History - The Woodhorn Group

History as told by John Pitts


The Pitts family have farmed at Woodhorn Farm since 1882 when my great grandfather, Fred Pitts, moved here from Devon. I am therefore the 4th generation farming at Woodhorn. Farming remains at the heart of our Business but we have diversified and grown significantly over time.

The land that we farm was, once, under the sea and the mixed soils here ( gravels, brickearths and so on) are all ice age marine deposits that go back at least 500,000 years. Archaeologists have found flint tools made by the earliest humans including early Neolithic flints (4000–3400BC) which are now in store at Chichester Museum and the land has been farmed continuously ever since.

In the late 19th century a huge agricultural recession prevailed as a consequence of cheap food flooding the country from the Empire. In Sussex the big landowners such as the Church could not find tenants to farm their land. A group of West Country farmers saw an opportunity and got together, hired a train on which they loaded their cattle and sheep, horses, carts and ploughs and left Devon to ‘go east’. My Great Grandfather, Fred Pitts, was one of these pioneers and took the farm at Woodhorn on in 1882.

Passing from Son to Son, my Father, Roger, worked with my Grandfather on the farm as a young boy. After serving in the RAF as a rear gunner in bombers, he came back to the farm and took over. Father oversaw a revolution in food production at Woodhorn. These Farmers were true innovators embracing the new technologies of artificial fertilisers, fungicides, modern breeding techniques in crops and livestock and took the country from famine to feast in only a couple of decades.

I took over from my Father in 1989. Nationally, farming has struggled economically throughout my time and motivated me to change and diversify. I have also had an enduring passion for the wider environment and my Community that has driven some of our more prosaic objectives.