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Interpreting the past in and around Stonnall
The Lost Lake of Stonnall

by Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons
April 2009

Abstract
This paper intends to show that the roughly rectangular piece of land that is enclosed by Wall Heath Lane, Lynn Lane and Mill Lane at Stonnall in Staffordshire was the site of a lake.

This paper will discuss the circumstantial evidence for its existence and its eventual disappearance. It will adduce topographical, geological, etymological and historical material in support of the arguments presented.

The Characters
These are the main 'characters' of the following investigation:-

Introduction
Stonnall is a picturesque village located to the south-west of Lichfield, to the north of Birmingham, to the east of Walsall and to the south of Brownhills. The village is divided into Upper and Lower Stonnall, representing the high and low ends of the valley that it occupies.

Upper Stonnall, Staffordshire

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

At the western side of the valley, there is the particularly high ground of Castle Hill and Lazy Hill. At the eastern side of the valley, there is the high ground of Grove Hill and Church Hill.

The village is associated with the neighbourhoods of Thornes and Lynn.

Considerations of Prehistory
During the last Ice Age, Stonnall was the scene of substantial glaciation. Judging from the prevalence of clay, sand, gravel and cobbles in the soil of the area, it is safe to assume that, in the coldest period of that time, practically the whole area was covered with ice.

Towards the end of this period, as the Earth began gradually to enter a warming phase about 10,000 years ago, the remains of the ice-cover formed a glacier that occupied and accentuated the valley as the formation moved slowly but inexorably north-eastwards, gouging a path before it.

As the ice receded, people began to re-enter Great Britain from continental Europe: the hunter-gatherers in search of game and the fruits of the summers. As Paula Bryars has pointed out, there is substantial evidence that the area around Stonnall has witnessed continuous human settlement since the early Mesolithic period.

Some time later, when agriculture arrived in this country after its spread across Europe from its Middle Eastern origins, Stonnall with its fertile soil and ready access to left-over water from the glaciation period, was an attractive location for the farmers of the time.

It was during this period that the land first became settled by agriculturalists, even before the advent of the Bronze Age about 4,000 years ago. As the local economy developed, its community, field system, pathways and crafts became established.

The Hill Fort
The prosperity of the area was such that, at a point some time in the Iron Age that began about 3,000 years ago, the community was sufficiently well-organised and resourced that it was able to build the hill fort at Castle Hill as a means of protecting its people and economic assets from attack by itinerant raiders or from aggressive neighbours. It almost certainly functioned as a trading and social centre additionally.

Although the hill fort was constructed in British prehistory, we can be reasonably certain as to the broad identity of the people who built it.

Part of the hill fort earthworks at Castle Hill

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

About 3,000 years ago, Britain was the target of migration from Europe. As archaeological, linguistic and genetic studies have shown, these newcomers arrived in fairly large numbers, bringing new technology, new cultural practices and a new language with them.

These people were representatives of the Celtic La Tène culture that originated in west-central Europe. Their language is known as Old British and it is the direct ancestor of modern Welsh. As we will see, these facts will be of great significance as the story of the Lost Lake unfolds.

Celtic Placenames in Staffordshire
As Britain entered the historical period, somewhat before the Roman Conquest in 43, we can be certain that various forms of Old British were spoken more or less throughout these islands.

We know this because their descendent languages, principally Welsh, Cornish and Breton, which was transposed to France by British migrants in the 5th and 6th centuries, survived into modern times. Also, a large number of Celtic placenames remain on the British landscape - and these are by no means confined to the acknowledged Celtic areas of Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. Indeed, in England, Celtic placenames are not at all uncommon, with Avon, Dover, London and Penrith among the many examples.

Therefore, we can say with certainty that, despite the advent of the Anglo-Saxon period immediately following the collapse of Roman administration in the early 5th century and the establishment of English as the language of what was to become England, Celtic placenames have persisted in common usage in this part of Great Britain to the present day.

