Moats, Mills, and Fishponds
with Deborah Overton
Thursday 25 January 2018.
Our speaker’s evening in January saw the return of Deborah Overton, who has worked for the Worcestershire Archaeological Service and then at the Hive. Her talk on ‘Mills Moats and Fishponds’ was both witty and informative and provided the listeners with an insight into these, in some cases long lost, monuments.
She explained that mills were common in Anglo Saxon times (more than 6,000 were recorded in the Doomsday Book) and of the three different basic designs: undershot, breast, and overshot – the adopted type which became the standard with its deep wheel pits and mill streams. Vast numbers gradually disappeared over the centuries leaving only the vestiges of mill streams and ponds as evidence where they have not been lovingly restored and sometimes still in use. Throughout history, they ground corn, and powered the bellows of forges producing metal tools, scythes, spades etc, or, for instance, in fulling cloth.
Deborah then explained the use of moats around a variety of dwellings. Worcestershire has evidence of at least 399 moats, concentrated locally where there is suitable geology, particularly clay. Appearing from the Norman period onwards, and probably built for status rather than protection, they were useful in removing sewerage and waste – as long as the water wasn’t stagnant! Moats also came in handy for stocking fish for the family table and no doubt this helped in recycling the poo!
Later on, fish ponds were built in various shapes for large houses; however they were first constructed by abbeys and monasteries – that needed to provide for many mouths. Commoners were not allowed to poach fresh fish from rivers, so fish ponds were a very important source of food for them. These days, they are picturesque oddities in the landscape – and of great importance to environmental archaeologists for core samples to understand the ecology of the Middle Ages.