Forty Years On: Circumnavigating the Pond

March 19, 2016

Cathy Holden writes:

Visitors to Fleet Pond regularly amble, power walk, jog or cycle the circular route skirting the perimeter of the water, probably without giving it a second thought. However, this circumnavigation was only made possible by the back-breaking work of a band of enthusiastic Society volunteers between 1976 and 1979, led by Society Chairman Terry Sims.

Current Society President, Peter Martin, documented the early work of the Society in his booklet ‘Fleet Pond Society 1976 – 2006: The First 30 Years’ (Martin, 2009) from which I have taken much of the information in this article.

A major challenge the team faced in completing the route was a lack of bridges.  Two would need to be installed; one across the Brookly Stream and the second at the point at which the large Pond flows through to the small one. Peter Martin relates how Hart District Councillor Peter Carr offered the services of his family firm to construct a bridge over the Brookly Stream, provided the Council ‘… would pay £200 for two lengths of steel’. (Martin, 2009) The firm would donate the cost of other materials and labour to the Society for free; a generous offer as the true cost of the bridge was £3,500. Ultimately £100 was raised through jumble sales held by the Society, and the Council donated the other £100, on top of the £1,500 they had already committed to works in the Reserve.

The bridge was constructed and delivered to the Kenilworth Road depot where volunteers painted it dark green. On 8th January 1977, with the concrete supports having been installed, a group of volunteers edged the bridge into position using brute strength, a trolley, and a block and tackle strategically placed in a tree. It remained in place until 2011 when the current wooden bridge was installed.

C77 Brookly Br9 - Photo 1 C77 Brookly Br11 - Photo 2

Work continued on the perimeter path, a hugely ambitious project for the group. Trees had to be removed by the industrial estate in order for the path work to begin. It was laid using broken breeze blocks and loose material. Peter commented that: ‘Laying the broken blocks was rather like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, with gaps then filled by the loose material’ (Martin, 2009).

C78 Nth footpath 1 - Photo 3

Work on the path reached the northern bank in the Spring of 1977 and railway sleepers were installed along the water’s edge. As the path progressed further along the bank the Council provided a pontoon onto which materials were loaded and then punted down to the work site. However, this could be a tricky manoeuvre as the weight of the load could cause the pontoon to list ‘…at almost forty-five degrees…’ (Martin, 2009) causing some volunteers to have an unexpected dip in the Pond!

C79 Carnival bld2 Photo 4 Photo 5

By 1979 the two halves of the perimeter path were joined by the installation of the second bridge. This spanned the channel along which water flowed into the small Pond. Again, it was the physical strength of the volunteers which impressed as they manhandled the two halves of the bridge so that they met. A ‘lucky volunteer’ then had to balance on the metal over the fast flowing deep channel to bolt the two sections together. Once that had been done, it was just a matter of laying the planks in position.

The bridge was named ‘Carnival Bridge’ as the Fleet Carnival Committee had donated £500 towards its cost. The bridge was opened by Kathleen Woodman whose husband Charles was a founder member and Vice-President of the Carnival Committee. This bridge was replaced in 2011, but the old bridge did not go to waste, it was renovated to create a new crossing at the Wood Lane entrance to the Reserve. The official opening was a very special occasion as the guests of honour were the family of Charles and Kathleen Woodman. This time it was their daughter, Beaulah Bower, who was thrilled to cut the ribbon.

C79 Carnival bld7b Photo 6 C1979 Carnival bridge install 1 - Photo 7 s

At the end of their hugely ambitious project, the volunteers of the 1970s received a letter of thanks from the Council ‘…for all their efforts in completing the perimeter access…’ (Martin, 2009). Today we too can offer a ‘thank you’ to these early Society volunteers who enabled us to enjoy a circumnavigation of the whole Pond.

C1979 path workers - Photo 8 s

Work on this circular walk never really stops. Another entry point was made possible by the addition of the bridge over The Flash alongside the railway station in 2011. Current volunteers and Countryside Rangers can regularly be seen maintaining the pathways; most recently on the eastern side of the Pond where a large section of the path was re-laid last year to make it more accessible to all visitors.

