The Fishlake - An Introduction to the problem.
The Route of the Fishlake
The earliest written reference to the Fishlake by name seems to be in 1296 in the de L'Isle Papers.i
Through the centuries it was important to the locality, not only providing water, water power and sewerage to Romsey but also because the meadowland alongside it was of great value. Its name has been spelled in numerous ways: Firseflute, Fishlute, Fyshflet,Fishlett, Fishlake, Fish Slade, Fyhflood. 'Lake' may be, in origin, OE lacu meaning stream, particularly a slow moving one. However, 'lake' is a late form of the name and has come to be used of several streams in the locality.
The Fishlake is a water course which leaves the River Test just north of Greatbridge. It flows south towards Romsey, splitting into two on the old Strong's brewery site. The western fishlake flows along Church Street and the west side of the Market Place to emerge from its culvert at Abbey Water. Most of the water now flows west to the Test but some, if not all, used to flow southwards as the Shitlake. The eastern Fishlake, or Holbrook, flows south to the site of Town Mills (now Dukes Mill) and on to rejoin the Test further south.
Careful research of the literary sources has provided proof that the Fishlake must have existed by the time of the Norman Conquest. There is a writ of Henry I dating from between 1106 and 1129:
Henry king of the English to William of Pont de l’Arche and his officials of Hampshire greeting. I command that all the land of the abbess of Romsey on the near side of the bridge of Bradebrigge shall be as quit as her demesne court of all things and in particular of the murdrum which is required from it in the hundred of Somborne just as it was ever well quit in King William my father’s time and my brother’s and in my time. Witness William de Tancarville and Geoffrey fitz Pain. At Winchester. ii
Bradebrigg, or Broad Bridge, can be identified with the later Hundred Bridge, crossing the water channel called the Fishlake or the Holbrook at the eastern edge of the market place next to Boots the Chemist. This channel formed the boundary between the two parts of the abbess’s manor of Romsey, Romsey Infra and Romsey Extra. In Romsey infra pontem the abbess had hundredal privileges, and was exempt from the jurisdiction of Somborne hundred, as this writ shows.
More importantly, this writ shows that the Fishlake was already flowing along this channel in the time of William the Conqueror.
i Report on the Manuscripts of Lord de L'Isle and Dudley [HMC], volume 1 (1151-1674),
ii Professor Richard Sharpe https://actswilliam2henry1.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/h1-romsey
In the past many claims have been made about the origin of the Fishlake - that it is in origin a natural braid of the Test, that it is Roman, Saxon, Norman or even that it was created by Cromwell's troops in the 17th century. There has been much speculation about the age of the Fishlake and whether it is based on an original natural stream or is wholly man-made.
Several members of the Society have developed their own views on this and their articles are attached below:
1. Arguing for a Saxon origin for the Fishlake. The Fishlake - Romsey's Artificial Waterway by Karen Anderson
2. Arguing for a natural origin for the Fishlake: 'Some preliminary thoughts on the geology, topography and early evidence for a water course adapted in the town centre of Romsey as the Fishlake' by Frank Green FSA. tba
3. Arguing for a Roman origin for the Fishlake. by Stephen Cooper tba
3. The Fishlake through Romsey. A River Terrace Town by Karen Anderson
5. Timbers found in the Fishlake by Mary Harris