Woolston House

Woolston House – Loddiswell, Nr. Kingsbridge, Devon.

Client : Private.

 Woolston House is situated on the outskirts of Loddiswell village, not far from Kingsbridge in Devon. The house was built in 17th century near the foundations of an earlier structure, then rebuilt again in the 18th century, it passed from the Wise / Wyse family to the Weymouth and Allin families. The source of the village’s medieval prosperity was wool. Loddiswell, the name a corruption of Saint Loda’s Well, can trace occupation back to the Roman times. Its most famous son and benefactor was Richard Peek (1782 – 1867), a wealthy tea merchant and a Sheriff of the City of London.

Set in substantial mature grounds, the client wanted to restore an old carp pond in the gardens which had, over a few hundred years, become silted up and overgrown with vegetation. After they had instructed a landscape gardener and ground worker to empty the pond and remove plants and silt, we turned up on site faced with a big hole in the ground that had a few inches of water in the bottom.

The water level actually helped us to determine a datum point and was marked around the perimeter of the pond by spraying a blue paint line on the clay bank.

From this blue line, we could roughly work out what was going to be the finished height of the new stone walls that were going to be built around the pond and help get the base prepared fairly level to begin with. Once the levels had been established the shape of the pond was then agreed, and the base and sides were squared up with the help of a small mini digger for us to have a good area to work from.

Once the perimeter had been prepared, we laid down scaffold planks on the ground to give us something solid to stand on, the ground here was still very wet in places.

So, with wellies on, the next task was to set up wooden profiles, these would enable us to set out the new stone retaining walls around the pond. The new wall more or less followed the line of the original wall, and the plastic pipe you see is a conduit which was to be built through the wall to enable a power source to feed a fountain at a later date if required.

The profiles we set up were spaced approximately three to four feet apart depending on the radius of the pond. The tighter the radius, the closer together they went. They were also ‘battered’ back towards the bank that was going to be retained by the stonework. Following a string line attached to the profiles we were able to start setting out the new stonework.

The stone we used was small ‘hedging stone’ from Yennadon quarry in Dousland, situated on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. This stone is a natural rustic slate, and by the end of the job we were going to get through forty tons or more.

The original pond walls were probably built sometime during the early 1800’s. The stone to these walls had been laid vertically as opposed to horizontally on its bed, a traditional style of stonework in Devon. Hardly any of the original stone walling had survived. It had either collapsed or just disappeared over time. Although it was taken down during the preparation, a very small section of the original pond wall did remain, and the aim was to replicate that style.

Following the profiles, the first stones set in for the base were basically hammered down into the wet clay, and just like the original walls it required no foundation. The stonework had open joints and lean mix concrete was then used to backfill between the stonework and the clay bank. This would give good stability to the wall and tie everything together.

Small square recesses were built into the stonework as a feature, they were set in at no precise size or height and were about four feet apart. This was done because there was another section of original walling that had these square holes in it, although here the stonework had been laid horizontally on bed. Water originally flowed out of these holes to feed the pond. The ones we created were just for show and served no real purpose. We did however make sure that all the recesses would be more or less in line with the final water level of the pond when it was going to be filled back up.

Having started our stonework at one end of the pond we worked our way around, moving and setting up the profiles again as we went.

To get the finished level of the stonework to look right with the water level of the pond, a laser level was used to get the top of the wall spot on. This was then capped off with two foot wide slate crazy paving, again from Yennadon quarry. This capping was on average about two inches thick and projected over the front of the wall by about an inch or so. It would also form a good edge on the back of the wall for the landscape gardener to re-instate the grass that was going to be laid back down once we had finished all of our work.

By the time we had gotten half way around the perimeter with the new stonework, it was time to stop. We raked the stonework back at an angle so we could carry on with the wall here later. It was now time to set out a feature which would allow the water from this pond to cascade down into the next pond. We also had to incorporate a nine inch diameter cast iron ‘Gate Valve’, this would enable the pond we were building to be emptied of its water if any future maintenance was required. The new feature would also determine the water level of the new pond. To create a waterfall the water level had to be raised in the new pond we were working on.

The ground worker was called back in and excavated a base for the new water feature.

It was excavated to a depth of nine inches and a submersible pump was used to keep the water at bay.

And then a solid concrete base was laid.

