Friday, May 11, 2007

Vanishing Lakes

The following article first appeared in the 'Wyre Archaeology Omnibus' a couple of years ago. We've decided to reproduce it here (complete with black and white illustrations) be honest we didn't have time to work on anything new this week.

As no doubt most of us are aware, during the Iron Age when Julius Caesar was casting his wary eye across the English Channel with a view to invading Britain, the local population of the Wyre consisted of a division of Celtic Brigantes known as the Setantii. And, as most of us are also probably aware, the name ‘Setantii’ was either derived from Portus Setantiorum or the port itself was named after our friendly natives. Whatever the case ‘Setantii’ literally translated means ‘Dwellers in the Land of Water’ and our local Celts were so named with good reason. In fact Dio Cassius described the Setantii as a hardy race who “…continued for several days up to their chins in water regardless of their hunger.”
Yes…the Wyre is a boggy place, especially when you’re out hunting down mere stones in the rain or sinking up to your chin in one of the creeks around Barnaby Sands…but surely there wasn’t enough water around two thousand years ago to warrant the lurid description above? Well, actually there was…and, believe it or not, most of it has now gone. As Richard Watson of the Pilling Historical Society told us, geological evidence indicates that the Fylde was in fact originally an island, the River Wyre stretching all the way down from Fleetwood to the River Ribble.
Then there’s Pilling Moss, which was almost completely submerged by the legendary ‘Black Lake’ until the monks of Cockersand partially drained it in the thirteenth century.
In fact the area was so impassable in Neolithic times that the locals were forced to construct the Kate’s Pad, a raised wooden platform that criss-crossed the landscape in all directions. The section of the Kate’s Pad illustrated below is currently on display in the Fylde Country Life Museum.

Down the road, on the outskirts of Nateby, in 1996 a team of excavators (the society’s very own Neil Thompson and Headlie Lawrenson being amongst their number) dug into an embankment close to Humblescough Farm. Just below the surface they unearthed the remains of a ‘pile settlement’, or man-made island, which had originally stood towards one end of the now dried-up Ainspool Lake. Obviously the Celts who built it considered Ainspool as good fortification, the construction being large enough to house upwards of twenty buildings.
A second pile settlement was also discovered at Nateby Lodge. As for Ainspool itself, it was eventually drained sometime around the 1940s.
Further south at High Furlong in Poulton, in 1970 Tony Scholey was looking into the foundations for the new house next door when he noticed a skull and part of an antler protruding from the trench. Grabbing his shovel he dug out the remains of a large skeleton, which he then carefully preserved.
Archaeologist J.S. Hallam was called in and on July 30th he announced to the world that the remains belonged to a Mesolithic elk. Following a prolonged and fruitless battle with the local inhabitants, this unfortunate animal had apparently stumbled onto another long since evaporated lake, which turned out not to be quite as frozen as it had originally suspected.
Harold, as the skeletal remains are now affectionately known, is currently on display in the Harris Museum, Preston.

South of the Wyre, the rest of the Fylde also has its share of missing meres. According to William Thornber, at Peel, between Marton and Lytham, there once stood “…the lake of water called Curridmere, mentioned in the grant of Richard Fitz Roger to the monks of Durham; its situation is marked by the land it once covered, bearing the name of the tarns.”
And, as a simple cursory glance at any old maps clearly demonstrates, Marton Mere originally covered an area considerably greater than the one that it covers today.
So, on reflection then, was it fair comment for the Romans to call our locals ‘Dwellers in the Land of Water’? Well, all things considered, the Romans needn’t worry too much about any recrimination…

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