Archaeological discoveries in Fishpool Valley

Our team of dedicated archaeology volunteers working away in Fishpool Valley

From Monday 14 August to Friday 15 September 2017, Polyolbion Archaeology and a team of dedicated National Trust volunteers have been carrying out initial phases of archaeological investigation in Fishpool Valley. Read on to find out more about the mysterious built structures, cascades and spillways which have been unearthed in the valley and what they can tell us about this once 'Picturesque' landscape.

One of the initial discoveries was what may well be the original 'Picturesque' pitched stone floor spillway at Dam 1, just hanging on in there beside years of scouring and erosion to the north and some unaffected clay crest of the dam to the south.

The remains of what may well be the original Picturesque pitched stone floor spillway
The remains of what may well be the original Picturesque pitched stone floor spillway in Fishpool Valley

Our volunteers cleared fallen trees and undergrowth from part of the east face of the dam and then removed weeds and moss to uncover the continuation of the wall to the east. The team noticed further flat slabs which had been mortared in place against its north face, suggesting possible small steps indicative of a cascade.

The archaeology team set up 'base camp' in Fishpool Valley
Base camp in Fishpool Valley for the archaeology team

Additional work to clear along the face of one of the walls revealed a remarkable survival of an area of pitched stone paving which was initially interpreted as the base of a spillway running down from the pool.

Work continued to remove the red gravel bank that capped the dam and filled the former spillway. A spread of red gravel was removed onto a yellowish clay bank, all of which post-dates the wall, the buried portions of which remain well preserved.

The mysterious built structure in Fishpool Valley
The mysterious built structure in Fishpool Valley, uncovered by the archaeology team

During the second week of investigations, the team revealed the remains of a built structure comprising of stone walls surmounted by traces of a shallow barrel vaulted brick ceiling. The eastern and southern sides were intact with a potential entrance to the north. The western side was in a state of considerable collapse.

Accumulated deposits were removed from the sunken building, but work was stopped at 1m for safety reasons at which point large quantities of brick were noted, indicating the collapse of the brick vault.

Further up stream, the pitched stone setting was without doubt a spillway of some kind but more significantly, revealed a central gully which would have managed a limited flow of water to give a rill like effect. This feature terminated with a line of cross stones creating a small cascade.

The recently uncovered spillway in Fishpool Valley
The recently uncovered spillway in Fishpool Valley at Croft Castle

A small trench was opened at the mid-point on the dam to examine the possibility of a pipe or conduit emerging here. Large quantities of broken glass and pottery of mid-twentieth century origin were found but no evidence of any structures yet.

The volunteers then removed some of the rubble on the western side of the sunken building and located its north west corner. This gave us the width of the opening to the north which we had assumed was the original entry, but also puzzlingly indicated there was a similar opening in the west side of the structure.

A close up shot of the mysterious built structure in Fishpool Valley
The interior of the built structure that has been uncovered in Fishpool Valley

After a week's break, the team established base camp at pool/dam 7 and revealed most of the pitched stone face of the casade. Such was the form of the construction that the body of the cascade had held together in a way which makes full restoration a very real possibility.

Work then began to clear a path to the site of the potential conduit house. Accumulated debris was removed with the aid of a long handled rake. One of the walls projected out to the north to create an unusual triangular platform which presumably acted to diminish the flow of water. It is a very curious feature and this may not turn out to be the real explanation.

After further deliberation, the current thinking about the triangular projection is that it may be a seating for a metal grid to hold back fallen branches and the like to prevent the culvert getting clogged up and the cascade becoming untidy.

The unusual triangular feature in front of the inlet to the cascade in Fishpool Valley
The unusual triangular feature in front of the inlet to the cascade in Fishpool Valley

The curious triangular feature in front of the inlet to the cascade was excavated down to construction level above a platform of hard yellow clay and recording began. Our archaeologist noted that the small 'window' opening in the south chamber of the grotto frames the view of the cascade perfectly. This structure clearly has a complex and interesting history.

A view from inside the grotto in Fishpool Valley
A view from inside the grotto looking out at Croft Castle in Herefordshire

The outlet from the culvert at the west end of the dam is turning into a major feature and is undoubtably one of the best built structures in the valley and clearly set up to be seen. The level at the top of the underside of the arch was measured and compared with the level of the base of the dry pool to the north. This indicated that the entrance to the culvert could still be half a metre or so below the current ground surface.

Our volunteers have been busy clearing the conduit in the valley
The conduit in Fishpool Valley after some excavation work

Our volunteers then moved back down the valley to dam 6 to examine the full extent of a pitched stone surface which was just visible at the foot of one of the dams. The volunteers were rewarded by the sight of what is evidently the remains of another cascade taking the plunge into a near vertical face, yet another new take on displaying the flow of water in an interesting way.

Another pitched stone surface uncovered by our archaeology team
Another pitched stone surface uncovered by our archaeology team in Fishpool Valley

These discoveries have helped to piece together a clearer picture of the 'Picturesque' Fishpool Valley and the origins of the landscape, but have also given us considerable food for thought. The findings will aid the major engineering work to repair and conserve the dams, waterways and pools in the valley, due to take place over the next five years as part of our ambitious restoration project.