In Staffordshire, there are many such examples, some of which are combined with Anglo-Saxon elements. A brief selection with meanings is as follows:-

Barr - 'hill';
Brewood - the first element 'bre' - 'hill';
Hints - 'way';
Kinver - 'before (the) hill';
Leomansley - the first element 'leoman' - 'elm';
Lichfield - the first element 'lich' from 'Letoceton', the Old British name for the village of Wall - 'grey woods';
Lizard - 'court garden';
Onn - 'ash';
Penkridge - 'head (of the) tumulus';
Ridware - the first element 'rid' - 'ford';

Significantly, there are also some English placenames that indicate the presence of resident Welsh people, local examples including Comberford, Walsall and Walton.

The point here is that there was a sufficiently large number of Celtic speakers to pass on some of their placenames to incoming English speakers during the somewhat mysterious period of the Dark Ages, after which England, Scotland and Wales emerged as national entities.

The Placename Lynn
Whereas the placenames Stonnall and Thornes may be understood readily by reference to Anglo-Saxon, Lynn may not be interpreted by the same means. However, with reference to our knowledge of Old British and Welsh, we can find a possible meaning of lake (cf Modern Welsh llyn).

There is, of course, no lake in Lynn, but if the placename really can be traced back to Celtic origins, it seems to point to a long-lost feature of the landscape.

Grove Hill, Stonnall
The tree marks the location of a tumulus and was once surrounded by a grassy knoll where an excavation trench had been dug by archaeologists..

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

As already discussed, the means by which this placename could have entered local usage conforms entirely with existing patterns: at some point in the Dark Ages in the 5th century, local Celtic speakers - the descendants of the hill fort builders - were present in sufficient numbers and had sufficient influence to pass on a placename to incoming Anglo-Saxons, just as others of their kin had done elsewhere in Staffordshire and throughout England.

The placename does not of itself prove that a lake was present in Stonnall at the time of the Dark Age upheavals, or at any time at all for that matter. However, it must be taken as very strong evidence that a lake existed in the area at some point in time.

If the lake ever existed, it will have left evidence in the landscape. We will now examine the evidence for its creation and eventual disappearance.

The Source of the Lake
When a glacier melts away, tell-tale signs of its previous existence are always evident in the landscape. Besides the geological debris including sand, gravel, clay and cobbles - much in evidence in the soil of the area we are considering - they almost invariably leave ponds, lakes and streams. In Stonnall, two natural water features survived into modern times.

It is these two features that are remnants of the glacier.

Our glacier, though sizeable enough to cause the abrasions that created the soil features already discussed, was never likely to have been in the same league as those that exist in, for example, the very high peaks of the Swiss Alps. Nevertheless, a very substantial amount of water must have been released when it began to melt, creating the pond and the brook in the process.

After this period, the brook and pond would have been fed by water draining from the direction of the high points of Castle Hill and Lazy Hill, and by rainwater - processes that continue until the present day.

Castle Hill, Stonnall
as seen from Chester Road. After having been fortified, it was a very convenient place of refuge and a possible marketplace and social centre for the Iron Age villagers of Stonnall and the surrounding area.

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

Examination of the present course of the brook and its width and depth reveals that, although water flow is at the present time little more than a trickle, its original size was more substantial in terms of the volume of water it carried. Indeed, as we will see, it was substantial enough to perform a very useful function.

In Summary
In summary, the glacier melted gradually, creating a sustained flow of a large volume of melt water that ran away down the valley, leaving a pond and a stream in its trail. A natural consequence of this process could be the creation of a lake somewhere downstream, which would be replenished constantly by the brook.

The System of Roads in and around Stonnall
As a location of human settlement for several thousand years, we can be certain that Stonnall's roads were established as rights of way at a very early stage, probably very soon after the beginnings of agriculture in the area. These thoroughfares became formalised with the coming of tarmacadam and similar surfacing methods in the 19th century.

A selection of Celtic Iron Age coins
Coins such as these almost certainly changed hands at the hill fort.

