Sunday, October 23, 2011

Medieval Field System exposed in Wilstone Reservoir

This summer the water level in Wilstone Reservoirs, near Tring, Hertfordshire, has been exceptionally low, in part because of the amount of water extracted to top up the Grand Union Canal. These strip markings on the dried out reservoir bed are the remains of one on Wilstone's ridge and furrow communal fields.
 Partly to keep fit, and partly to escape from the computer, I regularly take rural walks in and around the Tring area of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. In the last week or so I have made two visits to Wilstone Reservoir and have taken the following photographs to record the very low water levels, and what they reveal. As the reservoir was build in three stages, in 1802, 18360 and 1839 I have recorded the views accordingly.
The First Reservoir - Opened 1802
The remains of the earth dam on the north side of the reservoir, taken from the bird hide. When the reservoir is full the  bank in the foreground is under water. The only possible pre-reservoir feature is the low ridge on which the grounded floating bird island is stranded.
A view across the reservoir, from the bird hide, showing how empty the reservoir is,. Normally  the whole flat area and the bank in the foreground would be covered with water. If you zoom in the apparent far edge is the original north-south bank of the reservoir, and glimpses of water in the second reservoir can just be seen beyond it.

Normally the whole area shown here would be covered with water. A small stream, one of the normal feeders for the reservoir, has cut a channel through the sediments,
The First Extension - Opened 1836

This shows the low bank which represents the remains of the dam built in 1836. Looking  south west  towards the extension,
The remains of the dam between the first and second extensions.
The south-east corner of the first extension, showing the low water level.

 Second Extension - Opened 1839

This photograph of the north west corner of the Second Extension. The area of water in the middle distance is a quarry which was presumably dug to provide material for the "new" dam. In the foreground the green strips, on which the Canada Geese are grazing are the ridges of the medieval field system. To the left a whole series of green-topped ridges can be seen. The line of trees beyond are growing on the remains of the first dam.

The ridges of the medieval field system can be clearly seen going from a muddy ditch in the foreground (from the time the dam was built) almost to the original dam line.
The east end of the ridges is not clear - as judged by the vegetation - but the small differences in height are clearly indicated by the waterline shown in this picture, which also clearly shows some of the trees on the original reservoir dam.
See Later Blog on Medieval Field Systems


  1. Chris,
    Great series of photos and no doubt of interest to a variety of disciplines. They and the interpretation deserve to be sent to several bodies, such as the appropriate Water Authority etc, HALS?

  2. A good idea - I have now drawn the blog to the attention of the Friends of Tring Reservoirs (whose main interest is the birds but has had history items in their newsletter) and Waterscape (The leisure interface for the waterways, which have a few history pages on their web site, but nothing as far as I can see on the history of Tring Reservoirs or canal "pre-history".)

    I have also drawn the blog to the attention of the editor of "Village News: Puttenham, Wilstone, Long Marston, Gubblecote" which is published monthly and is also available online at

  3. toneyefoy@rocketmail.comAugust 16, 2012 at 11:55 AM

    great to look at i have a coppy of the deed 1835 where the canal co baught the land to compleet the building it ws intresting to see the pictures here


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