Michelle Salter writes:
This year we’re planning to run a series of posts highlighting some of the much loved and well used areas around the pond – the hotspots – such at Sandy Bay and the Picnic Area.
We’ll also feature some hidden gems, including The Stew Ponds.
In 1491, the Prior at Winchester leased Fleet Pond and its pastures to a tenant at Fleet Farm for an annual rent of 23 shillings and 4 pence, plus “a hundred of the fishes, pike, tenches, perches, bream and roaches, to be delivered to Winchester in a good and fresh state”.
The stewing, or holding ponds, are thought to date back to this time and can be reached by following the colour coded posts on the blue walk, which detours away from the pond to circle Brookly Wood. The series of four, possibly five, small interlinking ponds are located in a glade alongside a footpath running off the Brookly Stream. It’s thought these ponds were built in order to store fish taken from the main pond and would have been used by the monks of St Swithins, and then by their tenants. Fresh fish could be taken from the stew ponds and housed in barrels, ready to be transported by cart to the Priory at Winchester.
The regular conservation volunteers undertook the task of uncovering the ponds on their work parties in September and October 2006. Initially, we looked in vain for any water as the ponds blended into the woodland floor, covered by layers of leaves and plant debris. Our first task was to clear the holly and bramble from the surrounding area and fell some of the smaller trees, allowing more light to fall on the ponds. Tackling the larger pond was back-breaking work as years of accumulated muck and plant debris had to be shovelled upwards and over the bank into buckets and wheelbarrows. The deeper we dug the smellier it got as the waft of sulphur rose up from the murky depths.
The three smaller ponds were much shallower than the larger one, and we were able to use large, wide-toothed rakes to haul the debris from these. I remember we were all secretly hoping to uncover a rare medieval artifact, but all we found were an assortment of mobile phones, a video recorder plus videos, and a variety of clothing. Sadly nothing of any historical interest was unearthed, but it was satisfying to see the ponds restored, not to their former glory, but into an interesting reminder of what they once used to be.
Photo credits: Michelle Salter
Related blog post: Have You Seen The Stew Ponds?