Fishponds south east of Chalgrave Manor
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1008453
Date first listed: 05-Jan-1995
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Central Bedfordshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: TL 01701 27184
Reasons for Designation
A fishpond is an artificially created pool of slow moving freshwater
constructed for the purpose of cultivating, breeding and storing fish to
provide a constant and sustainable supply of food. They may be dug into the
ground, embanked above ground level, or formed by placing a dam across a
narrow valley. Groups of up to twelve ponds variously arranged in a single
line or in a cluster and joined by leats have been recorded. The ponds may be
of the same size or of several different sizes with each pond being stocked
with different species or ages of fish. The size of the pond was related to
function, with large ponds thought to have had a storage capability whilst
smaller, shallower ponds were used for fish cultivation and breeding.
Fishponds were maintained by a water management system which included inlet
and outlet channels carrying water from a river or stream, a series of sluices
set into the bottom of the dam and along the channels and leats, and an
overflow leat which controlled fluctuations in water flow and prevented
Buildings for use by fishermen or for the storage of equipment, and islands
possibly used for fishing, wildfowl management or as shallow spawning areas,
are also recorded.
The tradition of constructing and using fishponds in England began during the
medieval period and peaked in the 12th century. They were largely built by the
wealthy sectors of society with monastic institutions and royal residences
often having large and complex fishponds. The difficulties of obtaining fresh
meat in the winter and the value placed on fish in terms of its protein
content and as a status food may have been factors which favoured the
development of fishponds and which made them so valuable. The practice of
constructing fishponds declined after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in
the 16th century although in some areas it continued into the 17th century.
Most fishponds fell out of use during the post-medieval period although some
were re-used as ornamental features in 19th and early 20th century landscape
parks or gardens, or as watercress beds.
Documentary sources provide a wealth of information about the way fishponds
were stocked and managed. The main species of fish kept were eel, tench,
pickerel, bream, perch, and roach. Large quantities of fish could be supplied
at a time. Once a year, probably in the spring, ponds were drained and
Fishponds are widely scattered throughout England and extend into Scotland and
Wales. The majority are found in central, eastern and southern parts and in
areas with heavy clay soils. Fewer fishponds are found in coastal areas and
parts of the country rich in natural lakes and streams where other sources of
fresh fish were available. Although 17th century manuals suggest that areas of
waste ground were suitable for fishponds, in practice it appears that most
fishponds were located close to villages, manors or monasteries or within
parks so that a watch could be kept on them to prevent poaching. Although
approximately 2000 examples are recorded nationally, this is thought to be
only a small proportion of those in existence in medieval times. Despite being
relatively common, fishponds are important for their associations with other
classes of medieval monument and in providing evidence of site economy.
The fishpond complex to the south east of Chalgrave Manor is a particularly well preserved example of a linear set of ponds of unequal size. The variation in pond size and design is an indication of stock management and illustrates part of the economy of the nearby manor with which it is associated in documentary sources. The monument lies in an area where fishponds, usually associated with manorial or moated sites, are quite numerous, enabling variations between sites to be examined for the information they provide on the medieval and post-medieval economy of such settlements. Despite the modern enlargement of the southernmost fishpond, significant archaeological features survive. The two linear ponds at the northern end of the complex are particularly interesting as they are terraced out from the hillside rather than placed in the more typical location on the valley floor. These two ponds are virtually undisturbed and will therefore retain both artefactual and environmental evidence.
Chalgrave Manor lies a little under a kilometre to the south east of
Toddington. The monument includes the remains of a fishpond complex consisting
of three ponds aligned north east to south west along the western edge of a
valley floor, and an associated former stream channel.
The southern fishpond is rectangular and lies on the valley floor fed by the
natural stream course. It has recently been widened on the south east side and
enlarged at the north east end. Spoil and silt from these operations have been
dumped along the south eastern edge of the pond forming a large linear mound.
This feature is not included in the scheduling which extends only to its base
on the north west side. The pond measures c.75m north east to south west by
c.40m north west to south east, and has a central island 58m long and 20m
wide. The original stream course was blocked to create the fishpond and
channelled over a weir (now replaced in modern concrete) at the north east
corner. The outlet feeds almost immediately into a small sub-rectangular
pond measuring 25m long and 9m wide. This pond is separated from a further
pond lying to the north east by a narrow, 7m wide, neck of ground now
supporting a post-medieval track. This third pond, which is also narrow and
rectangular, c.75m long and c.11m wide, follows a slightly different
alignment from the other two. The causeway between these two ponds preserves
water control systems beneath the more modern track. Both northern ponds lie
within terraces cut into the base of the steep scarp to the north west and
extend out into the valley floor. The watercourse has been diverted through
the ponds leaving the original stream bed dry on the valley floor further
to the south east. This dry stream bed is included within the scheduling
since it illustrates the development and history of the fishpond complex.
The fishponds are first mentioned in documentary evidence describing the
dividing up of Chalgrave Manor in 1386-7.
The small metal shelter on the island, the modern metal footbridge and related concrete steps, the concrete weir, all fences and posts are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath all these features is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 23403
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
'BHRS' in Division of Chalgrave Manor House, 1386-7, , Vol. 28, (1950), 31-32
Report of the alteration to S. ponds, Coleman, SR, (1993)
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing