HAHG Lecture: Fishponds of Oxfordshire

The speaker at the meeting of the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group on 7 May was Dr Stephen Wass, on ‘A Peculiar History of Oxfordshire Fishponds’.

While ponds were indeed used for raising fish, they also fulfilled other roles. They could enhance the appearance and security of the homes of the elite, and provide them with opportunities for leisure pursuits. Additionally, they offered habitats for wildfowl, and fulfilled needs for drainage, defence and the watering of livestock.

Ponds had a long history in Britain; Roman fish ponds have been identified at Shakenoak near Witney. There was a resurgence in fish raising during the medieval period, the most important species being bream, pike and (later) carp; in Oxfordshire, Minster Lovell Hall and Eynsham Abbey were notable locations. Contrary to popular belief, these fish were not used to provide food for monks on Fridays, but rather were used to generate income by selling them to the rich. Poorer people did eat fish, but this was mostly salted and dried marine fish.

The use of ponds for pleasure dated from the Middle Ages – an Oxfordshire example is Rosamund’s Bower in Woodstock. This aspect became more prominent in the 16th century and later with the rise in popularity of leisure fishing by the more prosperous, as evidenced by the number of books on angling. This pastime was engaged in at Fawley Court.

The next meeting of the HAHG will take place, again in the Chantry House in Henley at 7.30pm, on Tuesday 4 June. The next person to speak to us, before the Summer break, will be Professor Helen Parish of the University of Reading on ‘The Windsor Witches’.



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