In the 13th Century the Estate was held by Richard de Ottehale. It then passed to Richard of Kentish from 1395 until 1419, and in 1537 Thomas Attree conveyed Ote Hall to Thomas Godman. Since when it has been the home of the Godmans, although its story has included several other families living here, including the Shirley, Tanner, Woods and Enthovens over the following 500 years.
Although the heart of the farm encompassing the farmhouse, agricultural buildings and cottages have remained constant in and around Wivelsfield, the land has at times extended to Keymer to the south, and Haywards Heath to the north, but fundamentally has remained roughly the same acreage.
My mother loved the farm. She became proficient, and hardworking, forward thinking and highly respected for her achievements, practical knowledge and attention to detail.
She adored her cattle and walked the fields daily, always on the lookout for pests of all shapes and sizes. These ranged from aphids and leather jackets eating the crops, to little boys setting fire to straw bales and standing crops. She took them all in her stride, and more often than not won the battle!
However, she had to learn quickly and unexpectedly.
On 25th September 1915 Captain Fredrick Tyrell Godman of the 9th Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment, 24th Division, was wounded and taken prisoner at Loos. He died in 1917 while in captivity at Holzminden, Germany, aged 41.
He left behind his widow Jose, and his only surviving son Thomas (Tony) Godman, who in due course married my mother in 1939.
They moved into Great Ote Hall which had been out of the family for some years, and took over the running of the farm. Tony joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and was killed in action on HMS Havock, in the Mediterranean on 4th January 1942. He was 27 years old.
When he left to take command of his ship, my mother managed the farm. Having originated from a small fishing village in the north of Denmark, her knowledge regarding farming was scant, but her determination and hunger for knowledge was irrepressible.
She would regularly ride her horse to Plumpton College to seek advice and guidance from the principle Mr RHB Jesse.
The college had suspended normal courses during the War, and introduced short training modules for people joining the Woman’s Land Army. Several came to work at Ote Hall, along with some migrant workers and prisoners of war.
During the 19th Century, development of the British Empire had provided safe access to food from abroad. Importing from India, Canada and Australia became significant sources of wheat, and by 1914 imports were 60% with a population of 42 million.
During both World Wars, the British Government, somewhat belatedly, realised the need to maximise food production, as convoys on the high seas were lost to enemy action. “Dig for Victory” was the order of the day.
During WW1 170,000 male farmers were called up, representing one third of Great Britain’s farm work force. Half a million farm horses including from Ote Hall, were claimed by the War Office to help on the front line. Towards 1917 around 250,000 women were working as farm labourers, 23,000 in the land army.
In June 1939 the Women’s Land Army was reformed, and over 80,000 women worked on farms such as Ote Hall, where their support was invaluable.
Like many war widows my mother devoted her life to nurturing and improving the farm she had inherited from her young husband. Later she devoted equal attention to supporting my father in his political career.