A short history of the Chesworth farm wetland

This area of Horsham town in general and Chesworth in particular has almost certainly been farmed in some form for well over a thousand years – and maybe as many as 2000 years!

Over the centuries the various fields around the farm are sure to have produced a range of crops and there appears to have been a predominance of root vegetables grown. It is likely that much of this would have been used as fodder for livestock, including potatoes and turnips for cattle and horses.

It is certainly clear that the current layout of the fields were well established long before a map produced around 1724. The more detailed 1844 tithe map clearly shows the majority of the fields that bordered both sides of the Arun were called “lags” probably indicating fields that were low-lying and liable to flood. It is doubtful that crops would have been grown in any of these fields due to the potential of waterlogging and most likely would have been used as grazing pasture or, in the case of slightly higher ground, meadow.

According to the tithe map, the name of the field that stretches from the boardwalk to the line of three oak trees behind the screen-hide is White Gate Lag. The second, which was much narrower, once extended from just below the line of oak trees to Kerves Lane and White’s Bridge beyond and was called Holloway Field; however, since its change of size and shape it is now known as Riverside Field. The tithe map clearly shows that both fields were used as pasture.

Wetland pasture

The low-lying fields that border the River Arun have almost certainly been subject to regular flooding and, as such, are most likely to have been wetland pasture for the greater part of their existence. Wetland pasture was a important piece of productive land and with experienced management would produce a valuable hay crop interspersed with quality livestock grazing meadow. The basic principle was to cut the hay in its fresh flush in late spring and then allow livestock to graze the new growth from late summer. This type of field management would naturally produce a high yield and provide ideal conditions for a wide range of spring and summer flowers. The current management broadly follows this regime with winter flooding, spring and summer growth of flowering plants, a late hay crop, followed by a short period of sward recovery and then the introduction of a variety of livestock including the British White cattle.

The Weir

By 1897 a small weir with a brick sluice had been set into the flow of the river and had created a small island. However, by 1911 a larger weir had been built and probably provided a more steady water flow for a hydraulic ram situated on the far bank opposite the boardwalk. One theory is that this hydraulic device pumped water up from the river to provide running water for the farm operations.

The two plaques, overlooking the weir from the viewing platform, remembering Pops and Jinks, refer to a husband and wife who frequented the riverside walks during their life. These were re-dedicated in 2015 in a ceremony with the couple’s daughters.

Recent developmentsP1100841

In 2014 the Friends of Chesworth Farm and the Arun and Rother Connections project along with Horsham District Council (HDC) helped to bring these ancient fields back to more natural flood meadows. Some of the old features and unwanted trees and overgrowth were removed and new seasonal shallow scrapes and pools were dug to encourage more wetland wildlife. The pond was extended and a board walk put in to give you a better view of the wetland below. With regular management and careful monitoring the wildlife here is flourishing.

Not long after the purchase of Chesworth Farm by HDC the new hedge-line at the southern end of Gravel Pit field was planted. This effectively extended what was Holloway Field creating a larger field that has been re-named Riverside Field. As part P1100472of the 2014 project this “new field” was divided, this time by a fence (left), in part to protect some of the flowering plants in the wetter area, to recreate some additional grazing areas as well as to protect the riverbank from severe erosion.

If you look carefully at the field beyond the line of three oaks you can see slightly different types of plants growing in the field below the fence. The line of the change marks the boundary between what was Holloway Field and Gravel Pit. In fact, it seems most likely that the fallen oak tree once stood within the old hedge-line. The reason for the current difference in plant types is probably because Gravel Pit was arable and Holloway Field pasture – both managed through different regimes.

Photos by Tim Thomas

 

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