Friday, January 6, 2012

Water!

When Capability Brown landscaped the grounds around Ashdown House in the 1770s one thing he could not introduce was a water feature. Until Ashdown was connected to mains water in the 1940s the only fresh water supply was from the wells derived from springs on the estate. There was also a "dew pond" by the old stables and a dip in the field shows the spot where this used to be.

The villages along the Portway, the old Roman road from Wanborough to Wantage, grew up along the spring line. This is where the water that had percolated through the chalk came out, forming streams and springs. At Upper Mill in Kingston Winslow they dammed the stream to power both the upper and lower mills. There was a spring in the garden of one of the cottages that was used by the entire village. In Ashbury the springs fed the watercress beds below the Manor.

Higher up along the Ridgeway there has never been a water source which was one of the reasons that the Romans preferred the lower route. At Lambourn, site of one of King Alfred's palaces, there is a "winter bourn" a river that is supposed to be seasonal, flowing in the winter and drying up in the summer. Its source is in the woodlands and it derives from a series of springs. The water falling on the Downs takes three months to work its way through the chalk and emerge as a river. It's water is beautifully clear.

8 comments:

lostpastremembered said...

It looks beautiful in the picture, Nicola! ONe forgets the importance of water in the decisions for placing housing back in the day.

Nicola Cornick said...

The Lambourn River is lovely when it is in full flow. Very clear, pure water. Yes, it's interesting that there is no running water within several miles of Ashdown, particularly as there was already a farm on the site in the 1630s. Presumably the wells were sufficient to provide for the needs of the house and farm.

Alison said...

Nice to see a lovely green picture of Ashdown again - even if only the gardens.

How is the conservation work going?

Nicola Cornick said...

Thanks, Alison! We're expecting a conservation update next week. I'll post up as soon as there's something to report. Plus we are busy making plans for the new season. Lots of interesting opportunities for different interpretation, with finds from the conservation work to discuss! Exciting!

whitehorsepilgrim said...

The whole issue of water is fascinating. What did the builders of the great hill forts do for water? Or the Saxon and Roman farmers on the high downlands? The archaeologists have shown that the hills were once covered in a patchwork of fields. Just over the hill east from Ashdown House was the Roman villa by where Maddle Farm sits today. Dew ponds supposedly are a comparatively recent invention, and Richard Jeffresys writes about sheep dying of thirst on the hills. Perhaps it was wetter in Saxon times, and maybe the water table was higher prior to industrial extraction?

Nowadays one struggles to find water along the Ridgeway for a horse or a dog, and the few troughs have been removed in order to deny easy camping to travellers. There is, however, a new dewpond for livestock at Sheepdrove.

Nicola Cornick said...

It is a fascinating question. I've always imagined that the farmers and local inhabitants had to make do with the springs and wells. I didn't realise that the dewponds were relatively modern. The one at Ashdown existed in the 19th century but I have no information on it before that and it has dried out now. I am sure the water table was higher than it is now or the weather wetter. In the past the winter bourne of the Lambourn river rarely ran dry.

Minerva Black said...

I've always enjoyed your writing about Ashdown House and as we live nearby we are following the progress of the restoration work. We consider it a real masterpiece, a little jewel glittering in the somewhat secret setting. Cannot wait to revisit when it is ready!

Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you very much, Minerva. I am so pleased you enjoy the blog! I love your description to Ashdown. That sums the house up perfectly.