Decoy pond immediately north of Pennyhole Fleet, Old Hall Marshes


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1021086

Date first listed: 24-Sep-1999

Date of most recent amendment: 08-Sep-2003


Ordnance survey map of Decoy pond immediately north of Pennyhole Fleet, Old Hall Marshes
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2018. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Maldon (District Authority)

Parish: Tollesbury

National Grid Reference: TL 98270 12330


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

Reasons for Designation

Decoy ponds are artificially created or modified pools of water onto which wildfowl were lured to be trapped and killed for food and for feathers. They consist of a central pool off which lead a number of curving arms or ditches, known as pipes. Nets were constructed over the narrowing ends of these pipes towards which the birds were lured by the decoyman and his dog. Screens were erected along the sides of the pipes with carefully placed gaps so that the dog would be visible to the birds only when his appearance would lead the birds towards the nets at the ends of the pipes. Once at the ends the nets would be dropped and the decoyman was able to wring the birds' necks. The tradition of constructing such ponds appears to have begun in the medieval period, with the simplest designs indicating an early date. The more familiar decoy pond, however, is said to have originated in Holland and to have been introduced into England in the 17th century. The word `decoy' is said to derive from the Dutch `eendenkooi' meaning `duck cage'. Their greatest popularity came in the 18th and 19th centuries when large numbers were built, with a small number continuing in use until World War II. The ideal size for a decoy pond was between 1ha and 5ha with a depth of water of not more than a metre. The number of pipes varies from one to more than five, often arranged in symmetrical patterns around the central pool. Although once common features of lowland England (being particularly associated with the east and south east coasts), modern drainage has modified or destroyed all but a few examples. Most examples which survive in a near-complete state of preservation will be considered of national importance and worthy of protection.

Decoys were important and once common features of the Essex marshland landscape and made a significant contribution to the marshland economy during the period 1600-1900.

This large decoy pond immediately north of Pennyhole Fleet at Old Hall Marshes is a fine example of a late 18th to early 19th century eight-pipe pond. It is the best preserved of only five known examples of eight-pipe decoys in Essex. One of two decoys on Old Hall Marshes it may have worked in tandem with the smaller specialised teal pond some 650m to its south east or alternatively one may be later than the other, perhaps reflecting the progress of land reclamation.

With most of its original features still intact, the pond survives well and is water-filled. The pipes will contain the remains of the wooden and iron hoops that once supported the nets, illustrating the operation of the decoys. The presence of all the major features of the decoy (with the exception of the nets) allows us to envisage how it operated. Decoys were important and once common features of the Essex marshland landscape and made a significant contribution to the marshland economy during the period 1600-1900. The construction of banks and the silting of channels will have sealed deposits which will, in addition to artefactual evidence including the wooden/iron hoops that supported the nets, also yield environmental evidence regarding the appearance of the marshland at the time of construction.


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


The monument includes a duck decoy pond situated in the centre of Old Hall Marshes, a promontory of reclaimed marshland, bordered to the north by Salcott Channel and to the south by Tollesbury Fleet. The decoy pond is constructed on the arm of the natural creek (Pennyhole Fleet), whose tributaries surround the decoy.

The decoy takes the form of a central pond, of irregular, elongated oval shape most probably a modified stretch of creek rather than a completely man-made feature. The pond is water-filled and occupies an area of some 1.2ha. Eight channels or pipes radiate off the pond to distances of 50m-70m, and a boundary, partly man-made and partly utilising natural water-courses, encircles and contains the whole complex. The man-made sections of the ditch delineate the decoy on its eastern side. On the western and northern sides two natural creeks act as the boundary, and a further short stretch of ditch to the north west connects these natural watercourses. Together these natural and artificial channels form a complete encircling watercourse which is linked to the natural creek system and supplies the pond with water. The areas in between the pipes are slightly raised, possibly from upcast from the ditches. The whole site including pond, pipes and earthworks covers an area of some 4.5ha.

The precise date of construction of the decoy is not documented; it does not appear on the Chapman and Andre map of 1777, but does appear on a plan of the estate dated to 1827 and subsequently on the Ordnance Survey 6 inch 1st edition map of 1874. Its date of construction, therefore, can be placed within the period late 18th century to early 19th century.

The decoy caught large numbers of mallard and teal, with very few widgeon. Although no precise yearly account of the number of birds taken has survived, the number was reported as being fabulous. In 1888 Old Hall decoy was one of only three still working. By the 1890s however, the decoy was only used occasionally, a few birds being taken during hard winters; the tenant, Dr J H Salter, preferred to shoot the fowl in the marshes because of the disturbance from grazing stock surrounding the decoy.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 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: 32407

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Lawson, P, Ancient Duck Decoy found at Reedbeds, (1998)
Strachan, D, Essex From The Air, (1998), 64
Glegg, W E, 'Vol XXVII Essex Naturalist' in The Duck Decoys of Essex, , Vol. XXVII, (1943), 191-224
Harting, J E, 'The Essex Naturalist' in Wild-Fowl Decoys In Essex, , Vol. II, (1888), 159-169
1 colour print, Strachan, D, CP-95-28-9, (1995)
1 colour print, Strachan, D, CP-96-1-3, (1996)
1: 10 000 NMP plot, Strachan, S, TL91SE, (1996)
3 colour prints, Strachan, D, CP-95-32-6,7,8, (1995)
9 colour prints, Strachan, D, Unreferenced, (1998)
Gibson, S, Essex Coast ESA :ECH2 Historical Monitoring 1995, (1995)
Gramolt, D.W, The Coastal Marshland of East Essex between the C17 and mid-C19, 1960, Thesis for M.A Univ of London
Title: Map XIV Source Date: 1777 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Plan of a Freehold Estate in the Parish of Tollesbury Source Date: 1875 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: D/DDc E17
Title: Sheet XLVI Source Date: 1874 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Tyler, S, MPP Film, (1998)
Tyler, S, MPP Site Visit to Old Hall Marshes, (1998)

End of official listing