by Fred Wilmot

Fleet Pond is where I spent many happy hours of my boyhood. In Anglo-Saxon times it was only a marshy tract called Fogelmersh or Fugelemere - meaning a marsh which was the habitat of water fowl and other birds. At some time, probably after the Norman Conquest, a head was built of earth and timber, to hold back the water of two streams flowing from different sides of Beacon Hill, a few miles to the south on the Hampshire/Surrey border, and thus was formed a large lake or pond. In fact, two ponds were formed, separated by a bank and bridge of sorts along the route of the present Cove Road. The water extended from the pondhead near the borders of Minley in the north to the Pondtail area of Fleet in the south. Broomhurst Farm, off the Minley Road, was on the west side of the north pond.

The marsh which later became Fleet Ponds was within the old Hundred and Manor of Crondall. In the year AD 976, when Winchester was the capital of England, King Edgar executed a deed by which the Hundred and Manor of Crondall was granted to the Church of St.Peter and St.Paul in the city of Winchester as a pension for the upkeep of the monks living therein. The deed names the famous place called Crundel and defines the boundaries of the Manor. Here is a translation of part of it:

"...to Ethelbtihte's boundary at Ylvetham,  thence out upon the heathfield to Fugelmere, so to Broomhurst and along the bourn to Bedecanly, thence over all the heathfield to Hnaef's Shelf"

I don't know who or where Ethelbrihte was, but it doesn't require any stretch of the imagination to realise that Ylvetham is Elvetham. Fugelmere we already know as Fleet, Broomhurst still has the same name, whilst Bedecanly must be Minley. Hnaef's Shelf was the Anglo-Saxon name for Hartford Bridge Flats, better known today as Blackbushe.. Hnaef must have been an ancient tribal chief of the Anglo-Saxons, or of an even earlier age.

In the library of the Dean and Chapter of Winchester is a document dated 1382 in which there is a reference to Fleet Pond or the great fishery and a well preserved parchment roll, dated 1406, records that "the Flete Pond cost a quantity of money for nets and a boat".

The Fleet Ponds were leased by the Cathedral authorities from time to time and the earliest known lease in 1505 exacted a rent for the fishery of a hundred fishes yearly. In the later leases a yearly rent of 20 shillings was extracted in lieu of 100 fishes. Here is an abridged version of the first lease:

"18 January 1505. The indenture of William and John Ciffard for the pasture of Flete and fishery of the same. This indenture testifies that the Prior and Convent with unanimous assent and consent have delivered, granted and let to farm to William Giffard and his eldest son John, the two ponds called Flete Ponds within the Manor of Crundale belonging to the Prior and Convent, together with the fishery of the same, and also a certain pasture called Le Flete within the tithing of Halley (Hawley) for the term of 50 years; rendering yearly for the pasture 23 shillings and four pence in lawful money of England....and for the fishery a hundred of the fishes, to wit, pykes, tenchesperches, bremes and roaches, to be caught at the cost of the said William and John Giffard, and to be carried in good and fresh state yearly in the time of Lent, or between the feasts of Easter and Pentecost, to the priory of St. Swithun. And it shall be lawful for the lord Prior and his successors, and their steward and treasurer for the time being, to fish with the nets and boats of the said William and John Giffard in the said ponds and to take and carry away the fish captured there. And moreover, the said William and John Giffard will and grant by these presents, that they are bound to repair the bridge called Le Fletebrige between said two ponds well and sufficiently during the whole tenancy at their own cost, except that the lord Prior shall find them balk timber for the repair of the bridge, but the said William and John Giffard shall fell, hew, saw and carry such timber."

A hundred yards or so from the south-west edge of the pond was a "keep"  pool in which fish caught in the pond were kept until required. It was protected from poachers by a U-shaped moat surrounding it from the main pond and hidden in the woods of Fleet over a mile away was another "keep" pool, itself about 30 feet across, surrounded by a moat of the same width. Local legend said that crocodiles were kept there - it was known as Crocodile Island. But I suspect that this story was put about to deter trespassers and poachers. It's a great pity, but when Calthorpe Park Estate was developed Crocodile island was bull-dozed and built upon.