Some noteworthy Iron Age Britons:
Top left, a coin issued by Caratacus, the leader of British resistance to the Roman invasion of 43AD under Emperor Claudius;
Bottom left, a coin issued by Caratacus's father Cunobelinos (Cymbeline of Shakespeare) who, according to British tradition, was raised and educated in Rome by Emperor Augustus, but who returned to Britain in later life;
Centre, the fisherman character, with his catch, trident, bowler hat and breeches is especially evocative.

Representations of horses and corn, particularly barley, are recurring themes on early British coins.

(From a series of 19th-century engravings.)

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

As every wayfarer knows, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. When any road deviates from this natural progression, so the theory goes, it is because over many generations the travellers who beat the original paths were obliged to avoid obstacles in their way. These obstructions might have included trees, lakes, bogs, dwellings, outcrops of rock, pools, etc. With this in mind, we may now consider some of Stonnall's roads in order to determine how they developed.

Chester Road is the main trunk road in the area. It was and is the main route connecting population centres to the south and north of Stonnall. Two routes in the area branch off this road.

Gravelley Lane connects Chester Road to Church Road, Lower Stonnall, Footherley and Shenstone Wood End.
Main Street connects Chester Road to the heart of the village.
From Stonnall, travellers could move on to Sutton, Walsall, Brownhills, Cannock, Shenstone, Muckley Corner, Wall and Lichfield, namely the main surrounding population centres since ancient times.

Church Road should be regarded as the shortest route over the high points of Grove Hill and Church Hill. It is certainly not the case that the road became established as a result of the action of churchgoers because St Peter's Church was built as late as 1823 (although in keeping with Christian practice, the church might have been built deliberately on land that had previously been used for pagan ritual purposes that might have contributed to the course of the road).

The location of Thornes Hall
Church Road, Stonnall

The building and its outhouses were located somewhat to the rear of the trees in the foreground.

The hedgerow of the public footpath between Church Road and Main Street can be seen at the foot of Grove Hill in the background to the right.

This old photo also shows the grassy knoll that originally surrounded the solitary tree of Grove Hill.

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

As Church Road descends from Church Hill and passes the site of Thornes Hall, a mediaeval trading post, and Thornes Hall Farm, it branches at the Pinfold and Allerton's Farm, with one fork to the left at Church Lane heading in the direction of the village, which then meets Main Street at a low point in the valley.

The junction of Church Lane and Church Road
The pinfold can be seen centre-left.

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

However, continuing along Church Road we head towards Wall Heath Lane and Lynn, meeting the eastern end of Main Street on the way. Just before this junction, Mill Lane branches off to the right.

It should be noted that the entrance to Mill Lane is offset relative to the end of Main Street. The Mill Lane Offset is of great significance and we will consider the explanation for it below.

The Mill Lane Offset
as seen from the eastern end of Main Street.

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

If we now retrace our steps to Chester Road and travel in the direction of the hill fort with Grove Hill to our right, we find ourselves on a relatively new causeway and, as we approach Lazy Hill Road, we find ourselves on a relatively new section of road that deviates markedly from the original course as shown by the 1887 Ordnance Survey Map.

Turning right at Lazy Hill Road, we enter Main Street at a point where Old Chester Road descends from the direction of the hill fort. This was once a crossroads situated near the village pond. The eastern end of Old Chester Road is now obscured by a recent housing development. Its course is much lower than its present-day incarnation. These facts raise a significant question as to why the highway engineers of the time decided to alter the course and raise the level of Chester Road. Evidently, they had identified a problem that was serious enough to require an arduous and expensive solution.

The 1887 Ordnance Survey Map of Old Chester Road
The village pond can be seen to the right of the junction with Main Street

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

Continuing on our way down Main Street, we pass through the heart of the village and, at a point close to the Old Smithy, the road then sweeps to the right, curving to a point where it meets Church Lane at Thornes Croft. As we will see, this point is of great significance.

