Ancient Monuments

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Fishponds 260m north west of Mercaston Hall Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Mercaston, Derbyshire

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Latitude: 52.9767 / 52°58'36"N

Longitude: -1.5872 / 1°35'14"W

OS Eastings: 427812.896169

OS Northings: 342231.48107

OS Grid: SK278422

Mapcode National: GBR 5BT.7KH

Mapcode Global: WHCFF.LFDT

Entry Name: Fishponds 260m north west of Mercaston Hall Farm

Scheduled Date: 23 April 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020944

English Heritage Legacy ID: 35603

County: Derbyshire

Civil Parish: Mercaston

Traditional County: Derbyshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Derbyshire

Church of England Parish: Mugginton and Kedleston All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Derby


The monument includes the earthwork and below ground remains of a series of
fishponds situated 260m north west of Mercaston Hall Farm. They drain to
the north east into Mercaston Brook but areas of the ponds still become
waterlogged in wet weather.
The fishponds survive as a series of three depressions aligned north
east-south west along a shallow valley. The ponds have not been excavated
and are anyway difficult to date, but it is thought they would have been
managed as part of the medieval manor of Mercaston. Mercaston Hall Farm
dates from the 16th century but may mark the site of the earlier medieval
manorial centre.
The ponds survive as a series of well-defined earthworks up to 1.5m in depth.
The northernmost pond is rectangular in shape and measures approximately 60m
long and 25m wide. It is bounded along the two longest sides by a low bank
which is approximately 3m wide and 0.75m high. From the south western end of
this pond and running for approximately 8m to the south west is a narrow
channel which links the northernmost pond to the middle pond. The flow of
water between the two ponds would have been controlled by a sluice which would
have been set within the channel to act as a gate or weir.
The second pond is smaller, sub-rectangular in shape, and measures
approximately 18m by 25m. In contrast to the other two ponds, the long axes
of which are aligned north east-south west, this pond is aligned south east-
north west. It survives to a depth of about 1m. It is linked to the third
pond by a wide, shallow channel measuring 5m long and approximately 3m wide.
Again, this channel was probably part of the water management system and
would have been used to control the flow of water between the ponds.
The third pond is the largest, measuring approximately 75m by 34m but the
edges are less well defined, particularly at the south western end. This
pond has silted up more than the other two and may have suffered some
slumping along the edges. On its northern edge, and approximately 45m from
its south western end, is a gully measuring 7m which has been cut into the
bank. The gully runs to the north but is thought to be post-medieval in
origin and may have been dug to assist in the drainage of the surrounding
Wooden posts set into the northern end of the northernmost pond are excluded
from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these 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 series of fishponds 260m north west of Mercaston Hall Farm are a very
well-preserved example of this type of monument. Important archaeological
and environmental evidence will be preserved in the basal silts of the
ponds and channels and within and beneath the banks. Taken as a whole the
evidence will improve our understanding of the working of the ponds and
the place they held within the wider landscape.

Source: Historic England

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