A course of concrete block was laid down first to set out the new feature. The blockwork would not be seen once the pond was filled up. This also had the new ‘Gate Valve’ built into it. Then the stonework was built on top of the blockwork in the same stone we used for the pond walls, only this was laid on bed and lime mortar was used.

The waterfall feature was built up to level with an opening. A piece of old slate that was found on site was set in at the height which was going to be the new water level for the pond.

Once this was almost complete, we could then finish off tying in the retaining wall into the waterfall feature.

And then we began sweeping the retaining wall up around the other side of the pond. Now that the pond walls were getting higher, so did the water level. Water from the natural spring had been continually running into the pond area since the start of the work. By keeping the ‘Gate Valve’ open, we could now control the water levels within the pond.

We also cantilevered a couple of slate steps into the new wall by the ‘Gate Valve’ which would assist access to open it up at anytime. Opening the ‘Gate Valve’ when the pond is full will empty it in two hours.

It was decided that no recesses were going to be built into the walls on this side of the pond.

The final section of the pond wall was set out to meet up with the old original wall at the opposite end of the new waterfall feature and the crazy paved slate coping laid.

The original section of wall was going to be kept. Behind it is a natural spring, and this was going to feed the pond. This old wall was going to be raised higher than the new pond walls so the water levels behind it would be raised which meant we could create another water feature.

On this old original section of wall, all the loose stonework was taken down and vegetation removed. We shaped some pieces of slate to form a feature in which a hole was cut to place in a cast iron pipe. This was set into the wall and the pipe stuck out about twelve inches from the face of the wall. Eventually when this section was complete, the natural spring behind would flow out of this pipe.

While all this work was going on the spring water continually flowed into the pond, and that can be seen in the corner of this picture.

Having made this wall higher than the pond walls, the top was ready to be finished off in crazy paved slate.

Now the water level behind was raised, the water could flow out of the pipe and into the new pond. The flow rate was calculated to fill the pond in twenty-four hours. The two additional pipes at the top are overflow pipes, and this would ensure if the water level rises behind, it will flow though these and not over the wall.

A heart shaped landing was created at the base of the steps and matched in with the coping on the pond walls.

And now the pond walls were complete, it meant that the pond could be filled up.

This piece of stone is slate. It was sourced by the client from a local reclamation yard. Originally there would of been two of these stones, and when placed side by side to each other, they capped the top of a ‘Well Head’. This Capstone is about six inches thick and is from Kingsbridge, it’s thought to be about 600 years old. This stone was going to be put on top of the new water feature we had built which had been designed to accommodate it.

With some strops and the help of a mini digger, the stone was taken over to where it was going to be located.

 This stone probably originated from Charleton, just outside of Kingsbridge. There were several quarries here by the estuary, the most notable being  Goose Quarry and Cleavehouse Quarry. The slate was of good quality and there is a record dated 1453 of five large barges of building stone being taken by sea from the Charleton quarry for construction of the square tower at Dartmouth Castle. The castle itself dates back to the 1380’s and was built to protect the harbour from attack. In 1481 slate was taken from Charleton for re-roofing Windsor Castle. The quarries in this area had set up extensive trade routes with Holland, supplying much slate, and that was up until war broke out between the Dutch and the British in 1781. By the 1900’s quarrying had ceased altogether in this area.

This lovely old piece of stone was then bedded down on top of the water feature.

You can now walk over the water feature and look down on top of the waterfall flowing underneath.

We had to finish off the last bit of stonework, the front of the water feature, and now the capstone was in place we could do just that.

These walls curved away from the water feature, and being curved also strengthened this area up, there is about three feet of water behind it.

You can still see original cast iron fixings that have been set into the stone using lead. They are most likely the remains of a winch that once pulled fresh water up from the well.

Slate crazy paving was then laid for the copings to complete the walls.

The waterfall cascades down onto a large granite boulder. The water level on this side would eventually just cover the boulder.

The ground levels around the pond were re-instated on completion.

 Wildlife doesn’t distinguish between ponds that are natural or those that are man made. As nature takes over and the pond matures over decades or even centuries, species that adapt well in the early stages are replaced by different species later on. This natural process is called ‘Succession’ and all ponds go through this transformation. As this pond matures overtime, you will find that the variety of plants and wildlife that thrive here will only increase.