Ancient Monuments

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Skellingthorpe duck decoy, 550m north east of Decoy Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Birchwood, Lincolnshire

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Latitude: 53.2337 / 53°14'1"N

Longitude: -0.5902 / 0°35'24"W

OS Eastings: 494193.80541

OS Northings: 371667.708694

OS Grid: SK941716

Mapcode National: GBR DLB.7M3

Mapcode Global: WHGHY.XZ3C

Entry Name: Skellingthorpe duck decoy, 550m north east of Decoy Farm

Scheduled Date: 8 December 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015809

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30101

County: Lincolnshire

Electoral Ward/Division: Birchwood

Built-Up Area: Lincoln

Traditional County: Lincolnshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lincolnshire

Church of England Parish: Skellingthorpe St Lawrence

Church of England Diocese: Lincoln


The monument includes the remains of Skellingthorpe duck decoy, an artificial
pond designed to attract wild ducks and enable their capture. The scheduling
includes all of the earthwork and buried remains of the pond with its
associated features, together with the encircling banks, trackway and ditch.
Thought to be one of the oldest decoys in Lincolnshire, Skellingthorpe duck
decoy was in existence by 1693 when it was leased for a yearly rent of 16
pounds, 10 shillings, demonstrating the high income potential of the decoy. It
is a significant landscape feature in a 1743 engraving of the south west
prospect of Lincoln, where it is shown to be well wooded in comparison to the
surrounding treeless fen. The land around the decoy was drained and enclosed
for farmland following an 1804 Act of Parliament, and it had been the last
Lincolnshire decoy still in active use when it ceased being worked in 1840. At
about this time Decoy House was renamed Decoy Farm.
The complete layout of the decoy and its associated features survives. The
outline of the pond with its four pipes (the narrowing, curving channels down
which the ducks were lured and then driven) can be traced, with a break of
slope up to 0.75m high marking the line of the banks. Apart from a c.20m
diameter area in the north western corner redug in modern times, the pond is
now completely silted. The pond is irregular in plan, 60m-80m across, with
pipes curving from the north east, north west, south east and south west
corners and extending up to 80m in length. Encircling the pond and its pipes
is a sunken trackway up to 1.5m deep and 5m wide with a bank on either side.
This allowed the decoyman to gain rapid access to either side of the pond
without disturbing the ducks on the water. Topping the bank on the outside of
this trackway is a hedge line, with a sharp, c.1.5m deep ditch immediately
beyond and a further narrow bank up to 0.2m high forming the outermost
boundary. This encircling hedge and ditch are thought to have been placed to
deter poachers and natural predators, and was a common feature of decoys.
Access to the site was along the present trackway to the south west from Decoy
Farm, originally the decoyman's house. The track was later extended around the
eastern side of the decoy pond and now cuts across the boundary ditch on the
north west side.
Excluded from the scheduling are the modern feeding containers and all post
and wire fencing, although the ground beneath these features is included.

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.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

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.

Lincolnshire was termed the `home of decoys' in 1886 and the `Aviary of
England' in 1811, highlighting the importance of duck decoys in the county.
The example at Skellingthorpe is the best preserved duck decoy in the county,
retaining the entire layout of a decoy with its associated trackways and
secure boundary. The site is considered to have good archaeological
preservation of waterlogged deposits which will preserve evidence of timbering
of the banks and structures associated with the pipes. Skellingthorpe's
importance is also heightened by its early construction date, long working
lifetime and contemporary documentation.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Padley, J S, The Fens and Floods of Mid-Lincolnshire, (1882), 69-72
Roebuck, A, 'The Lincolnshire Magazine' in Lincolnshire duck decoys, , Vol. Vol 2, (1935), 134-138
Heaton, A, Skellingthorpe Decoy: a fenland feature near Lincoln, 1985, Unpublished typescript report
Lincoln City & N Kesteven District Councils, Decoy and Fen Farms', joint development brief, 1996, Unpublished typescript report

Source: Historic England

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