The History of South Farm

For a visual accompaniment to the timeline below, please see our South Farm Aerial Photo History

  • 1640 Wimpole Hall built by Sir Thomas Chicheley
  • 1740 Acquired by 1st Earl of Hardwicke. South Farm becomes part of the Estate
  • 1767 Capability Brown landscapes Wimpole Hall Park
  • 1790 3rd Earl of Hardwicke succeeds, builds Model Farm at Wimpole, designed by Sir John Soane
  • 1894 Lord Clifden buys estate from “Champagne Charlie,” 5th Earl, reputedly to settle his gambling debts. Invites Cornish tenants to take up Wimpole tenancies
  • 1894 Thomas Bath, a tenant on the Clifden estates in Cornwall, drives his cattle to South Farm and takes over the tenancy
  • 1911 The Bath family purchase South Farm from Lord Clifden
  • 1913 Sid Bath conceived at South Farm, born Manor Farm, married at Church Farm, retired to Vine Farm
  • 1920s/30s Bath family proceed to buy the other three farms in the parish and most of the cottages
  • 1950s/1960s Mechanisation, destocking, modernisation, work force shrinking, field enlarging
  • 1960’s Bath family consolidate their farming operations in new purpose built modern farm buildings in Wendy
  • 1968 South Farm abandoned and deserted
  • 1974 Sid Bath sells South Farm house, barnyard and stack yard to the Paxman family
  • 1975 Family move in a year later after extensive restoration and modernisation of house
  • 1976 Barnyard repaired and preserved. Planting begins
  • 1998 Nature Reserve established. Kitchen garden started
  • 2004 Listed Buildings Consent for change of use of many buildings for Weddings and Functions. Extensive restoration. Licenses granted
  • 2005 First Weddings held at South Farm
  • 2007 New organic smallholding started to supply the kitchen
  • 2008 Summer House designed and built for outdoor Weddings. Winter Garden planted
  • 2009 Garden improvement plan adopted
  • 2010 11 acres added to the South Farm Estate of which 6 acres was added to the Smallholding
  • 2010 South Farm’s Sun Terrace and Formal Herb Garden constructed
  • 2011 Planting of large specimen trees in the Arboretum and around the new estate boundaries
  • 2013 Polytunnels are built
  • 2013 South Farm’s Summerhouse Pond enlarged and new ‘Monet’ Bridge installed
  • 2014 Extension and Improvement of South Farm’s Kitchen Garden completed

South Farm and Wimpole Hall

The history of South Farm is intertwined with that of Wimpole Hall, the largest and grandest house in Cambridgeshire. In its heyday it was a vast estate and owned many mixed farms of which South Farm was one of. The celebrated 3rd Earl of Hardwickewas at the forefront of the 18th century farming revolution, which saw the introduction of the four course rotation and development of the many classic British livestock breeds. His Model Farm, designed by Sir John Soane, remains an outstanding feature of the present day National Trust property. Its parkland was extensively landscaped by Capability Brown amongst others.

Horses and Milk Maids

We like to think it was the 3rd Earl who rationalised his tenancies, each having a modular basis, one horse master, who tended the eight working heavy horses, eight ploughmen, the tenants and an assembly of milk maids, dairy maids and stockmen. Each tenant was assigned as much land as his horse team could reasonably work. The Horse Barn remains in its original state at South Farm, you can still see where the eight Shires were tethered, their original mangers, and the well-worn marks of their huge metal shod feet on the old stable floors.

Baths and Births

When the estate passed in 1894 to Lord Clifden, he invited tenants from his Cornish properties to take up some vacant tenancies on the Wimpole Estate. Prominent amongst these was the Bath family, who in that year drove their herd of Hereford cattle on horseback all the way up to Cambridgeshire, starting an association with the farm that was to last for a century.

The Bath family prospered at South Farm, and when the estate offered some of its outlying farms for sale in 1911 they were quick to purchase their home, followed over the next two decades by the successive acquisitions of Manor Farm, also in Shingay, and both farms in adjoining Wendy, Church and Vine Farm, together with most of the village cottages that housed their extensive workforce. Sid Bath, who sold the Farmhouse and Barnyard to the Paxmans in 1974, was conceived here in 1913, born next door at Manor Farm, married at Church Farm, and retired to Vine Farm.

Machinery and Vines

With mechanisation, reduction in livestock and workforce, and the advent of large modern machinery in the 60’s and 70’s, and the need for huge storage and machinery sheds, old fashioned farm yards like South Farm were usually remodelled, making way for industrial scale steel and concrete buildings. What saved South Farm from this fate was simply the decision of the Bath family to consolidate their operations on the Vine Farm premises, leaving South Farm to sink slowly into history, a time capsule of original barnyard and largely untouched house, all dating back to the Tudor period. So much so that towards the end of the 60’s it was abandoned – by residents, livestock and machinery.

Dutch Elm Disease and Remodelling

By 1974 when the Paxman family bought it, the ravages of Dutch Elm disease and the excesses of the Common Agricultural Policy had left South Farm a sad and desolate site.

However, it was a challenge that the family embraced with enthusiasm and youthful exuberance. With only an outside three-seater privy in operation (still standing in the Garden), it took a year before the house was family fit. The restoration uncovered the two fine old chimney stacks that dominate the present hall and divide the kitchen and sitting room. It became clear the original late Tudor house was no more than a two up two down cottage built around the massive old red brick fire places. The rather grander Georgian elevation to the front was built around the time the 3rd Earl was commissioning Soane to build the Model Farm up at the Hall. But even that façade was remodelled; the far end of the current Drawing room was originally a single storey extension that served as a bake house, hot copper, dairy and larder for the farm. By extending the roof line, another suite of spacious rooms was created above in 1975.

Where to start

The family focus was on earning a living, with two small boys, the Paxman family got started on an extensive planting scheme, which resulted in the Cherry Drive, the hardwood plantings and the encompassing indigenous hedgerows. A modest start was made on the gardens. The Old Barnyard, comprised entirely of buildings from the 16th to 19th centuries, was stabilised but not restored, except for the old pony trap shed, which transformed into our warm and elegant Bridal Suite.

Risks and Rewards

It was a big decision to open South Farm as a Wedding Venue. In the Winter of 2004/5, half a million was invested into restoring the Barns, Hovels, Cow Byre, Granaries and Stables. Luckily, South Farm had been blessed with a Listed Buildings Officer who authorised construction of the state of the art kitchen, the engine room and new visitor lavatories.

It was a classic cliff hanger experience, with the restoration only completed hours before the first big function!

Gambles and Gardens

It was a gamble that paid off with enormous benefit to the property. From the outset, South Farm proved a winner with couples looking for a classic country wedding, freedom, exclusivity and wonderful food.

The original kitchen garden fed the first weddings and was the inspiration for our current, much larger smallholding. It meets our needs for fresh seasonal produce, eggs, herbs, fruit and pork. The garden improvement programme under the direction of garden designer Stuart Bennett led to the Winter Garden along the drive, planted in 2008. In the Summer Garden the seven sided oak framed Summer House was built in 2008 and licensed for outdoor weddings. Its construction and materials are reflected in the outside bar built the previous year. The Herb Garden and Potager followed in 2010.

Weddings and South Farm

Thanks to weddings held here, South Farm is once more a vibrant, living, largely self-sustaining property that provides a lot of local employment and a great deal of pleasure to so many couples on the most important day of their lives.