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Anglo-Saxon Fish Traps & Mersea Island

Anglo-Saxon Fish Traps & Mersea Island

What is a coastal fish weir?

‘Were’ is an Anglo Saxon word meaning fish trap. It is an artificial barrier created within an inter-tidal zone which is an area that is above water at low tide and under water at high tide. In other words, the area between the tide marks.

The weir was constructed from stone walls, wattle or timber fencing to channel fish into traps.

The most common form of weir is a simple ‘v’ shaped arrangement of walls which was frequently 100m in length. At the point of the ‘v’ a basket would be placed and usually pointed seaward so as to draw in the fish with the receding tide.

Weirs were placed in gently shelving coastal or estuarine locations, the weirs would become sufficiently exposed at low tide for the fish to be collected and in some locations gutting and filleting took place on site.

Stationary fish traps are known to have been used since the Mesolithic period, although the earliest examples to leave strong visible traces around the coastline belong to a tradition dating from the early medieval or Anglo- Saxon period.

Documentary evidence from the 10th century onwards suggests that fish weirs were largely the preserve of the upper class medieval society, maintained by either largo manors or religious houses. In addition to the obvious advantage of a constant food supply, the produce from the fish weirs provided economic benefit, indicated social status and could aid compliance with the religious dietary structures of the period.

Fish weirs were at their peak during the 12th & 14th centuries, but then declined in the growing face of commercial sea fishing.

The remains of 500 fish weirs are estimated to survive around England’s coast.

The coastal fish weirs at West Mersea are 570 meters south east of St Peter’s Well, are well preserved and may be an example of an unusual double weir.

Aerial studies show the timbers as well preserved, with large sections protruding out of the mud. The weir could well be one of three fisheries mentioned as existing at Mersea Island in the Doomsday Book.

Information from Historic England.

This post has been categorised under: History.


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