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Title :The Dew Pond Makers of Imber
Author :Edgar Glanfield
Publisher :
Date :1922
Journal :WAM Vol. 42, pages 73-5
Full Text :A valuable article by the Rev. Edgar Glanfield, Vicar of Imber, appeared in the Wiltshire Gazette, Dec. 29th, 1922, in which he sets down information as to the method of making these ponds, gained directly from living parishioners of Imber, who in past years carried on a regular and hereditary business of dew pond making -Charles Wise, aged 81, Joel Cruse, aged 79, both master dew pond makers, and Jabez Earley and Daniel Pearce, both nearly 80 years old, their assistants. A great deal has been written on the subject of the way in which dew ponds gain their water supply, but it is generally believed now that they are chiefly dependent on rain. Mr Glanfield however, is concerned only with their formation.

"Up to ten years ago the dew pond makers started upon their work about the 12th of September, and they toured the country for a period of six or seven months, making in sequence from six to fifteen ponds, according to size and conveniences, in a season of winter and spring..... They travelled throughout Wiltshire and Hampshire, and occasionally into Somersetshire arid Berkshire, and even into Kent." The dew pond maker with three assistants at 18s. a week, would require about four weeks to make a pond 22 yards, or one chain, square. Providing all his own tools and appliances he would charge about 40 for the work. " The work commenced by the removal of the soil to the depth of eight feet. The laying of the floor is then proceeded with from the centre, called the crown, four or five yards in circumference, and to this each day a width of about two yards is added, and continued, course by course until the sides of the basin attain to the normal level of the site. Only so much work with the layers of materials set in order, is undertaken in one day as can be finished at night, and this must be covered over with straw and steined. No layering may be done in frosty or inclement weather. And this is the method of construction:- seventy cart loads of clay are scattered over the area, suggested above. The clay is thoroughly puddled, trodden and beaten in flat with beaters, a coat of lime is spread, slaked, and rightly beaten until the surface is as smooth as a table, and it shines like glass. After it has been hammered in twice, a second coat of lime is applied, to the thickness of half-an-inch, which is wetted and faced to save the under face. A waggon load of straw is arranged and the final surface is covered with rough earth to the thickness of nine inches. The pond when finished affords a depth of water of seven feet." It is then fenced round to keep off cattle and horses, whose hoofs, would break through the bed, and admit sheep only, for whose use the ponds are made. The durability of the dew pond is put at "perhaps 20 years, though "there are ponds in good condition now which were made 36 years ago, and which have never been known to fail to yield an adequate supply of water even in this year of drought (1921). The decay of the industry is attributed partly to the greatly increased cost of the making of the ponds, and partly to the fact that they have been superseded by the windmill pumping water from wells.

Mr. Edward Coward, of Devizes, had an excellent letter in the Spectator, January 14th, 1922, p. 47, on the method of making Dew Ponds in Wiltshire. He says "the site is first excavated, and the soil taken out thrown up as a bank so as to lengthen the shore of the pond. A start is made from the centre. A layer of clay about three inches thick when loose, is strenuously and methodically rammed. Then lime is spread, and it is rammed again. Two more layers of clay and lime are treated in the same way. The work is built up from the centre, not sectionally up the sides. Each day's work is carefully covered with straw; this, for the moment, is to prevent the puddle from drying and cracking. When the whole area is treated it is covered with a layer of straw more than a foot thick. This in turn is covered with nine inches of chalk rubble. The object of the straw is to protect the puddle from indentations which might be made by the rubble until it is properly set. A pond made in this way, thirty feet square at the edge of the puddle area, took seventy small cartloads of clay and about twelve tons of lime. I have heard, of course, of the straw being put under the clay, and am aware of the insulating theory involved. I cannot conceive, however, how a puddle could be made good on the top of a springy substance like straw. Firm ground to ram upon is the very essence of this method of construction." He regards rain as the most important factor in the filling of the ponds. "In my opinion the whole surface of the hollow in a pond which is used daily by sheep becomes puddled by the action of their hoofs, and with the exception of the first rainfall after a drought, practically the whole of the rain which falls finds its way to the water.

Abbreviations used:
  • WAM Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine
  • WNQ Wiltshire Notes and Queries



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