Saturday, 3 December 2016

Lyddington Fishponds

Figure 1: Lyddington Fishponds.
Having known the Fishponds since I was three, which was where my parents would take me to run about up and down the bumps in an effort to work off my surplus energy, and having now grown to the point where we have taken our children, and shortly intend to take my grandchildren for the same purpose, the area has always fascinated me.

At the start of my career I was involved in a lot of river engineering, and also in building a fish farm at Horn Lane near Empingham. This experience left me puzzled as to how the Fishponds actually worked hydraulically. There is no obvious route through the ponds that make it up for water flows. Fish soon suffer, if present in any numbers in static water conditions from lack of water.

There may have course have been more than one flow path. Where are the outlet sluices, for instance, and why does one large pond have no obvious impounding gate?

I used to spend a great deal of my boyhood in and around the Lydd Brook.  We had several favourite spots for Den's.  At the time these had large blocks of carefully hewn sandstone in them that made alternatively comfortable chairs, and at other times provided support for the dams we made in the stream, which grew steadily bigger  and bigger and more effective, until on one occasion we managed to flood the road, and got such a telling off from the farmer, that I had to suspend my continuing professional development as a dam engineer for several years.

More recently this experience has led  me to wonder if I had not been playing in what had been Medieval hydraulic features. Sadly some of the features are no longer in context due to my building activities.

As the following image will attempt to explain, the landscape surrounding the Fishponds has been substantially cleaned up and gentrified in the last forty years.  The Fishpond Field itself is largely unaltered, however it is the fields surrounding it, and those running for half a mile to a mile upstream that have been changed, and which I believe hold the key to how the fishponds actually worked.

First I will explain the current situation, and then we will attempt to strip away the more modern clutter to reveal the underlying structures.

Figure 2: The Fish ponds area today with annotations.

As can be seen a lot of woods were planted to the east of the site approximately twenty years ago on the lower slopes of Priestley Hill.  These have now matured to the point that they conceal what were a number of old trackways, field banks, and ploughing strips.

There are also Slickenslides under these woods. Slickenslides are landslips that have occurred since the last Ice Age about 14,000 or earlier, which were caused over steeping of the hill slopes during periods when the ground was frozen. As the ground thawed in a sequence of freezing and thawing the upper layers began to slump and slide, and this process has continued sporadically over many thousands of years down to the recent present leaving oddly shaped slides that can be mistaken for lynchets.

It is particularly sad that the field with the post modern pond in it was substantially re-earthworked in the 1980's. The field had had two substantial gullies in it, one from a spring, and also a considerable number of possible house, or barn platforms in it, a holloway, as well as ridge and furrow.

During the Second World War the field to the north west of the fishponds was turned into allotments and was deeply ploughed, in the 1960's and 70's, which has destroyed features that almost certainly occurred in it.

Figure 3: Lyddington street approaching Church Lane from the south.

During the course of the 1970's the water main that ran up the hill street had to be repaired on several times. The breaks always occurred at or near the break in slope at the top of this short ramp that climbs up to the gazebo, where the pipe had settled. Being a keen trainee site engineer at the time, and as well as an increasingly keen amateur archaeologist, I could not forebear to peep into the holes and trenches dug for their repair.  It was clear that there had been a deep ditch and some sort of foundations across the line of the street.

A few years later in about 1982 later a dig occurred just behind the garden wall and the gazebo which I joined in with as a volunteer, and was able to get the archaeologist to explore the base of the wall. It appeared that it had been built on a bank propbably with a continuation of the ditch. The dig report is somewhere mouldering in a pile of "Grey Literature" which I wish I knew how to track it down.

This insight lead me to suspect that the Bishops Estate was actually much larger than the part owned and run by English Heritage.  Over the years, it became apparent that its boundaries ran along the approximate line in Red on Figure 2.

More recently Rosemary Canadine and her team have arrived completely independently arrived at a very similar conclusion, as can be seen on page 21 of her book. [1]

Figure 4: A Lidar Map of the Fishponds.

From the Lidar Image is is possible to identify a number of buried features that are not as apparent even when you walk across the site.

Figure 5:  An annotated Lidar Map of the Fishpond Outfall

Where the Lydd Brook crosses Chapel Lane (Point 1 in Red above) to the north of the Fishponds, the water level is only just below the level of the probable top of bank inside the ponds set into the Fishponds. However, by the time it reaches the side of the ponds (Point 2) the channel has become very much deeper. Due to the thickness of the hedge along the stream it is very hard to measure the difference in level, however it is substantially below the level of the invert of the ponds by the time it reaches the downstream end of the fish ponds. (Point 3)

The brook then comes out into the field before making two sharp turns, (at Point 4) before returning to its course which runs down the hedge towards Point 5. Church Lane which is deeply sunken can easily be mistaken for the brook here. There is a very old stone culvert under the lane at this point and then a ford.

Notice how to the left of the brook there is a very straight channel that crosses the field more or less on the contour, which I believe is a former mill leat.  At the point where the leat joins the stream concealed in the very dense blackthorn hedge (at Point 5.) there are (or at least were) a number of substantial sandstone masonry blocks in the stream and on the bank

Rosemary Canadine has identified a lease in the Burleigh House Archive made out to George Sheffield in which he leased one watermill in Lyddington called Fuldimill, a second watermill in Thorpe By Water on the Welland, and a Windmill 'upon the hill' and finally a horse mill.  I believe that point 5 is probably the site of this Fuldimill.