The photographs above are from the archive of the Fleet Pond Society.

Peter Martin’s book (mentioned above) is still available to buy from Fleet Pond Society. Please contact the current FPS Chairman, Colin Gray, for further information.


A Walk Around Fleet Pond – Hampshire Life

February 26, 2016

In the February 2016 issue of Hampshire Life magazine there’s a two page spread entitled ‘Things to do in Fleet“.

The article starts by recommending a stroll around Fleet Pond:

Take a walk around Fleet Pond (accessed from the station, Pondtail residential area and an alarmingly pot holed lane off Cove Road). This is the largest freshwater lake in Hampshire and is thought to have been created as a fishery as early as the 12th century. Certainly by the 15th century there are records of fish being delivered to the Bishopric of Winchester. Centuries later, following the building of the London to Southampton railway, a new station, Fleet Pond Halt, enabled Fleet Pond to become a popular spot for day trippers with picnicking and swimming in summer and ice skating in winter. Latterly Fleet Pond has become valued as a nature reserve. It was one of the first sites in Hampshire to be designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, back in 1951, and recognised as a Local Nature Reserve in 1977. Its 141 acres include heathland, woodland, reedbed and marsh, as well as the Pond itself, and it is home to various birds, butterflies, dragonflies and wildflowers. Last year the Fleet Pond Society, working in partnership with Hart District Council, Natural England and the Environment Agency, achieved Green Flag status for the Pond, and this year the Society celebrates its 40th anniversary.

It then goes on to give recommendations under the categories: Take a Break, Explore, Lunch, Learn a New Skill and finally Eat & Sleep.


Five Fascinating Fleet Pond Facts

October 2, 2015


Michelle Salter writes:

How old is the pond? The first clear reference to the pond was in the 14th century, when “the great fishery (of) Fleet Ponds” is referred to in the Rolls of Account of Crondall Manor. By this time, there seems to have been a thriving fishery of considerable importance and two ponds.

Do any museums house records of the pond? Many Victorian naturalists visited Fleet Pond and references to its flora frequently appeared in natural history journals from this era, with herbarium sheets located at the Natural History Museum in Kensington and also at Reading and Oxford.

When was the pond used as an ice rink? In the 1840’s, the South Western Railway ran special excursions to Fleet Pond, including a “Skating Specials” in the Winter.

When was the pond, not a pond? In 1940, the MOD completely drained the pond to stop hostile bombers from using it as a landmark to find the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough (see photo above).

What title did the pond receive in 1951? The pond was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1951 and was one of the first sites in Hampshire to receive this distinction, due to the importance of the lake to waterfowl and the rich aquatic and heathland flora.

Ed. This article is a repost, it was originally published in October 2008.

The Interesting History Of Fleet Station

October 26, 2014

Fleet Station c 1922

David Pottinger writes:

From Get Hampshire (please see the article for full details):

The fascinating history of Fleet railway station is on display in the town’s library. Staged by Fleet and Crookham Local History Group, the display of pictures includes one of troops on the platform on their way to the Boer War in 1899. There is also a set of photographs taken during the recent demolition and rebuilding of the new-look station.

See also a previous blog post (from which the picture above is taken), especially the last two sentences!

The original station was named Fleetpond and located on the west of the current Fleet Road Bridge across the railway.

However, the amount of traffic at the station was so little that in 1858 there was a proposal to abolish the station completely although this never happened.

In 1854 the War Department had purchased Fleet Pond and much of the surrounding area as a training ground. A successful temporary training camp on nearby Chobham common in 1853, just prior to the Crimea War (1854-56) had led to the army looking for a permanent training site in the area. In 1897 the LSWR purchased a further area of land from the War Department to allow the widening of the line, construct the new station and a goods yard.

The new station at Fleet came into use in 1904. At the time the population in Fleet had grown to about 2,000 and the first local council had been formed in the same year. The council, generally formed of local businessmen appeared to have some regard to maintaining the rural nature of the area. It is perhaps with some irony that when the LSWR applied to build a works at Fleet the request was refused. Instead the LSWR would build their works at Eastleigh; this would become one of the world’s most famous locomotive works.

