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Coastal fish weirs at West Mersea, 570m south east of St Peter's Well

A Scheduled Monument in West Mersea, Essex

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.77 / 51°46'11"N

Longitude: 0.9117 / 0°54'42"E

OS Eastings: 600995.320933

OS Northings: 211931.420827

OS Grid: TM009119

Mapcode National: GBR SPJ.WX9

Mapcode Global: VHKGK.RSB0

Entry Name: Coastal fish weirs at West Mersea, 570m south east of St Peter's Well

Scheduled Date: 6 October 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019104

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32402

County: Essex

Civil Parish: West Mersea

Built-Up Area: West Mersea

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Details

The monument includes two V-shaped timber weirs, one constructed inside the
other, located near the northern shore of the Blackwater Estuary to the south
of the town of West Mersea, some 300m beyond the main sea wall.
The complex was first recorded from the air in 1993, during a period of very
low tides. The outer weir has walls with a width of 85m (north west-south
east) and 110m (north east-south west). The inner weir has walls with a width
of 100m (north west-south east) and 110m (north east-south west). The outer
weir has two further short lines of timbers on the outside of and running
parallel to its south western side; the inner weir has three short lines of
timbers running parallel to its main wall. These additional timber alignments
probably represent successive modifications to the design.
The two weirs both have very elongated trap areas at their easternmost points;
these would have housed the nets, and fish remains and processing deposits
are expected to survive in and around them.
The site is situated just below Mean Low Water and is now largely sub-tidal.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 10 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Coastal fish weirs are artificial barriers created within the inter-tidal
zone, using stone walls, wattle or timber fencing to channel fish into traps.
The most common form of weir (a term derived from `were' - an Anglo-Saxon word
meaning fish trap) is a simple `V'-shaped arrangement of walls, frequently
100m or more in length. Baskets or nets would be placed at the point of the
`V' which would normally be orientated seaward so as to draw in the fish with
the receding tide. Weirs may also be rectangular or more linear in appearance
with traps located either in corners or set within spurs attached to the main
walls. Placed in gently shelving coastal or estuarine locations, the weirs
would become sufficiently exposed at low water for the fish to be collected
and, in some instances, for initial processing (gutting, filleting) to take
place on site.
Stationary fish traps are known to have been used since the Mesolithic period,
although the earliest examples to leave strong visible traces around the
coastline belong to a tradition dating from the early medieval or Anglo-Saxon
period. Documentary evidence from the 10th century onwards suggests that fish
weirs were largely the preserve of the upper echelons of medieval society,
maintained either by larger manors or by religious houses. In addition to the
obvious advantage of a constant food supply, the produce from the fish weirs
provided economic benefit, indicated social status and could aid compliance
with the religious dietary strictures of the period. Large fish weirs were
still used in the Severn Estuary until the early 20th century, and their
small-scale use persists here and in other parts of the British Isles to this
day. In general, however, the practice reached its peak between the 12th and
14th centuries, hereafter declining in the face of growing commercial sea
fishing. The remains of about 500 fish weirs are estimated to survive around
England's coast. Those of medieval or earlier date which demonstrate a high
degree of preservation, and particularly those which form groups or have
demonstrable links with manorial or ecclesiastical estates, will normally be
considered to be of national importance and worthy of protection.

The coastal fish weirs at West Mersea, 570m south east of St Peter's Well, are
well preserved and may be an example of an unusual double weir should the two
elements of the structure prove to be contemporary.
Aerial reconnaissance shows the timbers as well-preserved, with large sections
protruding out of the mud; this will facilitate further analysis including
timber sampling for radiocarbon dating, should the site be exposed in future
seasons. The weir may well be one of three fisheries mentioned as existing at
Mersea Island in the Domesday Book. It is certainly considered to be early
medieval in origin, similar to several other fish weirs which have been
identified through recent archaeological studies of the Blackwater Estuary.
Elsewhere, the age of timbers has been established by radiocarbon dating, and
in some cases shown to be as early as the seventh century AD.
It is quite possible that fish processing remains are preserved within the
monument, most probably in and around their elongated traps or pounds. Similar
fish traps at other Blackwater Estuary weirs have been found to contain
extensive fishbone deposits which may have a direct bearing on the range of
activities originally carried out on site. The West Mersea weir is clearly
capable of similar investigation, and further comparative study between this
site and others in the estuary is expected to provide significant insights
into the overall date range, development and relevance of these weirs to the
social structure and economy of the early medieval period.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Rumble, A , Domesday Book, 32 Essex, (1983)
Strachan, D, C14 dating of some inter-tidal fish-weirs in Essex, (1997), 6
Other
Strachan, D, TM01SW 1:10000 plot, (1996)
Three black-and-white frames, Bruce, K, KBC10,11 and 17, (1993)
Two black-and-white frames, Rogers, P, SWBW 14-5,6; SWBW 15-11,12, (1993)
Two colour prints, Strachan, D, CP/97/5/8,9, (1997)

Source: Historic England

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