Four medieval fish weirs 500m east of the Harbour


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Somerset West and Taunton (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SS 97644 47052

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.

Despite periodic repair and partial rebuilding over the centuries, the four medieval fish weirs 500m east of the Harbour will retain much of their original medieval fabric and are among the best preserved examples in a series of weirs located along the north Somerset coastline. The weirs are known to have been worked almost continuously since they were established and have remained in the ownership of just three local families for at least 200 years. They represent a surviving example of a long tradition of ancient practice in coastal fishing techniques.


The monument includes four coastal fish weirs of medieval origin located in Minehead Bay. The weirs are aligned from east to west and form part of a series of similar fish weirs located between Porlock Bay to the west and Lilstock to the east, along the north Somerset coastline. Three of the weirs are broadly `V'-shaped in plan whilst the fourth is of an irregular rectangular shape; all are formed by long banks or walls constructed from migrant round stone with an inner and an outer course which encloses a core of smaller pebbles and gravel. The migrant stone, which varies in size, is known locally as popples. Rounded from the action of the sea, each popple weighs between approximately 12kg and 50kg. The interior height of the walls of the three `V'-shaped weirs is between 1m and 1.5m and each wall is approximately 100m long. Two walls of each weir converge to form an angle on the seaward side with a gap, known as the gut, about 2m in width. They are on average 120m wide on the open landward side. The fish become trapped in a net placed across the gut. The rectangular weir is the northernmost and largest in the bay and it is formed by three irregular walls, with the open side facing inland and a gap along the seaward wall. The walls enclose an area of approximately 170m across and they are on average 1.5m high within the interior of the weir, and up to 0.5m high above the surrounding shore on the exterior. A long net is placed in the gap between the walls which traps fish when the tide recedes as the water drains away. The remains of a linear stone-built feature, which now survives as a flat spread, is located within the walls of the rectangular shaped weir. The primary purpose of the stone feature has yet to be firmly established. One suggestion is that it may represent a further weir which has had part of its western arm removed and possibly used to enlarge the eastern wall of the rectangular weir, which may account for its unusual plan. A further suggestion is that the internal feature was constructed as, or subsequently used as, a net line on account of a hang of stakes and footrope stones in place along its western side. The stone used in its construction differs from the type used in the construction of the other weirs and it is believed that it was reclaimed from the dismantled groyne which was previously located across the harbour mouth. The southernmost weir differs from the others in that it retains water when the tide recedes and never fully drains. It also has a line of stakes for kettle nets along the exterior of its western wall in order to supplement the catch. The fish weirs are still being used and their history can be traced back to at least the medieval period when they were first specifically mentioned in a document dating from 1424-5. They may however be even earlier in date as there are references to fish weirs in this area from the 11th century and again in 1299-1300 when five were recorded in Minehead Bay.

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.

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Books and journals
Dennison, E, 'Proceedings of Somerset Archaeology & Natural History Society' in Somerset Archaeology 1984-85, , Vol. 129, (1985), 20-22
(in Somerset SMR file), Martin, John, Of ancient fish weirs in Minehead Bay, (1986)
(in Somerset SMR file), Martin, John, Of ancient fish weirs in Minehead Bay, (1986)


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

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