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Walcot ornamental fishponds and garden earthworks

A Scheduled Monument in Charlbury, Oxfordshire

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Latitude: 51.8761 / 51°52'34"N

Longitude: -1.4991 / 1°29'56"W

OS Eastings: 434580.62492

OS Northings: 219847.170083

OS Grid: SP345198

Mapcode National: GBR 6TL.CSY

Mapcode Global: VHBZN.Y3VL

Entry Name: Walcot ornamental fishponds and garden earthworks

Scheduled Date: 15 April 2004

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020972

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30831

County: Oxfordshire

Civil Parish: Charlbury

Traditional County: Oxfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Oxfordshire

Church of England Parish: Charlbury with Shorthampton

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The monument is situated in the former grounds of Walcot Mansion on the
north facing slope of the Evenlode valley. It includes the buried and
earthwork remains of a series of five ornamental rectangular fishponds set
in a series of terraces descending the slope from the original location of
the mansion, believed to have been situated to the east on the site
occupied by the former farmhouse. The mansion was later demolished and the
gardens were further disrupted by the 19th century building of the railway
along the side of the valley, across the northern end of the principal
line of ponds. Although the house and some of the garden earthworks have
been lost, the core of the ornamental ponds and associated garden terrace
earthworks survive well.
The five remaining ponds (of an original six or more) all remain visible
as partially infilled earthwork features measuring from 20m to 35m wide
and between 35m and 58m long. The main line (or cascade) of ponds lies
west of the modern buildings, and extends down the slope, from south to
north over a distance of approximately 200m. Three rectangular ponds
remain fully visible to the south of the railway line; a fourth is partly
buried beneath the railway embankment with only the northern banks visible
beyond. A fifth pond (possibly subdivided on a north-south axis) is shown
on the 1880s First Edition Ordnance Survey map, closest to and issuing
into the River Evenlode. This most northerly pond is no longer visible.
A further rectangular pond, aligned roughly east to west, lies west of the
main line of ponds at the top of the slope and empties into the river via
a separate leat. The ponds were originally fed from springs and, although
most have dried up, the two at the top of the slope still hold water.
A series of garden terraces survive east of the ponds, particularly at
their southern (upslope) end. These are part of the landscaping carried
out to form the lawns, perhaps including a bowling green, and the platform
on which the original house stood.
To the west of the ponds lies a block of land which originally formed the
wilderness part of the gardens. No archaeological remains are known to
survive within this area which is therefore not included in the
scheduling. The site of Walcot medieval settlement and manor lay several
hundred metres to the east, beyond the present farm buildings.
The gardens were laid out in the 17th century by the Jenkinson family. A
map of 1751 depicts the gardens, centred on a stepped series of
rectangular ponds and including an embanked avenue of trees, lawns, a
wilderness and a bowling green. The house and gardens were of sufficient
standing to have been included in a 1705 survey of `principal residences'
of the county.
All post and wire fences and the built up bedding of the railway line are
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all of 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 fishponds at Walcot form part of a larger landscaped garden and are
recognised as one of the most important ornamental groups of their type in
the county. Although the original garden has been altered by subsequent
development the majority of the ponds survive well together with some
terracing relating to the wider garden layout.
The garden earthworks at Walcot provide important insights into developing
gardening fashions in the 17th and 18th centuries as well as information
about the social aspirations of the inhabitants of the mansion.

Source: Historic England


PRN 4137 & 4139, SMRO, Late C16/early C17 formal garden earthworks, Walcot, (1990)
PRN 4137, SMRO, Walcot, (1990)
PRN 4139, SMRO, Walcot, (1990)
PRN's 4137 & 4139, SMRO, Fishponds, Walcot, (1990)
Title: 1st Edition Ordnance Survey
Source Date: 1880

Source: Historic England

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