Saxon coastal fish weir at Sales Point
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1019103
Date first listed: 06-Oct-2000
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Maldon (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: TM 03354 09380
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
Coastal fish weirs are artificial barriers created within the inter-tidal
zone, using stone walls, wattle or timber fencing to channel fish into traps.
The most common form of weir (a term derived from `were' - an Anglo-Saxon word
meaning fish trap) is a simple `V'-shaped arrangement of walls, frequently
100m or more in length. Baskets or nets would be placed at the point of the
`V' which would normally be orientated seaward so as to draw in the fish with
the receding tide. Weirs may also be rectangular or more linear in appearance
with traps located either in corners or set within spurs attached to the main
walls. Placed in gently shelving coastal or estuarine locations, the weirs
would become sufficiently exposed at low water for the fish to be collected
and, in some instances, for initial processing (gutting, filleting) to take
place on site.
Stationary fish traps are known to have been used since the Mesolithic period,
although the earliest examples to leave strong visible traces around the
coastline belong to a tradition dating from the early medieval or Anglo-Saxon
period. Documentary evidence from the 10th century onwards suggests that fish
weirs were largely the preserve of the upper echelons of medieval society,
maintained either by larger manors or by religious houses. In addition to the
obvious advantage of a constant food supply, the produce from the fish weirs
provided economic benefit, indicated social status and could aid compliance
with the religious dietary strictures of the period. Large fish weirs were
still used in the Severn Estuary until the early 20th century, and their
small-scale use persists here and in other parts of the British Isles to this
day. In general, however, the practice reached its peak between the 12th and
14th centuries, hereafter declining in the face of growing commercial sea
fishing. The remains of about 500 fish weirs are estimated to survive around
England's coast. Those of medieval or earlier date which demonstrate a high
degree of preservation, and particularly those which form groups or have
demonstrable links with manorial or ecclesiastical estates, will normally be
considered to be of national importance and worthy of protection.
The fish weir at Sales Point is in a good state of preservation. The timber samples have shown that, whilst surface preservation of the alder posts may be poor, the interiors are remarkably well preserved and in most cases some bark has survived. In addition to the timbers revealing details of the construction of the monument, the associated fish processing deposits could provide information as to how the weir operated. In particular, the study of these deposits would clarify whether they represent fish processing on site, or fish simply caught in the remains of the trap after it had gone out of use. It is unusual to recover large assemblages of fish bone from coastal sites, and the deposits within the weir will provide important information on fishing practices. The finding of a cooking pot of possible Anglo-Saxon date illustrates that artefacts survive within and associated with the weir, and these could help illustrate the weir's link to the early Saxon monastery at Bradwell-on-Sea or Othona, and the part it played in its economy. The importance of the site is greatly enhanced by probable association with, and close proximity to, the monastery. References in the Domesday Book to fisheries in the Blackwater area mention two at Bradwell, one of which may be the weir at Sales Point. Several other fish weirs of similar construction have been identified through recent archaeological studies of the Blackwater Estuary, and further comparative study of these sites may provide significant insights into their date range, development and relevance to the social structure and economy of the early medieval period.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes a timber Saxon coastal fish weir located at the mouth of
the Blackwater Estuary around the Mean Low Water Mark on the mud flats at
Sales Point, some 1200m NNE of the chapel of St Peter on the Wall.
The existence of the fish weir was first brought to the attention of local
amateur archaeologist and boatman Mr Kevin Bruce by Mr Rodney Larner in the
1960s. A number of ground level and aerial photographic surveys have since
taken place between 1967 and 1997. The weir is made up of three timber walls
forming three sides of a rectangle; two walls are aligned WNW to ESE and
measure 340m and 290m; the third measures some 180m and is aligned NNE to SSW.
There is no timber wall on its western side, which is open to the tide and
flanked by two funnel-shaped fish traps attached to the parallel timber walls.
Within the weir, at its north east corner, is another trap with an extensive
fish bone deposit located to its immediate south. A large wattle basket
recorded nearby may have formed another of the original traps or played some
part in fish processing on the site. The presence of the three main traps
suggests that, unusually, the weir was constructed to collect fish on both the
flow and the ebb tides.
The eastern wall has at least four phases of rebuilding, all at slightly
different alignments. The walls are constructed using upright timbers infilled
with panels of hurdling. The latter are not secured vertically into the silts
and have therefore been exposed to some erosion and movement by tides;
the upright timbers are better preserved. The hurdling, in addition to forming
the infill for the walls of the weir, may have formed a walkway along the
walls in order to allow access to the fish trap areas of the structure.
Within the interior of the weir, fish processing deposits survive,
particularly in the north east corner close to the main trap. A cooking pot
found close to the weir is of Anglo-Saxon date. Samples taken from the timbers
in 1997 showed the interiors of the posts to be well preserved. Radiocarbon
dating has placed them within the date range AD 656-957, which fits in with
the site's probable association with the seventh century monastery known to
have existed at nearby Othona (Bradwell-on-Sea), and with references
in the Domesday Book to fisheries in the Blackwater area, including two at
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 10 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: 29427
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Rumble, A , Domesday Book, 32 Essex, (1983)
Strachan, D, C14 dating of some inter-tidal fish-weirs in Essex, (1997)
8 colour prints, Bruce, K, Unreferenced, (1996)
black and white prints, Bruce, K, KBW 1-11, (1993)
black and white prints, Bruce, K, Unreferenced, (1967)
black and white prints, Wallis, S, SWBW3, 8-23, (1992)
Bruce, K, Unreferenced, (1974)
colour prints, Bruce, K, KBC58-89, (1992)
colour prints, Bruce, K, Unreferenced, (1997)
colour prints, Strachan,D, CP-97-4-14,15, (1997)
colour prints, Strachan,D, Unreferenced, (1997)
Title: TM00NW 1:10000 Map Source Date: 1987 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Tyler, S, Essex SMR No. 2055, (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