Is a Fuldimill a mill for Fulling?

An earlier village survey in 1564 had recorded a corn water mill, a windmill and a horse mill.  The township also rented a malt mill and a malt kiln, which due to the presence of a "Malt Field" at the bottom of Chapel Lane (somewhere close to Point 1) Canadine believes to have been there.

None of these mills would have to be particularly large structures, and they very probably were much smaller than the later water mills that we are familiar with.  Indeed the larger mills would have been useless along the Lydd, as the brook would have never yielded enough water to run them with.

During the 1980's I visited Chitral and some other locations in Pakistan and witnessed small mills working that utilised much less water than that being used by a conventional 18th or 19th Century English water mill.  While relatively under powdered compared to later mills, they must have represented a huge step forward especially for the women in Lyddington who would have otherwise had to grind the corn for their daily bread by hand.

Figure 6: Here's one such mill from 19th Century Afghanistan.  It has two side shot wheels.
The following mill is in Northern Pakistan, and it can be seen just how little water it will run on, and also how small it is.  The capital required to build such a mill would have been less than that required for a house. The main expense was for the grinding stone which might have had to come from the Rhineland. There is a direct vertical shaft drive to the impeller, which does away with the need for gears.  Yes, today, we know that this was not very efficient, but for our predecessors this was still a very useful tool.

Figure 7: A village mill in Northern Pakistan.
Notice how narrow the approach roads are to these mills. Most villages have three or four such mills to provide the flour for 200 to 300 people.

Figure 8: The interior of one of these mills.  No need for cogs or complex carpentry.

If one wanted to fill the fishponds to the top of bank it would have been necessary to draw the water from the Lydd Brook some considerable distance upstream of the fishponds in order to gain the required head. An typical English small river catchment has a fall of about 1 in 300, so it can be readily seen that to even raise the water by one foot, you need to extraction conduit that starts at least 300 feet upstream of the point of discharge. In this case, I think that they went just over half  mile upstream, and that this facility then set out the alignment of future road network in Lyddington that we use to this day.

Figure 9: Upstream of the fish ponds showing possible leat routes.

Unfortunately the Environment Agencies otherwise excellent Lidar coverage does not go quite go far enough uphill to the north, so we need to change back to Google at this point.

By the way, what is "the borrow pit" feature?  It seems like an after thought, and has no obvious impounding feature at its down stream end.  Was it a borrow pit?  Where did the monk engineers get their clay for the banks from?  The bottom of the troughs are only a very little below the level of the surrounding fields.

Figure 10: The line of the Lydd Brook upstream of the fishponds

On a stream which otherwise is full of twists and turns, like those of all of its naturally conceived cousins, why is the channel of the Lydd Brook so straight along this stretch?

Is this not an artifical Medieval mill leat?

It is nearly 45 years since I last walked along its banks, but in places you get the distinct impression that there is lower ground to the west of the stream as you look towards the village.  Some of the house owners have also evidently dug ponds to avail themselves of this facility.

Notice how the stream veers left almost immediately after it leaves the culvert as it comes out from under the Uppingham Road.

A more direct route for the river is evidently from the following map image is available across those meadows to the head of the fishponds, even if it had had meanders along it.

Figure 11. Notice how there is a footpath that heads along the bank of the stream.
Was this perhaps originally the route used by the Bishop's water bailiff on his way to regulate his weir and valves?

An other intriguing thing is that the footpath crosses over the Uppingham Road, at the point where before 1804 and the Enclosure of the village the original route to Uppingham had followed the footpath directly up the slope,along the line of the footpath marked on Figure 11, before eventually coming out at Beast Hill directly below the Market Place for cattle in Uppingham.

On Figure 10, I have drawn a point which I believe was at more or less the outer limit for Medieval houses on what was then a nucleated village, rather than the "Long Lanky Lousy Liddington"[2] that it subsequently became.

Why not walk from that point directly across the fields to the point where the footpath takes off up the hill to Uppingham? That is very probably just what was done before the fishponds were built.

I think the reason that the Main Street (know in 1804 as Front Street) follows its current route, is that the Bishops Bailiffs moved the street away from the all important water course that had been built to supply his brand new fish ponds.

I believe that at a slightly later period the Bishop then laid out burbage plots along this newly created roads.  At least four of these plots can be seen running down the fields towards the artificial channel or leat.

There are other burbage plots below the gazebo at the lower end of the village. These are concealed under or in the fabric of later properties built like Bay House in the 1656.  However careful inspection of the stonework at the rear of that property suggests that it incorporated earlier stone work of a house that was end on to the road.

The barn with two garage doors to its immediate south is ostensibly 18th Century, but in fact includes much earlier masonry and former door frames of another cottage built end on to the road.

Lyddington before the Black Death was a more important market town than Uppingham, and held its own until the Reformation, before losing a great deal of its reason d'etre when the Bishops ceased to use the site.

 I would like to acknowledge the help I have had from Rosemary Canadine's book, and from earlier mentors in Lyddington History including the late Hugh Clarke, and Mrs Mary Baines.

[1] Rosemary Canadine, Buildings and People of a Rutland Manor, Lyddington, Caldecott, Stoke Dry and Thorpe by Water. Published 2015. Page 21. and many other pages.
[2] "Long Lank Lousy Liddington" was what Lyddington was called by many of the locals in the 1920's and before when farming was in a deep depression, many families were having to leave, and many of the houses had become very run down.

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