It must have been a problem for the Giffards to deliver the fish to Winchester in a fresh condition in those days of slow transport; perhaps they carried them in live tanks, the same way but on a smaller scale as fresh water fish from Europe are brought to Billingsgate today. Another thing - there seemed to be no thought of conservation. The period from Lent to Whitsun is spawning and breeding time for freshwater fish, and nowadays from mid- March to mid-June is the close season for coarse fishing.

John Giffard died before his father, and another lease of the two ponds called Flete Ponds and the pasture known as Le Flete was granted to Richard Giffard, younger brother of John, for a term of 30 years from 29th September 1528; and in 1541 a lease was granted to George Paulet for a term of 60 years commencing 29th September 1558, that is the day after the expiration of Richard Giffard's lease. George Paulet seems to have got in early, taking up a lease 17 years before its commencement!

The same rent was exacted from Sir George for the pasture called Le Flete but, instead of the obligation to send fish to the Priory each year he was required to pay a yearly rent of 20 shillings for the two ponds and the fishing rights. The 1541 deed refers to the great manor of Crondale. The 16th century was a permissive age for spelling and there are variations of the spelling of the same name in the documents. The deed gives a detailed valuation of the manor including "...the farm of the two lakes called the Flete Pondes with pasture called Le Flete, demised George Paulet by indenture, per annum 43 shillings and four pence." The Hundred and Manor of Crondall had been surrendered to Henry VIII at the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, but two years later the King granted it to the newly constituted Dean and Chapter of Winchester Cathedral.

In the year 1567, a great storm caused the head of the pond to be swept away by the weight of flood water and, to avoid the expense of repairing it, the Dean and Chapter gave the lessees permission to convert the site of the pond into pasture land. The following are extracts from the licence to do so, dated 25th June 1567.

"Licence to enclose Le Flete Ponds...Whereas the late Dean and Chapter did dymise and let to farm unto Sir George Paulet...one ponde called the Fleate Pond, the head of which said ponde hath been yearly chargeable to the Dean and Chapter to maintain the timber work, and now by great rage and fall of water utterly broken and carried away, which would require great expense of money if the said Dean and Chapter should make a new head to maintain the said pond as it hath been heretofore; know ye, that for the better ease and disburdening of the Church of such charge and expenses, have licensed and authorised the said lessees to ditch and fence in, enclose and convert the said pond into meadow, pasture or otherwise at their will and pleasure, anything in the original leases contained to the contrary in anywise notwithstanding."

The pond concerned was the one to the north of Cove Road and since that time the reclaimed land has been the pasturage of Fleet Farm. When the lessees converted it to pasture they must have constructed a new head at the site of Cove Road to retain the water in the remaining pond. This pond, however, was still not the pond we know today, for there have been subsequent changes which will be described later. The Manor of Crondall was seized by Cromwell's Parliament in 1649 and was sold to the eldest son of the Warden of Winchester College, but at the restoration of the monarchy in 1661 it was restored to the Dean and Chapter, and fleet Pond and the farm were leased again from time to time to the various lords of the manor. By a conveyance dated 7th April 1836, the London and Southampton Railway Company acquired the "Fleet Mill Pond and certain allotments of wasteland belonging to Fleet Farm" from the Dean and Chapter of Winchester for the sum of 50. A strip of the pond was filled in, the railway was built across it and, on 24th September 1838, the section of railway between Woking and Shapley Heath (Winchfleld) was opened. Considering there was very little earth-moving machinery in those days this seems a remarkable achievement

But, there were only two lines and later four were planned, so under an Act of Parliament of 1897, the railway company, known then as the South Western Railway, purchased an additional strip of land and a further part of Fleet Pond from the War Department, who had become the owners. The conveyance of sale was dated 16th August 1899. Two more lines were laid across the pond as well as a goods yard and a siding, thus considerably reducing the area of water. However, after many years there were two ponds again, known locally as the big pond and little pond, joined by culverts under the railway embankment. It will be noticed that in the first conveyance of sale to the railway company the pond is referred to as the Fleet Mill Pond,

In 1854 Fleet Pond and most of the surrounding area was bought by the War Department as part of the training grounds of the new Aldershot Garrison. The boundary of the War Department property on the Fleet side was marked by a ditch and WD stones with the broad arrow cut in them, whilst across the wide marshy mouth of the south-west stream a causeway of baulks of timber marked the boundary. This became known later as Jacob's Ladder. The area of the ponds at high water mark was then 224 acres. The water level was controlled by a sluice at Cove Road near where the Fleet Country Club and swimming pool used to be.

