The following is the text of a recording Ron Hall made for the Mersea Museum 2007 display on fish traps.
Fish traps or 'weirs' as they are termed locally, are to be found in many locations within the Blackwater estuary. The traps are constructed on areas that, when traps were in use, were in the inter-tidal zone - i.e. the area that is submerged at high tide and exposed at low tide.
The traps on the Blackwater are all constructed from timber, and generally consist of two rows of upright posts set in a V formation. The V shaped construction was oriented with the open end facing the ebb (or outgoing)
tide, and at the base of the V some form of collecting area, consisting of a basket or pound, was constructed. The lengths of the arms of the V differ at each trap location. One West Mersea trap is about 170 metres long whilst the complex of traps further up the river at Collins Creek extends for some 1,660 metres.
Archaeological evidence indicates that wattle panels were fixed to the upright posts and that fish that had entered the open end of the trap were forced by the tidal flow into the pound. The stranded fish were recovered at low tide. At one site an extensive layer of fish bone has been identified, indicating that fish may have been processed close to
Investigation indicates that some wattling panels were fixed to the land surface around the post bases. This has been interpreted by archaeologists as aiding the construction of the trap by consolidating the land
surface, and also assisting in combating any erosion and undermining of the surface by wave or tide action whilst the trap was in use.
The timber posts are generally 100-150mm in diameter and spaced anywhere between 300 and 500mm apart. On many the bark still survives, and on others which have either been radially cleft or split, tool marks can be observed. Due to decay and erosion, the posts now only protrude above the
surface by some 250mm., but it is thought that when the traps were in use, the post supported a wattle wall at least 1.2 metres high. Analysis of timber from one site on the North shore showed that the upright posts
were mainly oak, with some birch and willow. At a corresponding site on the South bank of the estuary the upright posts consisted almost exclusively of alder. Samples taken from the wattle panels show that they
were constructed from oak, willow, birch and hazel.
Timber from a number of the Blackwater fish trap sites as been radiocarbon dated. Results reveal an age of between 1300 to 1100 years old, indicating that the traps date from the Saxon times of 600 to 800 AD.
Who were our Saxon forbears who managed the woodland that produced the thousands of posts? Who constructed the traps and caught the fish? Did they eat the catch themselves or did they trade it? We may never know, but we can be certain that harvesting the sea had been established in the locality long before detailed written records were kept.
Ron L. Hall
16 June 2007
Ron Hall was from Maldon. He passed away 8th November 2008.
Ron Hall with a longer audio version of this text
Ron Hall talking to Don Rainbird about fish traps
The Changing Foreshore - slides from a 2008 talk by Ralph Merry