History of Fleet Pond

We have prepared a number of Powerpoint slide shows covering the history of Fleet Pond.

Part 1 : Fleet Pond - Early Days - 3MB (7m10s@56Kbps

Part 2 : Fleet Pond - Post WW2 - 3.5MB (8m20s@56Kbps

Part 3 : Fleet Pond - The 1970s and founding of Fleet Pond Society - 2.5MB (5m57s@56Kbps

Part 4 : Fleet Pond - First Decade of Fleet Pond Society- 3.5MB (8m20s@56Kbps

Part 5 : Fleet Pond - Conservation Work - 3.5MB (8m20s@56Kbps

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The Origins and History of Fleet Pond

The earliest written records relating to the Fleet district are of the later Saxon period. Our first glimpses of life in the 10th Century reveal settlement and agriculture well established and organised. Aldershot, Farnborough, Yateley and Crondall each have Saxon origins, whilst, closer to Fleet, Bramshot and Broomhurst are Saxon place names

It is probable that, by the time of the Norman Conquest, lands to the north of Fleet Pond were already farmed. Heathlands arose in prehistory as a consequence of Bronze Age farming activities and thus the great heathland commons of Hawley, Aldershot etc., were already ancient a thousand years ago. The system of commoning may itself have had beginnings in prehistory

Fleet itself is an Old English (Saxon) term, fleot or fleote, referring in some sense, not clearly understood, to a stream. The available evidence points to a place where a stream enters or leaves a larger body of water or marshland, but, of Fleet, contemporary Saxon records are silent. We only know that it fell within a gift of a large expanse of land bequeathed to the Old Monastery at Winchester in 940 AD, which included all of what is now Crookham and Hawley

The Domesday survey is equally silent and the first clear reference to Fleet does not come until 1313, followed by a more detailed mention in 1324 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

Many bishopric ponds were created in the second half of the 12th Century, thus Fleet Pond could have been in existence by 1200. An existing watercourse would have been dammed to build up a head of water and it has been conjectured that the combined surface area of the two ponds exceeded 200 acres. The fishery was supervised and managed locally, probably from the two farms recorded at Fleet. These were situated to the north of the present pond, in an area of more fertile land between barren heathland commons. Indeed, the evidence points to the location of the historical Fleet lying to the north of the modern town, in Hawley Parish

Later medieval references to Fleet Ponds are few, but include further expenses for nets, boats and repairs to the bridge there. There seems to have been some kind of causeway dividing the two ponds, which possibly carried a road of some importance, given the oft repeated requirement to keep it in good condition

In 1491, a new arrangement was instigated. The Prior at Winchester began to lease Fleet Ponds and the pastures there to a tenant at Fleet Farm, at an annual rent of 23 shillings and 4 pence ( plus “a hundred of the fishes, pike, tenches, perches, bream and roaches, to he carried and delivered (to Winchester) in a good and fresh state”. The tenants were required to maintain the bridge at their own expense, except that the Lord Prior would provide the timber. There is a hint in this exception that woodland may not have been plentiful on Fleet Farm

The location of the second pond has bred two opposing theories, the one placing it to the north of the surviving pond, on what is now Ancell’s Park, the other proposing south as more probable, and citing the name “Pondtail” as supporting evidence. The problem with this is that the present Pondtail is another example of a migrating place name, which was indeed situated at the “tail” of the present Fleet Pond

What is known with certainty is the fate which befell the lost pond. A document dated 1567 records: “the head of which said pond is now by a great storm and fall of water, utterly broken and carried away”. A great inundation had apparently carried away the dam and the necessary repairs would require “great expenses of money, waste of timber and other charges, to make a new head to maintain the said pond as it has been theretofore”. Damage, if any, to the other pond and to the bridge is not recorded. A licence was issued “to ditch and fence in, enclose and convert the said pond into meadow, pasture or otherwise”

From 1491 onwards the ponds, the pasture of Fleet and the fishery had been closely tied to the farms of Fleet (probably including the mill, which local tradition dates to the medieval period, though there is no firm evidence of this). The field patterns of Fleet Farm were, before their recent destruction for housing, of a post medieval type, whereas the field patterns of Bramshot Farm to the east are very characteristic of the medieval period. They undoubtedly had a separate history to Bramshot, though whether they replaced earlier fields or came into being as a result of the enclosure of the lost pond must remain a matter of speculation

The leasing arrangement for Fleet Farm, pasture, fishery and ponds (the plural was never amended) continued for some 350 years. A renewal of the lease, dated 1833, covers Fleet Ponds, the fishery thereof, the pasture, several other parcels of land, houses, farm buildings, mills, mill ponds, streams and watercourses. At that time, Fleet Pond was 45.1 hectares (111.5 acres)

Some years earlier, in 1817, the ancient rights of common were extinguished by the Enclose Act for Hawley Common. This included all of the heathland to the north-east, east and south-east of Fleet Pond. Enclosure of Crookham Common followed in 1834, covering a great deal of open country west and south of the Pond. With Enclosure, the grazing of commoners’ stock and other ancient practices, such as peat digging, came to an end and the commons were divided up amongst the gentry to develop as they saw fit

Opportunity was not far behind. On 7th April 1836, the London and Southampton Railway Company purchased, for 50, “the Fleet Mill Pond and certain allotments of wasteland belonging to Fleet Farm”, from the Dean and Chapter of Winchester. Allotments were heathland. Without the legal protection afforded to common lands, the surrounding land was ripe for development and a new settlement, taking its name from the Pond, began to grow

The Pond itself, meanwhile, became a part of the new military estate based at Aldershot and was under the jurisdiction of the army from 1854 until 1972. Within years of the opening of the new railway, it had attracted the curiosity of another army, the many Victorian naturalists. References to its flora, in particular, are frequent in natural history journals of the last century. Herbarium sheets, dating from this era, are located at the Natural History Museum in Kensington, and also at Reading, Oxford and undoubtedly elsewhere

The fame thus bestowed upon Fleet Pond led, in 1951, to it becoming one of the first Sites of Special Scientific Interest to be notified in Hampshire. The reasons for the designation were the importance of the lake to waterfowl, the rich aquatic and heathland flora and the extensive area. The SSSI was reaffirmed in 1984 under the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, but covering the smaller area of 48 hectares (118.5 acres), of which the open water itself accounts for 21 hectares (52 acres). (By 1984, Fleet Little Pond had lost its ecological interest and The Flash and been filled in. The Flash is now the Business Park by Fleet Station)

In 1972, the then Fleet Urban District Council purchased the Pond, together with adjacent heathland and woodland, from the Ministry of Defence. The Fleet Pond Society was founded four years later (April 1976) and, at the Society’s suggestion, the land was declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1977. The Society was responsible for completing the footpath circuit of the pond, including installation of the Brookly Bridge and Carnival Bridge. Volunteers from the Society began selective management of the habitats of the Reserve in 1983, initially with advice from the Hampshire Wildlife Trust. This has continued through to the present day and now the Society's volunteers work in conjunction with Hart Council's Countryside Service. The relationship continues, strengthening a good working relationship between the local authority and the voluntary sector