The Army made good use of the pond for exercises. On the north side, between the big pond and the railway, is a plateau some 40 feet above water level and each summer, until the first world war, army units camped there under canvas. It was a popular resort of the local residents on fine Sunday evenings to listen to the band. I remember my parents taking me.  The camping area was reached by a level crossing over the railway from the Cove Road. This has long since been abolished.

Mounted military police, two of whom were stationed in stables adjoining the Oatsheaf Hotel in Fleet, occasionally patrolled the perimeter of the ponds, as I have good cause to remember. For one afternoon my brother and I were caught by them while up to some mischief - we had taken a trip on one of the Army's rafts - and they threatened to lay us across their horses and give us a good hiding on our backsides with their swords which they had drawn. Any such threat today, would I am sure, cause complaints to the Minister for Defence.

When the ice bore skating for any length of time the railway company used to advertise the fact and special trains for skaters ran from Waterloo to Fleet. There is a story that during a great frost in 1895 a carnival was held on the ice and an ox was roasted thereon. That story is on a par with an advertisement for fishing tackle in my uncle's shop window in Fleet. It ran: "This is the tackle that caught the pike that swallowed the gipsy's donkey in Fleet Pond".

In the early days of flying, two aeroplanes from Farnborough were housed in a temporary hangar erected on the edge of the plateau mentioned earlier. Floats were fitted to them, a slipway down to the water was built and the machines used to take-off from and alight on the water. We called them hydro-aeroplanes: they were the forerunners of seaplanes. The mention of flying reminds me that, during my first flight from Farnborough in 1920, I counted more than 60 swans on the pond from a height of less than 2000 feet. Slow flying enabled me to do that.

When the experiments with the hydro-aeroplanes were abandoned and the hangar had been dismantled, it found that at the end of the slipway was a large, firm sandy-bottomed hole which became very popular as a bathing place. Otherwise the pond was unsuitable for bathing because of the deep, sandy mud bottom and weeds. There were also treacherous holes round each of the five small islands, the islands having been artificially formed by sappers throwing up earth from the bottom.

The pond was drained early in the last war lest the reflection of the water should enable enemy aircraft to pinpoint their bearings. It was not refilled until several years after the war. During the refilling, reeds were planted to give cover for waterfowl and to provide better shooting for army officers.

During the years, the area of the pond has shrunk. There used to be a shallow extension of the big pond of about 12 acres called The Flash, which is still shown on some Ordnance Survey maps. The Flash was filled in between the two world wars and is now the site of the industrial estate opposite Fleet Station. More recently a wide strip of the little pond along Cove Road was filled in with surplus earth during construction of the M3 motorway.

In 1972, Fleet Urban District Council bought the pond and the surrounding woodland comprising 135 acres from the Ministry of defence for 10,000. It is now administered by Hart District Council who have long term plans for a wild life conservation area. So we can be reasonably certain now that there will always be a Fleet Pond, albeit only a fraction of its former size, to give pleasure to many thousands of people in the future."

Footnote: This article is based upon Fred Wilmot's lecture notes and contain his own views abut Fleet Ponds history. Some of the dates, etc. vary slightly from those in the Fleet Pond Society's booklet "Fleet Pond Nature Reserve."  

Special thanks to Bill and Christine Wain for providing details of Fred Wilmot's lecture. And to Fleet Pond Society for permission to reproduce this article  printed in the 25th Anniversary edition of their newsletter.


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 (1.16), plus "a hundred of the fishes, pike, tenches, perches, bream and roaches, to be 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 milt 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.

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