The road then straightens and meets Wall Heath Lane to the left and Church Road to the right.

If we now consider Church Road/Church Lane and Main Street together, we can say that, for the most part, they occupy the higher ground to the left and right of the valley and that they describe a more-or-less horseshoe shape. This raises a significant question as to exactly what was located within the Horseshoe that required avoidance on the part of the many generations of wayfarers who beat the original paths thousands of years ago.

Water, Water Everywhere
If we now return to Chester Road, we can consider the reasons why the highway engineers of the time decided to alter the course of the road and to raise its level.

As we have seen, Chester Road once descended from the direction of the hill fort and crossed the junction of Lazy Hill Road and Main Street at a point near the village pond. Any water draining from Castle Hill and from the high ground in the direction of Shire Oak would have caused major problems to traffic at this point.

Old Chester Road, Stonnall
descending from the direction of Castle Hill.

It is now considered as part of Main Street and is named as such.

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

For centuries, the western part of Old Chester Road would have been little more than a river during bad weather and the crossroads would have been, in effect, a ford. Of course, all this water had to go somewhere and there was only one possibility. It had to flow down the valley.

Thus, the road engineers decided on a permanent solution to a perennial problem: by-pass the trouble spot, raise the level of the road and improve drainage in the process.

In Summary
In summary at this point, we may conclude that, due to the effects of glacial melt water and natural drainage, a substantial amount of water has passed down the valley over many centuries. This water had created marshy land within the Church Road-Main Street Horseshoe and that it was this feature of the landscape that established the pattern of these roads as wayfarers had sought to avoid, literally, getting bogged down, by travelling along the higher ground to the left and right of the valley.

The Brook and its Fords
The brook, then, is a vestige of the glacier that once occupied the valley and, ever since the Ice Age, it has served to drain the surrounding land. We will now examine it in greater detail and plot its course downstream.

Until the 1960s, when Thornes Croft was developed, the brook dropped into a culvert on the village side of the Main Street/Church Lane junction. (This culvert was eventually extended so that its entrance is now located at the nearest corner of the village playing fields).

Once again, here we see a road engineer's solution to the problem of a ford. Evidently, when the roads were surfaced originally, the ford at this point was eradicated by forcing the brook to enter drains below the surface of the road. This then raises the question of where the original course of the brook was located following this point.

Looking at the low, flat and straight section of Main Street between Thornes Croft and the junction with Wall Heath Lane will give us a clue. This section of Main Street must have run in parallel with the original course of the brook before it was obscured by the culvert. Moreover, as the brook crossed Church Road/Wall Heath Lane, there would have been yet another ford in times before the culvert was constructed.

The brook as it enters the Lynn Rectangle
The continuation of the brook after it emerges from the culvert.

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

This means that the original course of the brook continued on the opposite side of Church Road/Wall Heath Lane and indeed, after it exits from the culvert, its channel at that location can still be seen, as shown in the picture above.

The Hedgerows
It should be noted here that the course of the brook is followed by a hedgerow for much of its length, interrupted mainly by relatively new housing developments.

If we look at the general layout of hedges around Stonnall, we see that they are very regular in shape. Most fields are roughly rectangular and their hedgerows are straight. Although some of the fields have been combined by the removal of hedgerow boundaries over the last 100 years or so, we see that the basic pattern of the fields has changed but little since the 1887 Ordnance Survey Map was produced.

If we now examine the fields within the roughly rectangular piece of land that is contained within Mill Lane, Wall Heath Lane and Lynn Lane - the Lynn Rectangle - we note some exceptions to this regularity. Indeed, almost all the fields are extremely irregular in shape.

If we consider the field that adjoins to the left of the entrance to Mill Lane from Church Road, we do not see a straight hedge, but one that meanders - as if it were following the course of a stream.