The Fleet station display is on the first floor of Fleet Library and runs until the end of November. Further details on the local history group (incl. future talks and how to join) can be found here.

In case you’re not familiar with the local geography, a map that illustrates the near proximity of the station to Fleet Pond can be found here. It’s worth noting that the new station car park allows some impressive views of the Pond (see below).

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 View of Fleet Pond from the upper floor of the new station car park

The Opening Of The Lions’ View

May 2, 2014

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Julian Behmber (President of Fleet Lions) about to cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony, together with Colin Gray (Chairman of FPS)

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The viewing platform prior to the ribbon cutting

Cathy Holden writes:

The new Lions’ View platform on the eastern side of Fleet Pond recognises the 118 year association of the military with Fleet Pond.

This fabulous project was funded by Fleet Lions to the tune of £12,000, designed and produced by Phill Gower and his team at Cove Industries, and built by a large team of Fleet Pond Society (FPS) volunteers.

The platform is accessible to everyone with plenty of room for buggies, wheelchairs and mobility scooters. Visitors can now enjoy a view across the Pond from an area that was not previously accessible.

Fleet Lions generously donated £12,000 towards the project, the largest single donation that the club has ever made and the largest single donation that Fleet Pond Society has ever received.

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The formal revealing of the Lions’ View board

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Sorting out the positioning of the Lions’ View entrance board in the construction phase (see here)

At the recent opening ceremony on the 18 April, Julian Behmber, current President of Fleet Lions said: ‘The Fleet Lions saw this project as a perfect way to give something tangible back to the local community who have been unstintingly generous to us in our various fundraising efforts over the years.’

Brian Proctor was President in the year the Lions agreed to fund the Pond Society’s viewpoint project. Mr Proctor commented: ‘We saw all the amazing things that were going on to help restore the Pond. Fleet Lions are a major voluntary group in the local community and we felt we needed to do our bit too. We asked what was on the Pond Society’s wish list that they didn’t have funding for. A new viewpoint was the reply!’

Mike Collen, who organises groups of Lions to help on conservation tasks at the Pond added: ‘We love to be involved in making the Pond a better place for people and wildlife. What a great pleasure it was for us to hear that the new platform would be named “Lions’ View”.’

A1904 RAE jetty 2

A picture of the original jetty, dated 1904

The viewpoint has been built on the old embankment laid down by the army in the 19th century as a base for a very large jetty which stretched out into the Pond to launch boat-based training exercises.

army cook house at pond small

The military have a long connection with Fleet Pond (above and below) – see here

army under canvas at pond small

FPS Chairman, Colin Gray said ‘I was thrilled when Fleet Lions agreed to award funding for this project to the Society as this viewpoint has been an idea of mine for many years, something my committee colleagues have shared with me. We think it is important to recognise the historical significance of the 118 years ownership of this site by the military. By these efforts we have opened up a different viewpoint of the Pond, as well as putting a large stable platform for the enjoyment of all members of the community.’

Terry Austin, FPS Vice Chairman, managed the project from start to finish: ‘This was very much a team effort. My job was not difficult as the Society is incredibly lucky to have a band of volunteers who work together as an effective team to perform wonders around the Reserve, as this project shows.’

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From an idea, to a plan, to a structure (above) and finally to a wonderful new viewpoint, accessible to all

Phill Gower, MD of Cove Industries, the company that undertook the design and fabrication work for the metalwork structure, said: ‘Tt is always satisfying to see a project progress from the concept design on the computer screen right through to the finished installation. It’s even more pleasing that the finished viewpoint is something the team can have pride in, and adds back community benefit to visitors at the Pond.’

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Appreciating the scene from the Lions’ View

Fleet Lions recently celebrated their 40th birthday together with the other six Clubs they have formed locally. They raise funds and entertain the public with Fleet’s major fireworks display, the August beer festival, the May Day motorcycle rally and the Christmas Santa float which enthrals local youngsters. They’re always looking for new people to be members or just help out with the odd few hours, please see their website for further details.

