Earliest depictions of the ponds
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence
While one medieval map mentioned Peel Waters in the vicinity of Spa Ponds, we are not aware of any actual ponds being clearly depicted on any map until the 1830’s. Many of the older maps showing the area of Spa Ponds were not very detailed and so not too much can be read into the omission.
The Ellis Map of 1824-25 (published in 1831) was in sufficient detail to show Packman’s Road which runs through Spa Ponds as well as the pond above the warren at the site of Warren Farm, yet does not depict any ponds to the east of Packman’s Road. On the other hand, we are aware of instances where Ellis glosses over elements such as minor paths contained in more detailed mapping.* As such, while Ellis provides some indication that there were not clearly visible ponds at Spa Ponds in 1824-1825, on its own this is not strong evidence that the ponds did not exist at Spa Ponds at that time.
However, as discussed later there are reasons to think that the first iteration of the modern ponds at Spa Ponds were constructed or reconstructed shortly after the Ellis map was surveyed in 1824-25 as part of the creation of the Duke of Portland’s water meadows and flood dykes, and this means that the Ellis map could have been right to omit Spa Ponds.
Clear evidence of ponds at Spa Ponds from 1830-1834 survey
As shown above, the ponds at Spa Ponds appear on George Sanderson’s map of Mansfield published in 1835 which would have been based on surveys from 1830-1834. The map was also shown on the first detailed Ordnance Survey map of the area from a survey from 1824-1840. These maps also show the Spa Lane bridge over the flood dykes to the north of Spa Ponds. Two ponds are shown at Spa Ponds to the east of Packman’s Road, which is the form that Spa Ponds took until subsidence resulted in the four-pond system being established in the 1980’s.
Clipstone Water Meadows and Flood Dykes
If you look at the above maps you will see they refer to Water Meadows and a flood dyke. These would have been brand new at the time, as they were constructed for the Duke of Portland around that time. As explained by soil and water scientist Dr. Jonathan Hillman, a water meadow is an area of grassland in which the quantity and quality of grass is increased through artificial irrigation with the main aim being to prolong, or bring forward, grass growth by raising soil temperature. This is achieved by intermittently flooding the site with flowing water, usually through the winter, and can have the added benefit of adding the nutrients from the the water to the soil.
John Evelyn Dennison, Esq. wrote about the Water Meadows at Clipstone Park in 1840, stating:
“The eye, after wandering through the glades of the forest, and resting on the brown carpeting of fern and heather with which it is clothed, is amazed on coming suddenly in view of the rich green of the meadows, extended for miles before it, laid in gentle slopes and artificial terraces, and preserved in perpetual verdure by supplies of water continually thrown over their surface. The land immediately occupied by these meadows was in its wild state a line of hill-sides, covered with gorse and heather, -a rabbit-warren, over which a few sheep wandered,- and a swampy valley below, thick set with hassocks and rushes, the favourite haunt of wild ducks and snipes through which the little stream, the Maun, wound its way in its descent from the town of Mansfield.”
“The whole track, both upland and lowland, was of very little value. The valley was in many parts from 9 to 10 feet deep in bog, and almost worthless; the hill-sides varied in quality… In the year 1819 it occurred to the Duke of Portland that by following the stream up towards its source, and tapping it at a high level, the water might be carried over the surface of the dry and sterile hills, its course through the valley might be straightened, and the bog drained.”
Function of the spa ponds in the Flood Dykes
The 1845 Tithe Map of Mansfield Woodhouse which I have annotated above shows how both the ponds at Spa Ponds and the pond at the site of Warren Farm feed into the River Maun. It also shows how at the time the Spa Ponds site and land to the west were being used as rabbit warrens. This historic usage is preserved in the name of Warren Farm and Woodhouse Warren Farm
While rabbit warrens were a useful source of meat, the use of the Duke of Portland’s by rabbits did create problems when the water meadows and flood dykes were being created. According to Dennison: “…when the water was first thrown over the ground, new and unforeseen difficulties had to be provided against. The water found its way into the old rabbit-holes, and burst out in springs. All such unsound spots had to be dug out and rammed into firm ground…”
It is possible that the stopping up of these springs might have made the springs around Spa Ponds stronger. The tithe map entries record that while the Duke of Portland owned the warrens, ponds and water meadow the warrens (but not the ponds they contained) were occupied by William Bell. It also shows that the ponds at Spa Ponds were listed as fish ponds while the pond at Woodhouse Warren House was just listed as a pond. While some of the land is listed as arable, the status of plot 1409 around Spa Ponds is just listed as ‘grass’. The tithe map was by George Sanderson who also created the 1835 Sanderson map.
Ordnance Survey maps dating back to at least 1884 show sluices (to control the flow of water) at Spa Ponds and the pond at Warren Farm. It makes sense that this would have been a feature installed when the water meadows were created to allow the ponds to feed into the River Maun. The Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Winter 1984 newsletter noted that: “The remains of piping, culverts and stone sluices have been found in our excavations. Until recent times, the ponds were surrounded by thousands of acres of open heath and with wavy hair grass and heather.”