The meandering hedge today

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

This pattern could only have been created by a stream running into low, flat ground.
At the present time, this hedge turns sharply northwards after a short distance and then continues roughly eastwards. However, if we now turn to the 1887 OS map, we see that, originally, the meandering hedge did not turn at this point, but continued eastwards, so there were two hedges running more or less in parallel in an eastwards direction in a somewhat circuitous route. These two hedges formed yet another enclosure that is very irregular in shape.

The 1887 Ordnance Survey Map of the Lynn Rectangle

A - the meandering hedge and
B - its continuation

Note the extremely irregular field patterns

Source: HMSO


Both hedges begin at the junction of Main Street and Church Road/Wall Heath Lane, precisely where it is suggested it was once necessary to ford the brook. This raises some more questions as to whether the one, the other, or both of the hedges marked the original course of the brook and the possibility, therefore, that it separated into two or more distinct streams after the ford at the end of Main Street.

If we now return to the 1887 OS map, we can see that the parallel hedges continued as far as the eastern side of the Rectangle - right up to, and almost meeting at our next point of interest.

The Mill
The 1887 Ordnance Survey Map clearly marks a mill that was situated in Lower Stonnall about a quarter way up Mill Lane as it approaches Lynn Lane in a northerly direction.

The map simply states 'flour mill' and does not mention the means by which it was powered, nor unfortunately does it mark any relevant water courses directly.

Lower Stonnall, Staffordshire
looking towards the south-east corner of Mill Lane and the Lynn Rectangle.

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

As far as mills are concerned, traditionally there have been broadly two means by which they were powered: wind and water. Here, wind can be ruled out because English windmills are invariably located on high ground. Our mill is most definitely located on low ground and therefore at some stage in its lifespan it may have been a watermill.

However, we now know* that, according to Kelly's Directory, in 1896 the mill was powered by steam and that it was operated by Thomas Petcher.

For it to function of course, there must have been a ready supply of flowing water. The placement of the mill was no accident and we can see from the 1887 OS map that it was deliberately situated directly in line with one of the two parallel hedges. This must mean that at least one, probably both of the hedges marked upper and lower channels of the brook as it brought water to the mill.

The mill was demolished at an unknown date, but it has left substantial traces.

The first is a very straight channel that approaches the mill from a roughly north-westerly direction. Undoubtedly, this channel was man-made because of the precision with which it was constructed and the fact that a ceramic pipe was laid to conduct water onwards from its lower terminus.

Bearing in mind that there were probably at least two branches of the brook bringing water to the mill originally, we can be reasonably certain that this millstream was a late addition to the workings of the mill and that it was constructed for a particular reason.

The course of the millstream
The millstream followed the hedge and fence shown here. It met the southern branch of the brook.

Note the glacial debris in the foreground.

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

If we now examine a present-day overhead satellite image of the area, we can see that the artificial channel meets a soil stain of what appears to be a watercourse. This feature is also marked partially with a hedge in the 1887 OS map and must be viewed as yet another branch of the brook.

If, as it seems, there were multiple courses of the brook and the mill was placed in-line with them to take fullest possible advantage of their flow, the question is raised as to why it became necessary to cut a millstream to one of the branches of the brook.

At the mill end of the millstream, this channel terminates at a very deep pit, our second trace of the mill. Undoubtedly, this is a water reservoir for the mill's steam engine. As to whether there may once have been, at an earlier stage of the mill's lifespan, a traditional millpond that was constructed to create a head of water that would power the mill periodically remains to be seen.

The location of the mill's water reservoir
Mill Lane, Lower Stonnall

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

Behind the fence, there is a very deep pit that is connected to the terminus of the millstream by a ceramic pipe.
In summary at this point, it is suggested that the brook quite naturally began to meander and to split into two or more branches as it entered the low ground of the Lynn Rectangle and that the millstream was cut in order to address a problem that was the result of a natural process that had been going on for centuries.

The Lynn Rectangle
Some of the most interesting features of the Rectangle from the point of view of this investigation are the enclosing roads. As we have seen, the wayfarers of thousands of years ago who beat out the original pathways would have travelled, if at all possible, in straight lines in order to get to places of interest.

