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Remains of medieval fishponds at The Leys

A Scheduled Monument in Hoxne, Suffolk

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Latitude: 52.3333 / 52°19'59"N

Longitude: 1.2063 / 1°12'22"E

OS Eastings: 618550.596365

OS Northings: 275414.677534

OS Grid: TM185754

Mapcode National: GBR VKS.RSR

Mapcode Global: VHL9G.VML5

Entry Name: Remains of medieval fishponds at The Leys

Scheduled Date: 24 April 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020449

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30604

County: Suffolk

Civil Parish: Hoxne

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Suffolk

Church of England Parish: Hoxne St Peter and St Paul

Church of England Diocese: St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich


The monument includes the remains of an array of medieval fishponds located in
the bottom of the valley of the Goldbrook, in an isolated position to the
south of Hoxne village and south west of Heckfield Green. There are the
remains of a second set of fishponds some 850m to the north, within the
precinct of Hoxne Priory, which is the subject of a separate scheduling.

The ponds and associated water management features occupy an area measuring
approximately 182m SSE-NNW by 120m WSW-ENE and are laid out on a roughly
rhomboidal plan alongside the brook, the course of which has evidently been
diverted around their eastern side, with a low embankment between. The brook
supplied water to the system from the south east, and from the point at which
it diverges north eastwards from its original course a shallow linear
depression extends north westwards, marking the line of a supply channel to a
leat which is aligned south east-north west and formed the main axis of the
system. To either side of this axial leat, slightly to the south of the mid
point, two linear ponds extend at right angles, connected to the leat by short
channels which would originally have contained sluices. The pond on the west
side measures about 50m in length WSW-ESE by up to 10m in width; the pond to
the east measures approximately 27m in length by 5m. About 5m to the south of
the western linear pond, and also connected by a short sluice channel to the
axial leat, is a quadrangular pond measuring up to 46m WSW-ESE by 30m and
containing a central island. To the south of this and parallel to it are the
remains of a third, measuring about 30m by 8m as shown on Ordnance Survey maps
and now visible as two depressions of unequal depth.

The north western part of the complex, to the north of the western linear
pond, is occupied by a large, triangular pond, connected to the axial leat by
another short channel through an embankment along the eastern side. In line
near the western side of this pond there are three small, roughly circular
islands. In the north eastern part of the system, immediately to the north of
the eastern linear pond and east of the axial leat, are two ponds separated by
a broad embankment, although it is possible that the embankment has been
constructed of material from later cleaning and divides what was originally a
single feature. The western and smaller of these two north eastern ponds is
visible as a boggy depression alongside the axial leat. The larger pond to the
east, which is also largely silted, was supplied by a channel running roughly
parallel to the course of the brook, and a modern continuation of this channel
has been created by recutting along the eastern side of the pond. The axial
leat, as shown on old Ordnance Survey maps, issued from the northern end of
the system back into the brook, although the connecting section has been
infilled and is no longer visible. At the southern end of the system, aligned
north west-south east from opposite the point at which the brook diverges from
its original course, is a linear depression about 39m in length which is all
that remains visible of a channel which formerly extended around the southern
and south western part of the complex. A similar channel, now infilled, is
recorded alongside the north western pond, about 10m beyond its outer edge.
These were probably parts of a single bypass channel to carry surplus water,
and the infilled sections, which will survive as buried features, are included
in the scheduling. Immediately to the west of the projected line of this
infilled channel is a house which stands, at least in part, on massive
foundations built of brick of late medieval or early post-medieval type. The
foundations are thought to be earlier than the house and may be the remains of
a lodge for the men who managed the fishponds and guarded them from poachers.
These foundations are included in the scheduling.

In the medieval period the manor of Hoxne was held by the Bishop of
Norwich, who had two deer parks here, one of which, known as Old Park, lay
about 1km to the east of the fishponds. Although it is possible that the
ponds belonged to Hoxne Priory, it is more likely that they formed part of
the bishop's estate in the parish. The layout of the ponds suggests that
aesthetic considerations may have played some part in their design.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: the house,
all modern fences and gates, modern paving, a greenhouse to the south east of
the house, and a cesspit and inspection chamber to the east of the northern
end of the house; however the ground beneath all these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

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
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
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 medieval fishponds at The Leys are a good example of a complex system,
and display many original features. The monument as a whole will retain
archaeological evidence for the construction of the ponds and associated
water control system, and the way in which they were managed. Organic
materials, including evidence for the local environment in the past, are
likely to be preserved in waterlogged deposits in the ponds and water
management features. The probable association with the bishop's manor in
Hoxne gives the monument additional interest.

Source: Historic England


Benton, A H, (2000)
Linge, J R, Ordnance Survey Antiquity Model: TM 17 NE 14, (1973)

Source: Historic England

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