The 1845 tithe map stops just at the top of the northern extent of what is now the Chestnut Walk at Spa Ponds, with the land below simply marked as “Mansfield Woodhouse Wood”. This is presumably because in 1845 the land in the southern portion of Spa Ponds was officially classed as a common, maybe dating back to the King’s decision to give some of the land back to the people when they complained that too much was taken for Clipstone Peel.
So, why then is it not still common? This is due to a process known as enclosure, sometimes written as ‘inclosure’, where common land or ‘waste’ was sold in large chunks. Advocates promoted enclosure as improving agriculture and the effective use of land which served the public interest. However, critics considered it an unfair land grab that benefited the wealthy at the expense of the peasants who would forever be deprived of a valuable resource which was theirs by right.
Our research identified that the southern portion of Spa Ponds was enclosed as part of the Mansfield Woodhouse Enclosure Award which was made in 1849 and confirmed in 1854. The relevant entries are 137, 138 and 138a. All were listed as having been sold to Francis Hall, who presumably then did some form of a land swap with the Duke of Portland.
We have stitched this together with the 1845 tithe map and added Spa Ponds in green overlay to show how around half of the Spa Ponds site was covered by the enclosure. However, this misses the wording just above the tithe map next to the road marked as 138a which states: “Gate opening into the Forest near the River Mawn”. It is unclear whether this was intended to refer to an actual gate or the Viking term ‘gate’ which means road, but the terms ‘opens into’ suggests it is a reference to a barrier gate. It is possible that in the 1850s there was an actual gate at that location to make clear that the northern portion of Spa Ponds was the private property of the Duke of Portland. We are not aware of any maps which show a barrier gate in Spa Ponds.
A version of the Mansfield Woodhouse Enclosure award document by hand copied by C. W. Seager for the Mansfield Woodhouse library indicates that amongst the roads confirmed to have been stopped or of dedicated to the public was the northern and part of the southern parts of what we now call Packman’s Road:
I the said Thomas Smith Woolley the valuer as aforesaid do make and declare this to be my award in the matter of said enclosure and to this my Award I have annexed the Maps marked A and B referred to by my said Report….And I do herby declare that I have discontinued and stopped up the Public Roads and Ways in the said Parish hereinafter particularly mentioned that is to say: …A certain other public Road of Highway called the Packman’s Road commencing at the Gate opening upon the Forest in the Woodhouse Breck near the River Maun and Clipstone Park Pale and passing over the Forest by the various tracks to the Liberty of Rufford and Noman’s Wood….
…And I further declare that I have set out and appointed and do herby set out and appoint the following…bridle and footways…that is to say…One public bridleway and footpath numbered 138a on the said Map A of the width of eight feet commencing at the said Gate opening on the Forest near the River Maun and Clipstone Park Pales and extending Southward until it communicates with the said public Carriage Road numbered 98 on the same Map at or near the East end of an allotment numbered 75 on the same map”
If you compare the route of this road with the green overlay of Spa Ponds you will see that at the southern-most portion this deviates from the current path of Packman’s Road, which veers off to the east. Confusingly, Sanderson’s map of 1835 indicates that the road to the east of Spa Ponds which is unlabelled in the tithe map represents the southern half of Packman’s Road.
While the start of the portion of the road referred to as being stopped up isn’t stated in that passage, it is presumably the same as the second road intended to be stopped up mentioned in the Nottingham Guardian on the 17th of October 1850 which states it commences at Small Dale (i.e. the land to the north of Spa Lane which is next to the historic Woodhouse Gate entrance to Clipstone Park).
The end of the flood dykes
While remnants of the flood dykes exist, the flood dyke system is no more. According to a booklet from the Friends of Kings Clipstone: “During the 1930s mining subsidence altered the levels in the dykes and the panes. Pumps had to be introduced to keep the system functioning but the system was finally closed in the 1960s when further subsidence rendered them unusable”.
Notes, sources and further reading:
- Nottinghamshire Water Meadows in the Landscape (Dr. Jonathan Hillman, et al., c. 2012)
- The Duke of Portland’s water meadows (Heart of Ancient Sherwood / the Friends of Kings Clipstone, c. 2011)
- ‘By floating and watering such land as lieth capable thereof: recovering meadow irrigation in Nottinghamshire’ by Jonathan Hillman and Hadrian Cook. Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire, Volume 120 (2016)
- The guide to the royal heart of ancient Sherwood
- * For example, if one compares the detailed 1791 Crown Survey map of Birklands and Bilhaugh to the south-east of Spa Ponds with both the Ellis map and the detailed 1840 OS Map one can see many features such as minor paths and the centre tree which appear on those more detailed maps but are absent from the Ellis map).