Duck decoy on Middle Moor
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- South Somerset (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- ST 40136 28150
Reasons for Designation
Decoy ponds are artificially created or modified pools of water onto which
wildfowl were lured to be trapped and killed for food and for feathers. They
consist of a central pool off which lead a number of curving arms or ditches,
known as pipes. Nets were constructed over the narrowing ends of these pipes
towards which the birds were lured by the decoyman and his dog. Screens were
erected along the sides of the pipes with carefully placed gaps so that the
dog would be visible to the birds only when his appearance would lead the
birds towards the nets at the ends of the pipes. Once at the ends the nets
would be dropped and the decoyman was able to wring the birds' necks.
The tradition of constructing such ponds appears to have begun in the medieval
period, with the simplest designs indicating an early date. The more familiar
decoy pond, however, is said to have originated in Holland and to have been
introduced into England in the 17th century. The word `decoy' is said to
derive from the Dutch `eendenkooi' meaning `duck cage'. Their greatest
popularity came in the 18th and 19th centuries when large numbers were built,
with a small number continuing in use until World War II. The ideal size for a
decoy pond was between 1ha and 5ha with a depth of water of not more than a
metre. The number of pipes varies from one to more than five, often arranged
in symmetrical patterns around the central pool. Although once common features
of lowland England (being particularly associated with the east and south east
coasts), modern drainage has modified or destroyed all but a few examples.
Most examples which survive in a near-complete state of preservation will be
considered of national importance and worthy of protection.
The decoy on Middle Moor survives as a good example of its type, although now adapted for shooting. The water control system to the east of the decoy is of interest, being rare in its survival and structure. The decoy is located within the Somerset Levels and Moors, a wetland area of high archaeological value which has seen rapid landscape change over the past 200 years as a result of drainage and intensive peat cutting.
The monument includes a six-pipe duck decoy, situated on low lying land on
Middle Moor 200m to the north of the Sowy River.
The central pool of the decoy has been re-dug as an almost square pond 50m x
60m. The east end of the pond appears to conform with the original extent of
the decoy pool, but the opposite end has been curtailed, as the original west
end of the pond can be seen as earthworks to the west of the existing pond.
Banks surrounding the pond are up to 1m above the water level, probably raised
from clearance of the pond. Two large oval central islands are low in
comparison. There is some evidence of clearing by the presence of black silt
on the islands. The edges of the pond are straight on three sides; to the east
the edge is irregular and indicates where three pipes widened and entered the
pond. A length of these pipes is filled in and slightly banked.
The part of the field to the east of the decoy contains evidence of three
pipes as variably waterlogged depressions extending up to 50m from the pond in
slight curves. The two southern pipes curve towards the northern pipe, and are
separated by low earthworks.
By comparison, the western part of the field contains a considerable complex
of earthworks under waterlogged pasture, with pools of water having collected
in hollows between the arms of the decoy pipes. Three pipes extend westwards
for 50m-60m, the two southern pipes of which curve to the north. There is a
distinct break of slope 25m-30m to the west of the pool, indicating the
original extent of the decoy pond and showing well the junction of the
widening pipes with the pond. A drain has been added to the south west which
has truncated the south west pipe and the extreme south west area of the
The decoy was originally surrounded by a rectangular enclosure rhyne, defining
an area approximately 230m x 90m. This is visible to the south east as a
linear waterlogged hollow, but it has been truncated to the south west by the
cutting of a new drain. No earthworks are visible to south of the new drain.
The western enclosure rhyne is clearly visible as a linear hollow.
The northern rhyne is still maintained as a drain, there being a bank between
this rhyne and the decoy. The eastern enclosure rhyne is generally water-
filled, but isolated from the main drainage system. Middlemoor Rhyne is
connected to Decoy Rhyne to the south, and would seem to be the control point
for the decoy's water supply.
The decoy was made in 1676 by five tenants, who were given construction
materials and royalty for fowling over the moor by the lord of the manor. In
return for this they were to stock the decoy and render a quarter of all birds
taken. The decoy is situated on the estate associated with St Andrew's Church,
Aller, the present church of which dates to the 12th century. There is a
deserted medieval village to the east of Aller Court Farm. The farm dates to
the 17th century but contains buildings dating to the 16th century.
The decoy was reported to be `a fine decoy' in 1791, and later to have been
reduced to four pipes. It is shown on an Ordnance Survey map to be out of use
by 1886. An aerial photograph of 1947 shows the decoy before the pool was re-
dug or the southern drain added.
Excluded from the scheduling are all modern fences and posts although the
ground beneath is included. Not included in the scheduling are the drains to
the south, north and east as these are regularly maintained.
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:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Collins History of Somerset, (1791)
Bush, R J E, The Victoria History of the County of Somerset: Volume III, (1974), 62
Quekett, W, My Sayings and Doings with Reminiscences of My Life, (1880), 23-24
Associated SMR entries, 53481 church, 53488 DMV,Aller Court Farm,
CPE.UK.1924 1182, 23rd January 1947, (1947)
Title: Ordnance Survey Map, 1886 Source Date: 1886 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Card 72/3
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