MSO7028 - 19th Century water meadow at Larkbarrow (Monument)


An extensive field gutter system is visible as a series of parallel water channels or gutters cut into the slopes of Long Combe. A letter written in December 1857 suggests Robert Smith set out the system at that time.

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Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

Full Description

A water meadow system is visible on aerial photographs around Larkbarrow Farm. [1,2] A field gutter system, centred at SS 8175 4265, runs westwards on the steep slopes of Long Combe, below Larkbarrow Farmhouse. The system comprises at least five contour leats, which are culverted through the field walls and fed by two much larger carriage gutters. These carriage gutters convey water from the springs in Long Combe Head and continue westwards along the slopes of Long Combe (MSO7046 and MSO7048). This water management system most probably dates from the mid 19th Century. [3] This field gutter system was recorded at 1:2500 scale using differential GPS at part of an archaeological survey of the Larkbarrow area. The survey was undertaken by the Exeter office of English Heritage at the request of the Exmoor National Park Authority. A client report was produced as part of the survey work. [4] An extensive water meadow of a type known as a catchwork or field gutter system is visible on aerial photographs of the 1940s onwards as a series of parallel water channels or gutters cut into the slopes of Long Combe. The gutters were probably created in the mid 19th Century as part of the extensive agricultural improvements in this area associated with Larkbarrow and Toms Hill Farms. It is clear that the catchwater gutters in Long Combe are divided into two systems, those associated with Toms Farm to the west, and those of Larkbarrow Farm to the east. The two systems are largely divided along the line of the estate boundary between SS 8141 4285 and SS 8129 4240. The more complex system is within the Larkbarrow estate, the earthworks covering an area of at least 24 hectares. The most coherent section is immediately to the south of the Farm itself, centred on circa SS 8175 4268. Five or six gutters run west along the south facing valley slope from a stream fed by a spring at circa SS 8204 4281. The gutters appear to pass through the gardens of Larkbarrow Cottage, possibly via the culverts described by the above authority. At least one of these gutters continues west into the Toms Farm estate. Two gutters are visible on the north facing combe slopes, centred at circa SS 8167 4254 and SS 8152 4257, probably directly abstracting from the Long Combe river. The southernmost of these appears to have been reused as a trackway. Less coherent and smaller scale gutter systems are visible to the east around Long Combe Head, strung between the spring fed streams that feed Long Combe. Such catchwork systems are usually found on steep combe sides and are designed to irrigate pasture by diverting water from a spring or stream along the valley sides via one or more channels or gutters. When irrigation was required the gutters were blocked, causing water to overflow, thereby irrigating the slopes. This film of water prevented the ground freezing during the winter and raised the temperature of the grass in the spring, thereby encouraging early growth, particularly important during the hungry gap of March and April. By the 1960s many of the gutters have been significantly damaged by modern agricultural improvement. [5-10] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [13] On 2 December 1857, Robert Smith wrote to Frederic Knight. His letter states that "I have set out the Larkboro’ draining & water Carriages, which will improve the farm very much & the future Hay crops will repay the outlay." [14]

Sources/Archives (14)

  • <1> Unpublished document: Francis, P.. 1984. A Survey and Description of the Catch Meadow Irrigation Systems. P.39.
  • <2> Aerial photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography. CPE/UK/1980 (F20) 3066-3067 and 3183 (11 April 1947).
  • <3> Unpublished document: JAMIESON, EJ. Field Investigators Comments. English Heritage Field Investigation, 2001.
  • <4> Report: Jamieson, E.. 2001. Larkbarrow Farm, Exmoor, Somerset.
  • <5> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. RAF 540/931 (F20) 3103-4 (8 November 1952).
  • <6> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. RAF 543/2821 (F64) 163-4 (27 April 1964).
  • <7> Aerial photograph: Griffith, F.. 1980s-1990s. Oblique aerial photographs of the Devon part of Exmoor National Park. DAP LD22, 23, LF15, 16 (10 January 1989).
  • <8> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Oblique Aerial Photograph. NMR SS 8242/16 (15661/3) (8 April 1997).
  • <9>XY Archive: 2007-2009. Exmoor National Park NMP: SS 84 SW. MD002184. [Mapped feature: #38215 ]
  • <10> Monograph: Cook, H. + Williamson, T.. 2007. Water Meadows: History, Ecology and Conservation. Windgather Press. 1st Edition. 1-7, 28-9.
  • <11> Report: Riley, H.. 2017. Agricultural Reclamation at Larkbarrow Farm, Exmoor. Exmoor Mires Partnership ELB17 Project Report.
  • <12> Article in serial: Davies, H., Fyfe, R. and Charman, D.. 2015. Does peatland drainage damage the palaeoecological record?. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology. 22. 1.
  • <13> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 974864, Extant 6 July 2021.
  • <14> Archive: Various. 1815-1999. Knight Archive. KN.CORR.013_1857.12.02, p4.

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MMO417
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO11872
  • Local List Status (Unassessed)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 84 SW121
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 974864
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 34450



Grid reference Centred SS 818 426 (1018m by 387m) Aerial survey
Map sheet SS84SW

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (8)

Related Events/Activities (3)

Record last edited

Jan 11 2022 10:29AM


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