Medieval manorial fishponds at The Banks


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018835

Date first listed: 09-Oct-1981

Date of most recent amendment: 19-Mar-1999


Ordnance survey map of Medieval manorial fishponds at The Banks
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Leicestershire

District: Harborough (District Authority)

Parish: Burton Overy

National Grid Reference: SP 67669 98178


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 flooding. 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 as a food source and for status 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 cleared. 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.

Many early houses had gardens associated with them. The creation of gardens has an early history in England, the earliest examples known being associated with Roman villas. However, the major development in gardening took place in the late medieval and early post-medieval periods when the idea of the garden as a `pleasure ground' developed. Early gardens take a variety of forms. Some involved significant water management works to create elaborate water gardens which could include a series of ponds or even ornamental canal systems. At other sites flower gardens were favoured, with planting in elaborately shaped and geometrically laid out beds. Planting arrangements were often complemented by urns, statues and other garden furniture. Such sites were often provided with raised walkways or prospect mounds which provided vantage points from which the garden design could be seen and fully appreciated. Whilst gardens were probably a common accompaniment to high status houses from the late medieval period onwards, continued occupation of houses and related use and re-modelling of gardens in response to changing fashions means that early remains rarely survive undisturbed. Gardens provide a valuable insight into contemporary aesthetics and views about how the landscape could be modified to enhance the surroundings. Their design often mirrors elements of the design of the associated house; particularly following the symmetry of the buildings. In view of their rarity, great variety of form, and importance for understanding high status houses and their occupants, all surviving examples of early date will be identified to be nationally important.

The remains of the fishponds and formal gardens associated with the medieval manorial site at The Banks survive as a series of earthworks and buried deposits. The formal garden remains represent an extremely rare survival in that contemporary documentary sources show them to be demonstrably early in comparison to other similar sites. The earthworks remain largely undisturbed by subsequent activity with the result that the preservation of archaeological deposits relating to their construction and use will be good. In addition, waterlogging in the area of the ponds suggests a high level of survival for organic remains which might contain information about the economy of the site and its contemporary environment. The earthworks also offer a good opportunity to understand the development and status of the manorial site whilst providing an important insight into the wealth and social status of its occupants in the medieval period.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the earthworks and buried remains of two medieval manorial fishponds and medieval garden remains situated on a westerly slope immediately east of a stream in an area known as The Banks.

The fishponds comprised a part of the medieval gardens known to exist from documentary sources and the formal layout of the earthworks visible on the site. The ponds are defined by parallel banks, lie 60m apart and are orientated on a NNE-SSW axis.

The eastern pond is situated at the top of the slope and measures up to 40m in length and 10m in width. Its eastern bank is 65m in length, 8m in width and a maximum of 2.5m in height. At its southern end the bank has been reduced in height to 0.3m for a length of approximately 25m. The bank forming the western side of the pond is 38m in length, 7m in width and 2m in height. A faint bank continuing for 30m on the same axis from its southern end probably represents one side of a drainage channel leading from the pond. A second pond 60m in length, 13m in width and 2m in depth is cut into the base of the slope with a retaining bank on its eastern side. A section of leat connecting the southern end of the pond to the stream is defined by a narrow channel up to 0.8m in width, 0.6m in depth and 10m in length. The southern side of the slope between the ponds shows faint traces of earlier medieval cultivation in the form of ridge and furrow.

In the Domesday survey of 1086 the village of Burtone or Burton Overy was in the ownership of Hugh de Grentmesnil. After his death it passed to Robert, Earl of Leicester, eventually being divided between the sisters of the last male heir on his death in 1204. One of these was the wife of William de Ferrers, Earl of Derby. In 1307 Robert de la Warde was recorded as having held a manor at Burton from the Ferrers family. A document dated to 1307 clearly mentions `...the great garden on the west' and records the payment of a dower to Ida, the widow of Robert de la Warde. The size and nature of the ponds and garden features suggests that they were located in relation to a building of high status such as a manor house, and together with the documentary references, that it was probably that of the Ferrers family.

All fences are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath 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: 30251

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Hartley, R F, Burton Overy, (1983)
Nichols, J, The History and Antiquities of the County of Leicestershire, (1800)
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Leicester, (1964)
Farnham, G.F., Leicestershire Medieval Village Notes, 1933,

End of official listing