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History of Frensham Little Pond

A view of Frensham Little Pond in Surrey through the reeds and bough of a tree turning orange in autumn with a bright blue sky behind
Frensham Little Pond in autumn | © National Trust Images/John Miller

Built in the 13th century at the order of the Bishop of Winchester, Frensham Little Pond has remained largely unchanged since its formation, but its inhabitants and uses have varied greatly over the years. Learn how Frensham Little Pond became the site of early industrial action and was used as a military training ground during the Second World War.

1246: The creation of Frensham Little Pond

Frensham Little Pond was formed in 1246 when the Bishop of Winchester, William de Raleigh, wanted a fish supply for his visits to Farnham Castle. He ordered ponds to be created at Frensham, but not all went smoothly.

The Bondsmen of Farnham

In the Middle Ages, most of the people living within the Manor of Farnham were bondsmen. The Bishop granted areas of land to people, who in return paid their rent in money, kind or service.

These services would have included work on the land such as ploughing, sowing, harrowing or harvesting crops. Bondsmen were expected to do other farm work, too. They cut brushwood and carted it to Farnham Castle for firing and maintained the enclosure of the castle.

One of England’s earliest strikes

However, if the Lord of the Manor claimed services ‘not warranted by custom’, his bondsmen could refuse to work. When the Bishop ordered his bondsmen to cart the timber and stones for the dam at Frensham, they refused, as they weren’t bound to do this work and didn’t want to create a precedent.

In their refusal to work, the bondsmen at Farnham were holding what could possibly be one of the first strikes in England. Discussions were held and, eventually, the bondsmen were paid for the extra work.

Some of the original stones carted by the bondsmen all those years ago still form part of the dam.

1940: Frensham Little Pond during the war

There hasn't always been peace and quiet at Frensham Little Pond. If you'd visited during the Second World War, you'd have heard the noisy sound of tanks and you wouldn't have recognised the area.

The pond becomes a tank training ground

In 1940, during the Second World War, the pond was drained by the British government to prevent it from being used as a landmark by enemy aircraft.

The area around the pond was used as a tank training ground, and the cottage and tea hut (now the bird hide) were almost demolished by tanks and other assault weapons.

Re-filling the pond

Mr Atherton acquired Frensham Little Pond in 1949. At that time, the only water in the pond was a small stream running through the centre, and the area was filled with a jungle of bush, birch and pine trees.

Atherton cleared the forest of trees and shrubs and repaired the 13th-century dam. The re-filling of the pond had to be repeated several times because of various leaks, with the final filling taking about six weeks.

Frensham Little Pond today

Mr Atherton gave the pond to the National Trust in 1974 to protect it as a sanctuary for wildlife. Today you can visit at any time of the year and enjoy the tranquil pond, heathland and woods.

Frensham Little Pond facts

  • You can still see some of the original ironstone wall built to form the pond near the sluice gate
  • The pond is fed by springs in the grounds of Silverbeck, Churt, as well as springs which rise near the Devil’s Jumps
  • The pond was formerly known as Tancred’s Mere or, in some ancient plans, Crowfoot Pond
  • The pond covers 37 acres
  • The dam, at the southern end of the pond, is built of ironstone from the Farnham area and was renovated in 2013
  • The dam is around 80m in length.

​​​​​Owners of the pond

  • 1246 – 1888: The See of Winchester and then the Ecclesiastical Commissioners
  • 1888: Mr R H Combe of Pierrepont House
  • Second World War: Major A E Alnatt
  • 1949 – 1974: Mr S D Atherton
Visitor sat by the water at Frensham Little Pond, Surrey

Discover more at Frensham Little Pond

Find out how to get to Frensham Little Pond, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

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Things to see and do at Frensham Little Pond 

Frensham Little Pond makes for a great day out all year round. Listen out for tuneful birds, walk through fragrant woodland or simply relax by the water.

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