The shape of water

Shape of WaterI met a family the other day coming into the Wild Garden from Dog Kennel Lane. It was obviously their first visit to the Garden and, after coming through the gate, their son ran on ahead and exclaimed; “Wow, Water”; clearly a surprise to them, they were just expecting paths and trees!

The Upper Pond, the largest, was originally the fish pond for Shipton Court and the island in the middle provides protection for the wild ducks. From the Upper Pond the water flows down the recently renovated stone-lined rill into the Round Pond – actually it is not round but elliptical, it appears ‘round’ if you stand on the bridge over the outlet!

Under the bridge, it falls into the first of the three canals. The middle canal is the shallowest, running gently alongside the path to the second waterfall. Look carefully at this waterfall and you will see that it is edged with Pulmanite, an artificial stone patented by James Pulman in the Victorian period. The lower canal is the deepest, and towards the bottom you will see three fish shelters we recently installed.

The sluice gate at the bottom of the canals allows us to regulate the water levels and to empty the canals for maintenance. The water runs from here down to the site of the old Shipton Mill – where Milton Service Station is today – and then on down to the Evenlode.

The ponds and canals are fed from rain falling on Shipton Downs. The water flows down through the limestone cap and comes out as a spring in the field diagonally opposite the Dog Kennel Lane gate – you can see the source, it is surrounded by a wooden fence in the field. The spring water is very good quality – after all, Shipton Down springs used to supply the whole village!

Sometime in the 1860s, the then Lord Reade in Shipton Court decided to remodel the land at the end of the Lime Avenue. The idea was to turn it into a pleasure garden and walk for visitors and residents of the Court – and to show off a bit!

Constructing ponds and canals as water features was popular in Victorian times. After digging out, the canals were lined with clay and most probably the local sheep were used to ‘puddle’ the clay – stamping it down into shape and making it water tight. A photograph from around 1910 looking down the canals shows a lovely gazebo at the end, from where visitors could look up the full length of the canals and admire the waterfalls.

Today we are conserving the ponds and canals as places of relaxation, restocked with fish in collaboration with the Environment Agency.

Mike Watson

February – March 2019