The centre of the Lynn Rectangle
as seen from high ground to the south at Mill Lane, looking over low ground and towards high ground to the north at Lynn Lane.

A natural basin for a lake.

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

The next village to the east of Stonnall is Shenstone, a place that has also been inhabited since ancient times. Therefore, one would expect the road connection between the two villages to be a somewhat more direct route than it actually is. But this would have necessitated a diagonal pathway across the Rectangle, a route that simply does not exist.

High ground to the west of the Lynn Rectangle
now occupied by housing on Wall Heath Lane

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

Similarly, if we consider the western part of Mill Lane as the only direct route to Lower Stonnall and that its entrance is offset with regard to the end of Main Street, one might have expected a more direct route to have been established by a simple continuation of Main Street.

High ground to the south at Mill Lane

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

The only logical explanation for these facts is that the Rectangle once contained a serious and sizeable obstacle and that the pathways around it presented the minimum effort required to circumvent the obstruction. We will now consider the visual evidence pointing to the exact nature of that obstacle.

Satellite Photographic Imagery
In the 21st century, we have the considerable benefit of high-altitude photography furnished by satellite. Upon examining the image of the Rectangle, we can observe a number of features that are relevant to this investigation.

A satellite photo of the Lynn Rectangle

A - the meandering hedge
B - a vestige of a meandering water flow
C - the millstream, apparently cut to meet the water flow; note the two parallel north/south lines
D - uneven soil staining in circular patterns
E - the mill's water reservoir
F - the 'L'-shaped field
G - the original natural course of the brook eastwards
H - the exit stream from the mill

Source: Google

As we know, farming activity such as ploughing, that has taken place over hundreds of years, cannot erase ancient features of the landscape.

If we look closely at the image of the Rectangle, we can see distinct echoes of the past.

One of the most significant of these markings may be considered to be the prominent circular pattern in the upper part of the 'L' shaped field referred to above.

The two parallel lines adjacent to the artificial channel appear to be vestiges of earthworks that were intended to retain water.

Satellite Topographic Imagery
Although the land enclosed by the rectangle is somewhat uneven, topographic satellite imagery reveals that it is indeed surrounded by high ground that constitutes a natural enclosure - or banks - that would be suitable for the retention of a large volume of water.

A relief map of the Lynn Rectangle (lighter = lower)
A, B, C, and D - the high ground surrounding the rectangle.

Note how the roads avoid the low ground within. The surrounding roads follow this high ground exactly, emphasising the suggestion that the roads formed out of a need to avoid a water-based obstacle.

Source: Julian Ward-Davies

Low ground at a point outside the eastern bank corresponds with the placement of the mill.

This is exactly the kind of topography that would produce a lake, given the prolonged natural drainage from the upper valley. Certainly, the lake would have been somewhat shallow and this would have contributed to, in geological terms at least, its rather short lifespan.

Conclusions
Given all the evidence as outlined above, it is possible to extrapolate a sequence of events that began immediately after the last Ice Age. It describes a process which started during a very wet period and which continued by stages to the drier period of the present day.

About 10,000 years ago, a glacier that had occupied the valley in Stonnall melted away and left several vestiges of its existence: the village pond, the brook, probably a lake in the upper part of the valley between Church Road and Main Street and a lake corresponding in size, shape and location to the Lynn Rectangle.

Farmers began to lead a settled existence in the area at a time when agricultural practices were introduced about 3,000 years ago. Almost immediately, the people of the day - that is, the drovers, riders, carters and pedestrians - would have set about the process of creating pathways in order to get to places of interest as quickly and easily as possible.

However, they found that the upper valley floor was impassable because of waterlogged land. Thus they were obliged to avoid it by moving along higher ground to the left and right of the valley. This is how the Main Street and Church Road/Lane Horseshoe came into being.

