Walcot ornamental fishponds and garden earthworks


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020972

Date first listed: 15-Apr-2004


Ordnance survey map of Walcot ornamental fishponds and garden earthworks
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This copy shows the entry on 23-Jan-2019 at 14:01:18.


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

County: Oxfordshire

District: West Oxfordshire (District Authority)

Parish: Charlbury

National Grid Reference: SP 34568 19773


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.

The fishponds at Walcot form part of a larger landscaped garden and are recognised as one of the most important ornamental groups of their type in the county. Although the original garden has been altered by subsequent development the majority of the ponds survive well together with some terracing relating to the wider garden layout. The garden earthworks at Walcot provide important insights into developing gardening fashions in the 17th and 18th centuries as well as information about the social aspirations of the inhabitants of the mansion.


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


The monument is situated in the former grounds of Walcot Mansion on the north facing slope of the Evenlode valley. It includes the buried and earthwork remains of a series of five ornamental rectangular fishponds set in a series of terraces descending the slope from the original location of the mansion, believed to have been situated to the east on the site occupied by the former farmhouse. The mansion was later demolished and the gardens were further disrupted by the 19th century building of the railway along the side of the valley, across the northern end of the principal line of ponds. Although the house and some of the garden earthworks have been lost, the core of the ornamental ponds and associated garden terrace earthworks survive well. The five remaining ponds (of an original six or more) all remain visible as partially infilled earthwork features measuring from 20m to 35m wide and between 35m and 58m long. The main line (or cascade) of ponds lies west of the modern buildings, and extends down the slope, from south to north over a distance of approximately 200m. Three rectangular ponds remain fully visible to the south of the railway line; a fourth is partly buried beneath the railway embankment with only the northern banks visible beyond. A fifth pond (possibly subdivided on a north-south axis) is shown on the 1880s First Edition Ordnance Survey map, closest to and issuing into the River Evenlode. This most northerly pond is no longer visible. A further rectangular pond, aligned roughly east to west, lies west of the main line of ponds at the top of the slope and empties into the river via a separate leat. The ponds were originally fed from springs and, although most have dried up, the two at the top of the slope still hold water. A series of garden terraces survive east of the ponds, particularly at their southern (upslope) end. These are part of the landscaping carried out to form the lawns, perhaps including a bowling green, and the platform on which the original house stood. To the west of the ponds lies a block of land which originally formed the wilderness part of the gardens. No archaeological remains are known to survive within this area which is therefore not included in the scheduling. The site of Walcot medieval settlement and manor lay several hundred metres to the east, beyond the present farm buildings. The gardens were laid out in the 17th century by the Jenkinson family. A map of 1751 depicts the gardens, centred on a stepped series of rectangular ponds and including an embanked avenue of trees, lawns, a wilderness and a bowling green. The house and gardens were of sufficient standing to have been included in a 1705 survey of `principal residences' of the county. All post and wire fences and the built up bedding of the railway line are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all of 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: 30831

Legacy System: RSM


PRN 4137 & 4139, SMRO, Late C16/early C17 formal garden earthworks, Walcot, (1990)
PRN 4137, SMRO, Walcot, (1990)
PRN 4139, SMRO, Walcot, (1990)
PRN's 4137 & 4139, SMRO, Fishponds, Walcot, (1990)
Title: 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Source Date: 1880 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing