Medieval fishponds and ridged cultivation remains, east of Grimley village
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1014539
Date first listed: 18-Oct-1996
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Malvern Hills (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: SO 83825 60185
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
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 fishponds at Grimley have survived in good condition, with little or no disturbance since they ceased to function. As a result there is high potential for the survival of archaeological remains. Of particular significance are the waterlogged deposits in the ponds and leats, which will preserve environmental evidence relating to the construction, maintenance, and management of the ponds, as well as for land use in the surrounding area. This may include organic remains of the pond linings and sluices. The earthworks will retain details of the method of construction of the ponds, including episodes of repair or modification, and the buried remains of the leats and dams will further contribute to our understanding of the operation of the pond system as a whole. The unusual survival of complete enclosures of ridged cultivation enhances our knowledge of the agricultural practices of the community which was otherwise dependent on the management of the ponds. The ground surface sealed beneath the boundary banks will preserve environmental evidence for use of the land immediately prior to its cultivation. All these features provide us with an insight into the technology and economy of a specialised medieval community under monastic control. The value of the site is enhanced significantly by the unique contemporary documentation for the use of the fishponds. The monument thus plays a central role in our understanding of the development of a very specialised settlement type from the early- to post- medieval periods, to which it is linked by the hollow ways which border and cross it. The agricultural remains and southern end of the pond system are accessible to the public via a number of well-frequented footpaths.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of a group of medieval
fishponds, associated water channels, and enclosures of ridged cultivation
remains, situated on the floodplain between the village of Grimley and the
River Severn. Grimley village is documented from AD 851, and the ponds were
confirmed to the monks of Worcester in 1148, at which time they also owned a
mill and half a fishery there. Between 1518 and 1535, Grimley and three other
groups of fishponds were the particular interest of Prior William More, whose
meticulous documentation of weekly expenditure constitutes a unique record of
the management and maintenance of all four sites. Grimley remained the
property of Worcester Priory until the Dissolution, changing hands several
times until the Restoration, after which it was held by the Bishops of
Worcester until 1860.
The remains include three ponds of rectangular form, two water filled and one
intentionally infilled, with a fourth, which is much smaller and of roughly
oval form to the west. To the south east of the fishponds the monument
includes an area of extensive cultivation remains. The three main ponds are
long and narrow and aligned north-south, in the north and central parts of the
monument. The system was originally supplied with fresh water from a spring at
the north end of the system, which now drains into the Severn via a ditch
along the old track at the north end of the village. This track is documented
in 1518, and once led to a quay which has now vanished. Poor drainage around
the spring since the ponds fell out of use has resulted in the formation of a
roughly triangular pond north of the track, which is excluded from the
scheduling. Although overgrown in places by reeds and trees, particularly at
the north end, the dimensions of the fishponds can still be clearly seen. The
most northerly pond measures 130m x 25m, and is divided from its neighbour by
the remains of a dam, represented by an earthen bank up to 10m wide, which
narrows towards the centre. The second pond measures 105m x 28m, and at its
southern end is another dam of similar dimensions to the first. The timber
sluices which controlled the water flow between the ponds are no longer
visible, but evidence for their position and construction will survive buried
within the dams. The third pond is now infilled, but was once the largest,
measuring c.200m x 35m. A sunken lane, or hollow way, connecting Grimley High
Street to the Severn, runs across the northern end of this pond, and poor
drainage has flooded both the lane and the area between it and the dam to the
north. A sample of this hollow way is included in the scheduling in
recognition of its relationship with the pond system. South of it is a modern
stock pond, beyond which two ditches, the eastern one up to 1.5m deep and
planted with trees, mark the original banks of the medieval pond. When it was
infilled these ditches will have been maintained for drainage, and the trees
indicate that the eastern one was subsequently used as a field boundary. The
fourth pond is situated to the west of the northern pond in the principal
group, and has maximum dimensions of 25m east-west by 12m north-south. Its
west end has been truncated by two modern properties, but was originally
rounded. Its east end narrows and will have housed a sluice, controlling water
flow from the pond to the system of leats to east and south, although this is
no longer visible as a surface feature. This pond has silted up since falling
out of use, but remains as a waterlogged depression c.0.4m deep. South of this
is a modern stock pond which is excluded from the scheduling. The ponds will
have been clay lined, with clay dams supported by an arrangement of timber
stakes and lattices. This method is recommended by later writers, and Prior
More records the carriage of `cley, thornes and stakes' as part of repair
works at one of the pools in 1528.
West, south, and south east of the main ponds is a series of scarps, banks and
ditches, representing leats associated with the ponds, medieval agricultural
enclosures, and post-medieval field boundaries. The field boundaries appear on
the 1840 tithe map, several following earlier water channels, but many had
ceased to operate by the time of the 1886 Ordnance Survey map. The ponds
themselves had gone out of use by 1840: two are shown on the tithe map as a
parcel of land known as First Stitches, while the infilled pond forms part of
The main leat, which controlled the water levels in the pond system, is on the
western side of the three ponds and runs north-south, parallel with them. It
has silted up to the north of the hollow way, where it is visible as a shallow
channel roughly 10m wide and a branch to the west connects the main leat with
the east end of the small oval pond. South of this point a subsidiary leat at
right angles connects the main leat with the northern fishpond, just above the
dam. South of the hollow way the leat continues southwards as a clear
earthwork channel set against a natural terrace, and is up to 0.5m deep and
filled with thick dark grass. This leat makes a right angled turn 200m south
of the hollow way to connect with the end of the southern pond. In the south
east corner of this pond there will have been a final sluice controlling
outflow for the whole system of ponds. The leat continues south of the final
sluice, in line with the east edge of the ponds for about 80m, before turning
east towards the river.
South east of the ponds are the earthwork remains of a complex field system
with extensive ridge and furrow ploughing and ridged cultivation. These
remains are divided into closes or enclosures defined by earthen banks and
scarps, which would also have served to protect the cultivated areas from
flooding. The largest of these is a block of ridge and furrow measuring c.220m
north-south by a maximum of 125m east-west, defined by a low scarp to the east
and by the edge of the fishpond and leat to the west. East and south of this
are a number of smaller rectangular enclosures, divided by low earthen banks,
containing cultivation ridges aligned north-south. All these earthworks are
clearly visible as surface features, especially in the north east corner of
the field where the boundary banks survive up to 1m high. The tithe map shows
that these enclosure boundaries also defined post-medieval field boundaries,
and this illustrates the longevity of the agricultural pattern in the area.
These closes will have been under cultivation during the working life of the
fishponds, and the monument provides an unusual example of the agricultural
setting of a major medieval fish factory. The medieval fishponds and
enclosures are adjacent to the cropmarks of a Roman fort and enclosure to the
north east of the church and the subject of a separate scheduling. The church
itself is noted for its fine Norman doorway.
All telegraph poles, fences and gates around and within the monument are
excluded from the scheduling, however the ground beneath them is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 27499
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Cook, M, Grimley Fishponds, (1995), 9
Aston, M, 'Medieval fish, fisheries, and fishponds in England' in Worcestershire Fishponds, , Vol. 182(ii), (1988), 445-50
Hickling, C F, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Prior More's Fishponds, , Vol. Vol 15, (1971), 118-23
Title: Grimley - Worcs Source Date: 1970 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: plan held on SMR
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