Fishtraps or weirs are artificial barriers that deflect fish, sometimes using the tide, into traps. Theymay have been used from the mesolithic period until the post-medieval period on the tidal reachesof the Thames. Numerous Saxon examples have been discovered on the Thames foreshore.
Materials and form:
Fishtraps may be visible as two rows of upright stakes forming the funnel shape, which are set at anangle to the river bank; some wattle-work may survive. Identification of funnel-shaped fishtraps isoften complicated when one side of the trap has been eroded, leaving a single line of posts whichmay be confused with an embankment, revetment or jetty. Some Early Saxon timber structuresinterpreted as fishtraps consist of just such single lines of posts and may represent a different typeof trap.Most permanent fish traps would have been constructed on the intertidal foreshore where theywould be progressively emptied by the retreating waters at low tide. Two sides form a 'V'-shapedstructure with a narrow gap at the point of the 'V' where a wattle or net trap was placed. As the water level dropped fish trapped between the sides by the retreating tide were forced towards the narrowgap where they were trapped and could be collected. Some fishtraps may not have been tidal,instead the fish would have been driven into the funnel and trap by people.The sides of the traps were most commonly made from paired, roundwood oak stakes or pilesdriven vertically into the foreshore with wattle-work set between the paired timbers. The uprightswere sometimes supported by diagonal bracing posts to help the structure withstand theconsiderable force of the tide.Because they were usually constructed of fairly lightweight organic stakes and wattle-work, fishtraps can be both hard to identify and are prone to erosion and damage. Remains of fishtraps arepreserved in anaerobic deposits on the foreshore but are at risk from scouring, erosion, anddamage from river craft. It is also very hard to date fishtraps without taking Carbon 14 samples fromthe structures. The posts are generally too small for dendrochronological dating.
Saxon fishtrap at Chelsea showing funnel shaped plan; schematic showing how fish are trapped on a falling tide.
fish caughtin trap
fish forced intotrap as water recedes
Chelsea Saxon fishtrapFKN01
reconstructedline of wattlefence
thames discovery programmeforeshore factsheet number one