Remains of medieval fishponds at The Leys


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.

Mid Suffolk (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TM 18552 75414

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.

The medieval fishponds at The Leys are a good example of a complex system, and display many original features. The monument as a whole will retain archaeological evidence for the construction of the ponds and associated water control system, and the way in which they were managed. Organic materials, including evidence for the local environment in the past, are likely to be preserved in waterlogged deposits in the ponds and water management features. The probable association with the bishop's manor in Hoxne gives the monument additional interest.


The monument includes the remains of an array of medieval fishponds located in the bottom of the valley of the Goldbrook, in an isolated position to the south of Hoxne village and south west of Heckfield Green. There are the remains of a second set of fishponds some 850m to the north, within the precinct of Hoxne Priory, which is the subject of a separate scheduling.

The ponds and associated water management features occupy an area measuring approximately 182m SSE-NNW by 120m WSW-ENE and are laid out on a roughly rhomboidal plan alongside the brook, the course of which has evidently been diverted around their eastern side, with a low embankment between. The brook supplied water to the system from the south east, and from the point at which it diverges north eastwards from its original course a shallow linear depression extends north westwards, marking the line of a supply channel to a leat which is aligned south east-north west and formed the main axis of the system. To either side of this axial leat, slightly to the south of the mid point, two linear ponds extend at right angles, connected to the leat by short channels which would originally have contained sluices. The pond on the west side measures about 50m in length WSW-ESE by up to 10m in width; the pond to the east measures approximately 27m in length by 5m. About 5m to the south of the western linear pond, and also connected by a short sluice channel to the axial leat, is a quadrangular pond measuring up to 46m WSW-ESE by 30m and containing a central island. To the south of this and parallel to it are the remains of a third, measuring about 30m by 8m as shown on Ordnance Survey maps and now visible as two depressions of unequal depth.

The north western part of the complex, to the north of the western linear pond, is occupied by a large, triangular pond, connected to the axial leat by another short channel through an embankment along the eastern side. In line near the western side of this pond there are three small, roughly circular islands. In the north eastern part of the system, immediately to the north of the eastern linear pond and east of the axial leat, are two ponds separated by a broad embankment, although it is possible that the embankment has been constructed of material from later cleaning and divides what was originally a single feature. The western and smaller of these two north eastern ponds is visible as a boggy depression alongside the axial leat. The larger pond to the east, which is also largely silted, was supplied by a channel running roughly parallel to the course of the brook, and a modern continuation of this channel has been created by recutting along the eastern side of the pond. The axial leat, as shown on old Ordnance Survey maps, issued from the northern end of the system back into the brook, although the connecting section has been infilled and is no longer visible. At the southern end of the system, aligned north west-south east from opposite the point at which the brook diverges from its original course, is a linear depression about 39m in length which is all that remains visible of a channel which formerly extended around the southern and south western part of the complex. A similar channel, now infilled, is recorded alongside the north western pond, about 10m beyond its outer edge. These were probably parts of a single bypass channel to carry surplus water, and the infilled sections, which will survive as buried features, are included in the scheduling. Immediately to the west of the projected line of this infilled channel is a house which stands, at least in part, on massive foundations built of brick of late medieval or early post-medieval type. The foundations are thought to be earlier than the house and may be the remains of a lodge for the men who managed the fishponds and guarded them from poachers. These foundations are included in the scheduling.

In the medieval period the manor of Hoxne was held by the Bishop of Norwich, who had two deer parks here, one of which, known as Old Park, lay about 1km to the east of the fishponds. Although it is possible that the ponds belonged to Hoxne Priory, it is more likely that they formed part of the bishop's estate in the parish. The layout of the ponds suggests that aesthetic considerations may have played some part in their design.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: the house, all modern fences and gates, modern paving, a greenhouse to the south east of the house, and a cesspit and inspection chamber to the east of the northern end of the house; however the ground beneath all 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:
Legacy System:


Benton, A H, (2000)
Linge, J R, Ordnance Survey Antiquity Model: TM 17 NE 14, (1973)


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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