For information on Fleet Pond Society, please see the articles on this blog as well as those on the FPS websiteTwitter and Facebook. If you are interested in joining the Society, please see the Joining FPS tab above.

Picture credits for the historical photos – please see here.

Fascinating Photos From A Hundred Years Ago

January 19, 2014

AB1910s View NW3

In a previous post, we described some of the surprising history linked to the eastern side of Fleet Pond. Here are some interesting postcard images of this area taken during the same period. In the above picture, you can see a large jetty, which has obviously deteriorated as it is in two parts.

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A second picture of the jetty (dated 1904)

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Another view of the eastern side

Colin Gray, who provided the pictures above and the map below, writes:

“Below is a map of the pond dated 1909.

You can just make out Kenilworth and Westover Roads leading down to the pond and showing the extent of the open water in that direction. It also shows The Flash which was infilled in 1976 for the building of the industrial estate, now the Waterfront Business Park.

The pond level was lowered by 33cm in 1969 to ensure the industrial estate did not flood. It was also in response to an incident when the outflow through the Flow Arch was blocked, causing back-up of water which threatened to flood neighbouring roads.

The then owner of the small pond had installed a netting grill across his end of the culvert so he could stock the small pond with Bream. This gathered a lot of debris, blocking the culvert. The netting was removed by council order and the Bream moved in to the main pond.”

A1909 Map detail

A map of Fleet Pond (dated 1909)

It’s interesting to compare the above map with an aerial view of the Pond taken from Google Maps (which also shows the new islands) – see here.

GoogleMaps Fleet Pond Islands 2013

Fleet Pond from the air (taken from Google Maps)

Credits: the pictures from the early 1900s are scans of postcards kindly loaned to FPS by Mr J Boulter of Fleet.

The Eastern Viewpoint – Past And Future

January 8, 2014


A de Havilland hydroplane on Fleet Pond (approx. 1912)

Colin Gray, Chairman of Fleet Pond Society, writes:

Good news has just been received that Fleet Pond Society has permission from Natural England to proceed with the construction of a new viewpoint over on the eastern side of Fleet Pond.  The new viewpoint will be built on the old embankment laid down by the army in the 19th century as a base for a very large jetty which stretched out into the pond to launch boat-based training exercises.

Early in the 20th century the jetty was demolished and another military use was made of the embankment.

In his book “Fleet –Town of My Youth” Geoffrey Edwards includes the following account recalled from his childhood memories of Fleet Pond:

“a contingent of workers arrived from Farnborough Balloon Factory. The small steam locomotive was brought from the Factory together with several railway lines. A rail track was laid from near the railway to well into the pond using material from the old pier (jetty) as a base. This inclined railway, nearly half a mile long, was completed.”

The writer, as a small boy, watched the following events:

“the workers from the Factory assembled a strange machine with a fuselage, biplane wings, an engine and a driver’s seat and with two 10 foot floats beneath. The steam locomotive got up full steam. It pushed a flat railway bogie in front on which the strange object rested. The bottoms of the floats were greased. (With a pilot in the seat) the locomotive took off at high speed pushing in front the plane, engine and propeller. The engine abruptly stopped at the water’s edge and …. (the) plane flew for about 100 yards above the pond. The plane then struck the water, the floats were broken off and the plane nose-dived into the water.”

The pilot was unharmed and other trials were later conducted using various designs. Geoffrey Edwards believed the pilot was Samuel Cody but later records show that it was in fact Geoffrey de Havilland. Cody used Laffams Plain and the adjacent canal, not Fleet Pond, for his aircraft trials.

The cost of the construction of the viewing platform, the decking and the access ramp and path are to be very generously met by a grant from Fleet Lions. To recognise this it is proposed to place two marker posts boasting lions heads at the entrance to Lions Walk, a path and a long ramp, fully accessible by people with mobility aids, leading to the new viewpoint “De Havilland Viewpoint” in recognition of its historic link to the successful development of de Havilland aircraft that served us so well in WWII.

Ed. see also the related post here.

Picture credit: picture provided courtesy of Percy Vickery, from his large collection of postcards and photos of Fleet and Church Crookham.