William de Raleigh and his workers at Frensham

Frensham Little Pond's ancient dam

William de Raleigh was a medieval judge, administrator and bishop. He was the Bishop of Winchester from 1242 to 1250. In 1246, when he ordered the building of the ponds at Frensham, he encountered trouble with his workers (bondsmen).


In the middle ages the majority of the people living within the Manor of Farnham were bondsmen, bound to the land of the Bishop of Winchester.
The Bishop granted areas of land to people and they in return paid their rent in money, kind or service.

Services by bondsmen

These services would have included work on the land of the Lord of the Manor such as: ploughing, sowing, harrowing or harvesting crops.
In addition, the bondsmen were expected to do other farm work. They cut brushwood and carted it to Farnham Castle for firing and also maintained the enclosure of the castle.
If the Lord of the Manor claimed services ‘not warranted by custom’, his bondsmen could refuse to work.

Dispute by bondsmen

When the Bishop ordered his bondsmen to cart the timber and stones for the dam at Frensham they refused.
This was possibly one of the first strikes in England. The bondsmen were not bound to do this work and did not want to create a precedent. Discussions were held and, eventually, the bondsmen were paid for the extra work.

Stones for Frensham’s dam

Some of the original stones carted by the bondsmen all those years ago still form part of the dam. But over the years various alterations have taken place.