An Old Fishery
There is an old fishery in Besselsleigh Woods!
Walk into the woods from Appleton and take the left-hand branch off the main path. After about 250 metres, leave the path and turn left across some boggy ground to find the Osse brook where it runs through a widened channel. It is in the shape of a long, thin triangle. The wide, downstream, end is about 10 metres across and it is about 30 metres long.
In the past the brook ran a natural course a little south of the fishery. The fishery had a feeder from the brook at its narrow northern end.
In WW2 the brook was diverted from its original course, by Italian prisoners of war, and was sent through the fishery. The brook was cleared again in about 1970.
The fishery is very near the “Stirigan” (sturgeon) pool given as a marker of Appleton’s boundary in its Anglo-Saxon charter of 942AD. It is hard to believe that this is the same Saxon fishery but it is no more than a stone’s throw away from it. Presumably any pool in this area would be fed from the brook and so wouldn’t have been too far away.
The fishery is marked on OS maps as a small rectangle of water with the brook in its original position. Although it is now in a wood, it is not ancient woodland and on John Rocque’s map of 1762 the site is open land. Collier’s Copse, the most southern end of Besselsleigh Woods, is the only extant woodland that is shown on the 1762 map. Ancient Woodland is defined as woodland that has been continuous since 1600.
There was another much larger fishery on the brook midway between Besselsleigh and Cumnor – shown on Rocque's map of 1762. There were also fisheries near the origin of Osse brook in Cumnor. They are still there – behind the houses opposite Cumnor pond. These belonged to the monks at Cumnor Place when it was the finest Grange of Abingdon Abbey.
In the Domesday Book, Appleton had the most valuable fishery in Berkshire – almost certainly on the River Thames. In 1610, somewhere nearby, there was still a river fishery called Pollard’s Castle, over a mile long – but we don’t know its exact position or anything else about it.
John Evans for AwEHG
Find Oxfordshire Historic Environment Record online and search for “Appleton”. This will produce 58 records and the fishery is described as number 53.
Domesday Book & Pollard’s Castle: