Local history articles
WHO publications available as free PDFs
In addition the WHO has digitised versions of:
This website does not gather or store any visitor information.
The lost mill pond on the Mantle
Anyone who has walked from Narrow Lane into the most westerly of the Wymeswold Meadow fields will have crossed the River Mantle. The water has cut deep into the boulder clay (now re-branded by geologists as 'glacial till') and continues to erode the clay, leaving steep sides. From the perspective of a hundred years this erosion is happening fast. What we see today must have shaped up in the last few centuries. So – why isn't the erosion much more stable? What was there before?
Richard Ellison and myself independently came to the conclusion there must have been some sort of large pond that was drained perhaps as recently as the eighteenth century. But when was such a pond created? Was it natural? Or was it constructed? Frankly there's no direct evidence to answer any of these questions. But there are several plausible scenarios.
Let's start at the beginning. Which, in the case of East Midlands topography means the end of the last Ice Age, so about 10,000 years ago. The overall scenario was simple. The region had been permafrost tundra. As this melted vast amounts of sediments were re-deposited, while the run-off water caused lakes and rivers to form. Then the watercourses we know today cut their way through the sediments and the water table steadied a little higher than it has been in recent decades. The biggest difference between now and say around 8,000 years ago is that there would have been more shallow lakes and vast areas of wet woodland.
We know that there was wet woodland in Anglo-Saxon times as the Old English word is carr which appears in place-names For example, just to the north of Bingham is Car Colston, with a Car Lane extending south-east towards Scarrington.
Wymeswold is one of a number of villages situated about 100 metres above sea level forming a ring around the Leicestershire Wolds, centred on Six Hills.
A stream flows from a spring to the west of the Six Hills crossroads. The upper reaches are known as the Arrow and the part near Wymeswold as the River Mantle.
The River Mantle flows from east to west, from Wymeswold Meadow nature reserve then between the houses on Brook Street. It is channelled to the south of Swifts Close before flowing along the north side of Hoton Road.
Only in the mid-1950s was the channel down the middle of Brook Street cut to restrain the water. Several photographs taken by Philip Brown about 1900 show the street flooded.
Such scenes have been repeated every few years. This photograph was taken Sping 1988 by Alec Moretti.
And this was Brook Street in February 2020.
This map from the Environment Agency shows the risk of the River Mantle flooding (excluding risks from surface runoff).
Give or take minor changes caused by driveways and pavements the Environment Agency map indicates what the Brook Street part of Wymeswold would have looked like before there were houses and when water levels remained high throughout most of the year.
While I cannot prove it, this linear pond shown on the map may have been what Mesolithic and Neolithic people saw when they visited.
We know Mesolithic and Neolithic people were visiting because Nick Hando is finding their flint tools to the south of the village. The distribution of the tools suggests seasonal hunting camps, as expected. Such hunting camps were often at the meeting of two or more different ecosystems. The shallow open water would have been ideal for fish and waterfowl. The slopes around the watercourse were most probably wooded. Indeed by the Neolithic managed as fairly open woodland pasture populated by free-ranging herds of cattle, sheep and pigs.
Probably something similar continued through the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Then, around the third century AD, a family of Romano-British farmers created a farmstead to the north of Wymeswold Meadow. As so often with Roman-era farms and villas they chose a south-facing slope close to water. As the River Mantle is somewhat seasonal (although perhaps less so when the water table was higher) then this location would only have worked if there was a large pond which retained water for livestock even during dry summers.
The Romano-British settlement was in the ploughed field to the north of the River Mantle (flowing through the bushes in the middle distance). Photograph taken looking north during the summer of 2008 with members of the Wymeswold rambling group.
Perhaps the naturally-created post-glacial lake still survived, at least at the eastern end. The post-glacial run-off of sediments could have formed a natural dam where the lane known as Crow Hill runs now. Plausibly, the Romano-British adapted such a natural barrier – perhaps already breached by flooding – to create an effective dam.
Things have changed in recent times. The field to the east of Crow Hill has been disturbed by sand or gravel extraction, probably in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.
Richard Ellison, a now-retired professional geologist, concurs that the zone of stream incision and erosion in the Mantle valley we see today as part of Wymeswold Meadow is quite fresh and most likely to have started in the last few hundred years or so. He considers that such erosion is exactly what would be expected upstream of a dam that failed. Map from Richard Ellison.
A former dam convincingly explains why the erosion to the watercourse in Wymeswold Meadow is recent and ongoing. But for how long did the dam function?
If the Romano-British didn't create the dam then the Anglo-Saxons may have done as they too would have needed a reliable supply of water for livestock (while using the Stockwell for drinking water).
1: The earliest phase of nucleation around the church and Stockwell, probably early-mid tenth century.
2 to 5: Late tenth or early eleventh century manorial farms.
Reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon watermill. Unlike later watermills the wheel rotates in the horizontal plane with a vertical shaft.
And the Anglo-Saxons most certainly would have been tempted to create a dam as by the eleventh century it was very much the fashion to have small water mills as part of a manorial estate. This fashioned continued past the Norman Conquest into the twelfth century. As I have suggested elsewhere ('The planning of Wymeswold', The Wolds Historian No.4 ) the manor house which once occupied Hall Close was probably originally built in the late tenth to the mid-eleventh century, before being taken over by a Norman landowner.
In all probability an Anglo-Saxon manorial lord created or repaired a dam so that a millpond extended back eastwards. That dam became the bottom part of Crow Hill.
We need to imagine a small water mill tucked into the corner of Hall Close nearest to Crow Hill. Perhaps the small plot of land on which a house has been built in recent years is the plot associated with a former mill?
Looking north down Crow Hill to the location of the putative dam.
The recently-built house at the bottom of Crow Hill.
The same location in 2007.
Hall Close as surveyed by R.F. Hartley with the River Mantle shown in blue and the putative watermill site in red. The approximate location of the putative dam is shown in orange.
A few centuries later and small water mills were no longer an expression of status. We can reasonably assume that the two mills at Cotes would have processed corn more reliably and economically. But medieval land owners were very keen on fish ponds. So would have maintained the dam. The occupants of Hall Close certainly had the money to do so judging by the scale of the formal gardens which survive as earthworks. By the time the manor house on Hall Close was abandoned and demolished in the eighteenth century the dam may have fallen into disrepair. In addition there may have been competing interests in managing the upper reaches of the pond as seasonal hay meadows.
Whatever the exact reasons the dam is likely to have failed quite suddenly. The rapid erosion taking place in the part of the River Mantle running through the nature reserve is exactly what would happen in the aftermath.
My thanks to Richard Ellison for correcting errors in my initial draft and confirming my key thoughts about recent erosion were correct.