevant and important to maintaining or enhancing the character of the farmstead as a group in its landscape setting.

An assessment of significance identifies valuable features that will need to be protected as part of the farmstead masterplan.

The key factors to consider are:

Survival of the traditional farmstead as a group in its landscape setting - the less the extent of change in the traditional farmstead buildings group, layout and surrounding landscape since c1950 the more valuable the traditional character of the farmstead. Coherent and unconverted groups in the Weald are now rare. The degree of historic survival will range from fragmentary or absent; to groups which, because of the historic survival and functional range of building types, make the strongest contribution to local and landscape character.

Status - listed buildings will require particular consideration, and list entries will include an estimate of the date, historic function and other features. Many important farm buildings in the Weald, however, are not listed. Any pre-1948 working building or structure in the curtilage (legal property boundary at the time of listing) of a listed building can be considered to be listed and therefore covered by listed building legislation and consents. Some farm buildings are included in conservation areas focused on historic settlements.

Date - substantially complete buildings of pre-1750 date are particularly valuable. By national standards, the Weald has a high survival rate of early farmstead buildings.

Style - vernacular buildings make a considerable contribution to the distinctive quality and character of the Wealden landscape. They often use locally available materials, and imported slate and materials as these became available, and will often display evidence for successive change. Designed buildings are usually consistent in their treatment and usually form part of regular-plan groups. Industrially-produced buildings include Dutch barns as used from the later 19th century but did not have a major impact on farmstead character in the Weald until after the 1950s.

Rare surviving building fabric - eg thatch, early timber cladding, wattle and daub infill to timber frames

Special features - the presence of rare surviving historic features such as barns with in situ threshing floors; oast houses with internal kilns; stone/ cobble floors and traditional stalls

Advice from building conservation specialists will be needed for buildings that score highly for significance or vulnerability.

A masterplan can provide the context within which the detailed design of individual buildings and spaces can be considered. It can help inform a design brief for the site and can demonstrate to local planning authorities, the High Weald AONB Unit and other agencies that proper consideration has been given to conserving the distinctive landscape character of the Weald.

Using the site assessment as a base plan, options for the future use of the site can then be analysed against the principles for guiding change and against the policy context for historic farmsteads.

A farmstead-scale understanding of character is fundamental to master planning, as whole groups of buildings and the spaces around them can present very different capacities for change depending, for example, upon whether they are tightly packed around a yard or widely dispersed along a routeway.

The nature of the buildings - their form, hierachy, design detail, materials and how they relate to each other and the spaces and landscape around them - will help inform how they face the tracks; the nature of the elevations presented to the landscape; and an understanding of the capacity for redesign or new build and the form it might take.

More on Farmstead layout or plan form 
More on Farmstead buildings

The plan form of the farmstead provides clues to the key characteristics of the farmstead. A basic understanding of the historic nature of the movement and flow of animals and products in, out and round the site helps to identify important routes, access points and circulation areas.

Watch an animation of the Historic movement of animals and crops around a farmstead 

Government Policy (PPS1) recommends that planning policies and planning decisions should be based on up-to-date information on the environmental characteristics of the area; the potential environmental impacts of development and recognition of the limits of the environment to accept further development without irreversible damage. These issues are of particular importance in protected landscapes such as AONBs. A good masterplan provides evidence that character and environmental resources have been properly considered in any development.

The aim of site assessment is to ensure that an understanding of the inherited character of the farmstead informs approaches to future change that maintain and enhance the contribution that farmsteads make to local distinctiveness and landscape character.

It is useful at the earliest stage of the planning process in order to inform pre-application discussions with planners and identify the need for more detailed heritage work and investigation.

Much of the work can be done as a desk study using existing sources of information, and historic mapping which can highlight features to be explored further on site.The following aspects can be identified and mapped on a suitable base map.