The Dairies were the water meadows, created in about 1710, on either side of the River Pang upstream of Hogmoor Bridge. The meadows lay on both sides of the river and today the M4 motorway cuts through the southern part. The rental value of the meadows was about £30 a year in 1749 and the tenant in 1802 was John Horn.
Water meadows work by maintaining a shallow flowing sheet of water over the ground during the winter months, keeping off the frost and encouraging an early growth of fresh grass for the cattle in the spring. By closing a barrier across the river, water could be prevented from flowing down the main channel and instead diverted into a side channel, called a "leat", "top carrier" or "main" when a hatch in the side of the bank was opened. Water from the top carrier supplied many smaller carriers running along the tops of ridges across the field and from these carriers water overflowed down the side of the ridges into ditches or drains at the bottom. These drains joined into a "bottom carrier" or "tail drain" that returned the water to the river further downstream. The aerial image, left, shows this system and the drains can be identified by the darker green growth in the bottom of the drains.
The photograph below shows one part with the river in the bottom left corner and a water-filled tail drain edged with brown reeds.
There were several mills on the river here, probably including the one recorded in the Domesday survey. A later survey has two mills. A track runs from Chalkpit Farm to the river and the two fields on either side of it are shown as Great Mill Ground and Little Mill Ground on the enclosure map. There was certainly a mill here called Farley Mill, which was pulled down in about 1700 and downstream of that another old mill, Tidmarsh Mill, pulled down a few years later. There had also been for a time a third mill downstream from that.
In about 1700 a Captain Wilson, who owned the land there, built a new mill downstream of the Dairies and raised the river banks at this point. There were problems with a lack of water for this mill in the winter due to the holding-up of the water at the Dairies and in 1749 Hogmoor Wood, also owned by Capt Wilson flooded. Wilson's bailiff damaged the sluice gates at the Dairies to let the water flow freely and legal action by Powlett Wrighte followed.
The river here was a popular spot for swimming both before and after the bathinng pool was built along Chantry Lane and in the summer and the Chalkpit Farm bailiff would try to maintain the level in the river for that purpose, even though at that time of year the river would normally be left to flow freely. By 1891, however, the side gates were falling into disrepair and he was sometimes forced to lower the river level to avoid flooding the meadows where the cattle were then grazing. In 1892 the level was raised for swimming on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays only, the river being left to run freely the rest of the time.
© 2021 Richard J Smith