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Decoy pond immediately north of Pennyhole Fleet, Old Hall Marshes

A Scheduled Monument in West Mersea, Essex

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Latitude: 51.7746 / 51°46'28"N

Longitude: 0.8727 / 0°52'21"E

OS Eastings: 598280.540836

OS Northings: 212339.328615

OS Grid: TL982123

Mapcode National: GBR RN4.RFT

Mapcode Global: VHKGK.2NPG

Entry Name: Decoy pond immediately north of Pennyhole Fleet, Old Hall Marshes

Scheduled Date: 24 September 1999

Last Amended: 8 September 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021086

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32407

County: Essex

Civil Parish: West Mersea

Built-Up Area: West Mersea

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Tollesbury St Mary the Virgin

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The monument includes a duck decoy pond situated in the centre of Old Hall
Marshes, a promontory of reclaimed marshland, bordered to the north by
Salcott Channel and to the south by Tollesbury Fleet. The decoy pond is
constructed on the arm of the natural creek (Pennyhole Fleet), whose
tributaries surround the decoy.

The decoy takes the form of a central pond, of irregular, elongated oval
shape most probably a modified stretch of creek rather than a completely
man-made feature. The pond is water-filled and occupies an area of some
1.2ha. Eight channels or pipes radiate off the pond to distances of
50m-70m, and a boundary, partly man-made and partly utilising natural
water-courses, encircles and contains the whole complex. The man-made
sections of the ditch delineate the decoy on its eastern side. On the
western and northern sides two natural creeks act as the boundary, and a
further short stretch of ditch to the north west connects these natural
watercourses. Together these natural and artificial channels form a
complete encircling watercourse which is linked to the natural creek
system and supplies the pond with water. The areas in between the pipes
are slightly raised, possibly from upcast from the ditches. The whole site
including pond, pipes and earthworks covers an area of some 4.5ha.

The precise date of construction of the decoy is not documented; it does
not appear on the Chapman and Andre map of 1777, but does appear on a plan of
the estate dated to 1827 and subsequently on the Ordnance Survey 6 inch 1st
edition map of 1874. Its date of construction, therefore, can be placed
within the period late 18th century to early 19th century.

The decoy caught large numbers of mallard and teal, with very few widgeon.
Although no precise yearly account of the number of birds taken has
survived, the number was reported as being fabulous. In 1888 Old Hall
decoy was one of only three still working. By the 1890s however, the decoy
was only used occasionally, a few birds being taken during hard winters;
the tenant, Dr J H Salter, preferred to shoot the fowl in the marshes
because of the disturbance from grazing stock surrounding the decoy.

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.

Decoys were important and once common features of the Essex marshland
landscape and made a significant contribution to the marshland economy
during the period 1600-1900.

This large decoy pond immediately north of Pennyhole Fleet at Old Hall
Marshes is a fine example of a late 18th to early 19th century eight-pipe
pond. It is the best preserved of only five known examples of eight-pipe
decoys in Essex. One of two decoys on Old Hall Marshes it may have worked
in tandem with the smaller specialised teal pond some 650m to its south
east or alternatively one may be later than the other, perhaps reflecting
the progress of land reclamation.

With most of its original features still intact, the pond survives well
and is water-filled. The pipes will contain the remains of the wooden and
iron hoops that once supported the nets, illustrating the operation of the
decoys. The presence of all the major features of the decoy (with the
exception of the nets) allows us to envisage how it operated. Decoys were
important and once common features of the Essex marshland landscape and
made a significant contribution to the marshland economy during the period
1600-1900. The construction of banks and the silting of channels will have
sealed deposits which will, in addition to artefactual evidence including
the wooden/iron hoops that supported the nets, also yield environmental
evidence regarding the appearance of the marshland at the time of

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Lawson, P, Ancient Duck Decoy found at Reedbeds, (1998)
Strachan, D, Essex From The Air, (1998), 64
Glegg, W E, 'Vol XXVII Essex Naturalist' in The Duck Decoys of Essex, , Vol. XXVII, (1943), 191-224
Harting, J E, 'The Essex Naturalist' in Wild-Fowl Decoys In Essex, , Vol. II, (1888), 159-169
1 colour print, Strachan, D, CP-95-28-9, (1995)
1 colour print, Strachan, D, CP-96-1-3, (1996)
1: 10 000 NMP plot, Strachan, S, TL91SE, (1996)
3 colour prints, Strachan, D, CP-95-32-6,7,8, (1995)
9 colour prints, Strachan, D, Unreferenced, (1998)
Gibson, S, Essex Coast ESA :ECH2 Historical Monitoring 1995, (1995)
Gramolt, D.W, The Coastal Marshland of East Essex between the C17 and mid-C19, 1960, Thesis for M.A Univ of London
Title: Map XIV
Source Date: 1777

Title: Plan of a Freehold Estate in the Parish of Tollesbury
Source Date: 1875
D/DDc E17
Title: Sheet XLVI
Source Date: 1874

Tyler, S, MPP Film, (1998)
Tyler, S, MPP Site Visit to Old Hall Marshes, (1998)

Source: Historic England

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