Cresswell’s ancient ‘water-meadows’

Things seem to have gone a bit quiet on the Cresswell Blythe-Park expansion plans – in which 170 new homes will be built in the village and the current industrial park will also double in size. However we are pretty sure that, behind the scenes, both the developers and the community group which opposes the plans, VVSM, continue to work away.

One thing that has come to light in all this is that the expansion of the industrial site will take place on top of some of Cresswell’s ancient ‘water meadows’, that are probably centuries-old.  The developers’ own researches indicate that these are the major heritage legacy that could be disturbed by the new build.

Water meadows

Water meadows’ are the areas of land that used to be flooded deliberately in the old days: to force early growth of grass in the spring; to improve the quality of the grass sward; and to increase the summer hay crop.
But drowning the land in this way can also kill the grass, so landowners cleverly used sluices and ridges & channels to keep the water moving and oxygenated, so preserving the grass.

In fact, Staffordshire’s water meadows may be some of the earliest in the West Midlands. (Systems around Uttoxeter used stone work for sluices and culverts, which just shows how old they are – perhaps 500 years old).

Cresswell water meadows ditches plus fills

Known old drainage systems of ditches and fills on the Cresswell river meadows . ‘A’ is where the new industrial expansion is planned to go

Cresswell’s old water meadows follow the line of the Blithe River, which makes sense, because these particular fields needed the extra source of water.
Older people in this area will also tell you that the wet fields just north of the railway line, near St Mary’s Church, were famous for their abundant crop of water-cress, thus giving the village its name of Cresswell.

Cresswell water meadows

Blue area shows the area along the River Blithe that was flooded for the old water meadows. It stretches from the Izaak Walton pub (top left) down to Paynsley, going right through the Blythe Park base

Sadly, Cresswell’s wet-fields seem to have suffered the general fate of most other water meadows in the UK. They were probably churned over and flattened around 100-150 years ago to enable modern farming practices to take place.

The amazingly fast disappearance of water meadows in Britain since the 1930s has not been good for wildlife. Old water meadows – with their open undulating grassland interspersed with derelict wet channels – support many threatened species of plant life and mammals, such as the water vole.

Artefacts?

The question is: are there still centuries-old remains – e.g. old drainage systems – beneath the surface?
According to the ‘Staffordshire Historic Environment Record’ the site (labelled 53250) is declared an “area of post-medieval water meadows” – and indeed a series of straight drains is recorded on current mapping of this area (see map).

The HER report goes on to wonder if any associated earthworks remain.  The HER’s guess is that they don’t, because they were likely ploughed over. However, it is only a guess – because no archaeological surveys, on the ground, have actually taken place….

Of course, the developers, as part of the planning permission process, do have to commission an archaeolgical  survey – but, at this stage, it’s not clear how thorough that survey has to be.
It will be interesting to see what transpires over the next few months.

As you can tell (!), we are not experts, so we’d appreciate any input.  If you can contribute to this article, we’d be very grateful!  Please leave a comment in the comments box below, or email us.

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References
Conserving Historic Water Meadows
Staffordshire’s Historic Environment Record
Staffordshire Historic Environment Record via Heritage Gateway

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