From talking to locals and previous owners it is fairly easy to gain some knowledge of the farm’s recent history. However through a little research we’ve been able to uncover more about the area’s early history, including the story of the now submerged village of Syndercombe. Most records tend to indicate that Stolford farm has been continually occupied for over two thousand years. What we know for sure is that the farm, until relatively recent times, comprised three separate holdings that had existed since the mid-11th century, known as Upper Stolford, Middle Stolford, and Lower Stolford.
Besides the evidence of iron ore mining from Roman times, and the earlier evidence that arises from the records of Syndercombe village, we can surmise that all Stopford’s early farmers were tenants of a succession of landlords. For instance, a farmer at Stolford in 1573 has it put on the record that he has the right to take timber from the ‘out hedges’ of his enclosed farm. Who he was we do not know, and what kind of mean landlord stopped him doing it beforehand we can only marvel at!
By the end of the 16th century farm records became more detailed, and Stolford Farm is recorded in 1556 as possessing some 200 acres. By the 16th century, it is recorded that a farmer at Stolford had rye, wool, heifers, and sheep. Corn is no longer grown at Stolford Farm, but we can deduce that this farmer grew it, and also farmed sheep, beef, and probably milked when the cows had enough spare from their calves, dual purpose breeds being popular during that era. These communities had to be hardy and self-reliant, so we can almost certainly say that the three holdings on the old farm were not buying their cheese, cream and butter anywhere else. By the 17th century it is recorded that all three holdings had a preponderance of sheep, which pre-dates the Highland Clearances by a century, but was a sign of things to come all over the higher ground of the British Isles.
By the 18th century a marked distinction between the hill and the valley farms had arisen, with the hill farms usually larger and often owned by outside landowners. During this period Stolford was owned by the Wyndham family, but was divided before the end of the century, and part had passed by 1833 to J. S. Fry, the Bristol chocolate manufacturer. Whether he ever visited it we will never know, but we can bet the now-underwater village shop in Syndercombe was selling his wares by the end of the 19th century, because just about every shop in the country was!
20th Century - Present
Stolford would have been busy playing its small part in feeding the nation during both world wars, but then we roll forward to more modern times, and under the auspices of the Farm Amalgamations and Boundary Adjustments Scheme 1967, and Farm Structure (Payments to Outgoers) Scheme 1967, the three holdings at Stolford Farm were amalgamated into one holding. Most of the detail is probably only available by trawling through dusty records in some local government office or another, but in general we do know this, that the two Schemes had two main aims. Firstly, to offer incentives to farmers who wanted to increase the size of their farms to enable them to make more efficient use of farm buildings and equipment, whilst at the same time to make a better living. Secondly, to help farmers who wished to leave their small and often uneconomic farms, with all decisions taken voluntarily by the farmers concerned.
Stolford farm become a single entity in the mid-70’s when it was purchased by the Bashford family, who are still occasional visitors to the farm, although Peter and his family have since emigrated to Canada to farm there. The Bashfords ran it as a traditional Exmoor beef and sheep family farm and undertook the task of consolidating the enterprise following its amalgamation from the three separate holdings that had existed since the mid-11th century.
Today the farm comprises about 270 acres, including 36 acres of woodland and about 30 acres of scrub. The main property is a family home, with Middle Stolford being available as a holiday let. What is left of Lower Stolford is now derelict, with the North facing wall of the old stone farmhouse serving as the support for what is now a tractor and log shed. The only other part of the main property that still has its roots in the past is the old stone cowshed, which has now been converted into a luxury one-bedroom holiday let, with the rest of the building serving as a music room, and store shed. In recognition of its former role, the small holiday let is called The Cowshed. The working farm buildings themselves consist of Top and Middle barn, which are adjacent to the main drive as you approach the property and are both relatively modern.
Stolford Farm was purchased by the Vincent family in May 2018. The property was extensively modernised by the previous owners, Richard and Claire Cook, in 2011