En route from Upper Stonnall to Shenstone or Lower Stonnall, the way along Main Street from Church Lane was easy for a short distance as travellers were able to move onwards in parallel with the brook, after negotiating a ford near the entrance to Church Lane and Thornes Croft. This is how the flat and straight eastern end of Main Street came into being.

Ancient travellers were then confronted with the next obstruction, namely the Lost Lake, which they were also obliged to skirt around on high ground. This is how Wall Heath Lane, Lynn Lane and Mill Lane came into being, creating the Lynn Rectangle in the process.

Travellers could not proceed along Main Street as a continuous and direct route to Lower Stonnall because the south-west corner of the Lost Lake obstructed their way. Thus, they were obliged to turn right at Church Road and then turn left on somewhat higher ground to be able to continue their journey, fording a branch of the brook as they went. This is how the Mill Lane Offset came into being.

Travellers en route to Shenstone, who chose to turn left at the eastern end of Main Street so as to avoid the Lost Lake, were obliged to negotiate a ford once more at the northern branch of the brook. It was then necessary for them to travel along the western bank of the lake, a pathway that would eventually become Wall Heath Lane. Upon reaching higher ground at the northern bank of the Lost Lake, they were able to turn right and continue their journey along a pathway that would eventually become Lynn Lane.

As the lake was a prominent feature of the landscape, the Old British/Welsh word for 'lake' - Lynn - was applied to it by the Celtic-speaking relatives of the hill fort builders. This descriptive name subsequently passed over as a placename to Anglo-Saxon newcomers during the Dark Age period.

The lake may have persisted for thousands of years but, as time went by, constant natural drainage, changing weather patterns, evaporation and a lowering water table caused the flow of the brook to dwindle to the point where the lake began to recede, eventually fragmenting into separate pools, as indicated by the concentric patterns in the satellite image. Earthworks appear to have been constructed at some time in order to retain as much water as possible. Human and farm animal consumption may also have contributed to the lake's decline.

By the time the land within the Horseshoe had dried out, the road system was, as it were, set in stone. The former marshy area was reclaimed for agricultural purposes and some crossfield footpaths were all that were necessary to improve communications.

The brook also fragmented into at least two, possibly more streams, with all of them directed whether by natural or artificial means to the same point, thus enabling the mill to do its work.

As the Rectangle continued to dry out, farmers began to reclaim the land bit by irregular bit, especially by digging ditches to the sides of the new fields. Hedges were laid to mark new boundaries. Certain of the brook's channels were considered as boundaries and hedges were laid along them accordingly.

As this process continued, all that was left of the lake was represented by marshy land through which the brook continued on its course.

At some point, the supply of water furnished by the brook became unreliable from the miller's point of view. The upstream engineering work that was carried out on Chester Road may have contributed to the problem. If the mill started its life as water-powered, the miller may have decided to switch to steam-power at this point, because less water would be required to continue its operation.

The route of the brook's branches were now too circuitous: they were taking water into land that was only serving to dissipate it. The miller decided to cut a millstream as a short circuit to an upper point of the brook where the flow was still reliable enough. A water reservoir was created to serve the steam engine.

Eventually, the flow of water down the valley all but ceased, so that land within the Rectangle could be fully reclaimed. At this time, the mill finally became inoperable.

The Economic Importance of the Lake
When human beings began to occupy the area around Stonnall after the last Ice Age, above all they would have been seeking a reliable source of water. Thus, the lake may have been the principal reason for settlement in the area. Without it, Stonnall might never have come into being.

Confirmation and Dating
So far, this investigation describes a theory that is based on some pretty strong evidence. However, it will remain a theory until such time as some form of physical investigation is conducted.

The lake might have been used for a variety of purposes, including fishing, ritual practices and watering cattle. All these activities could have left traces.

Even today, the ground is very damp, if not actually somewhat waterlogged in places. Any artefacts under the soil would almost certainly be well-preserved and would provide valuable dating evidence.


**********

© Julian Ward-Davies 2009

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