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The Normandy Pond
It's Location
Normandy is a fairly large village, lying snug under the north slopes of the Hogs Back here in Surrey, easily accessed from the A31 and connected to Guildford and Aldershot by the A323, which effectively bisects the village longitudinally, so to speak.

Aerial Photo of Normandy and the Pond

The Pond suffers the ordnance grid reference SU928517, (51°15'24"N, 0°40'14"W) or thereabouts. Fortunately, it is sufficiently large enough to be shown much more picturesquely as on the aerial photo above. It hasn't always been so accurately recorded although it has been seemingly documented from about the middle of the seventeenth century. John Rocque surveyed this area during the next century and recorded its presence on his map dated 1762. Regretfully, Norden's much earlier survey of 1607 failed to record it, but then it may not have been there or perhaps it was just outside his area of survey. Who will ever know?

The probability is that it wasn't there! Now this is pure supposition, of course. Many of the heritage houses still with us today were started early in the sixteenth century and there would have been a great demand locally for sand and clay. The geological survey map shows that Normandy is situated firmly on the Bagshot Beds but it is widely known in this area that there abounds small abandoned pits from which sand, gravel and clay have been excavated in the past. Sand Pit Farm is not so very far away. The pond itself lies at the bottom of the south facing slope of the Normandy Common outcrop and off which, incidentally peat was taken until about 1878, when the commonable right to do this was finally extinquished. The reverse face above the pond is pock-marked with hollows from which exposed sand drifts have been excavated. Perhaps then Normandy Pond is man made as a result of sand extraction during the early part of the seventeenth century?

Interestingly, a bore-hole sample taken nearby in 1960 for the Guildford Rural District Council showed a sand seam 6'6" thick at a depth of 3'6" with water entering at 4'0". The level of the pond and that of the bore-hole are at similar Newlyn Levels; the depth of water of the pond being about 4'0" at its deepest end and seemingly charged from a natural rise of water at this deep end.

Whatever its origin, there has been a pond at this location for well over three hundred years!

The Pond Itself
Normandy PondThe origin and history of acquisition of the pond is, no doubt, of great interest to the purist, but to the user - the friendly user, it is a magnificent 105yd long by 35yd wide stretch of open, woodland water giving an air of tranquility and seclusion from everyday life and yet being within a stone's throw of the centre of the community. A veritable wildlife sancturary on the doorstep of the village, so to speak, and held securely, one would hope, for ever within the ownership of the Parish and, therefore, the community. That in itself is a unique partnership!

Historically, it would appear to have had few owners; namely The Crown, noblemen and finally the Normandy Parish Council. There is some doubt as to whether this part of Normandy was within the Manor of Windsor or not during the period when both Henley Park and Guildford Park (much, much nearer to Guildford) were part of the Royal hunting forest and this may explain why Norden omitted the pond from his survey, in which case one may have to do an about turn on the supposed origin of the pond! However, and for all that, Normandy Common was conveyed to the Crown (in this instance, The war Department) in 1876 as being part of the Manor of Cleygate. The convenyance did not, however, include the pond. This was purchased somewhat later in 1901 by the War Department from Lord Pirbright, then residing at Henley Park Mansion, which he was, at the time, renting from the Halsey family - its rightful owners. In 1953 the Ash and Normandy Parish Council purchased the greater part of the Common, including the pond, from the War Department in order to develop the land for recreational purposes. A couple of years later Normandy became a Parish in its own right and in 1989 purchased the remainder of the common from the Ministry of Defence.

Of interest is the 1895 auction details for the pond, in which it is described as having a good bottom with inlet. Strange that, because the bottom of the pond (now completely de-silted) is respectively some three feet above that of the adjacent stream and as we know - water does not usually run up-hill! The over-spill of excess water from the pond, had in its infancy, presumably cut channels at both ends of the pond where the loam banks were at their weakest. Today it is encouraged to do so at the west end only, in order to retain the greatest depth of water. It is at the east end of the pond that there is a natural rise of water through the gravelled bottom to maintain its 830,000 gallon capacity. Very little surface water appears to drain off the north prospect above the pond.

The profile of the original pond, with its distinctive head and tail drainage channels, was probably retained until the end of the nineteenth century. The map of 1871 illustrates the familiar outline, but sucessive surveys between 1916 and today omit the wispy head and tail thus showing the pond isolated and land-locked. The result being the malodorous, boggy area viewed by Ann Adey in 1985. The pond may even have begun its cycle of deterioration when the 1908 photograph was taken!

During the early pond clearance work, the eastern channel was found, enlarged and used to de-cant the stagnant water from the pond prior to dredging by Thames Water.

Back from The Mists of Time
Normandy Pond with Pond GrassLate in 1985, Ann Adey was shown a photograph by her seventy-five year old neighbour - Miss Gladys Marshall. The photograph, dated 1908, was of Gladys and a friend sitting by the Normandy Pond, in what was obviously a normal, tranquil, rural scene of the time. Although Ann, habitually walked her dogs across the common, using the footpath fronting Quinta Cottage, she was unaware of the existence of the pond, which in 1985, was so overgrown and dense with vegetation as to be indiscernable from almost any vantage point.

Ann was determined that Normandy should again enjoy the amenities of that pond in its fine woodland setting. Accordingly, she approached the Normandy Parish Council in March of 1986 with an offer to undertake a feasibility study for the restoration of the pond. The offer was readily accepted. Her investigations alone took six months, involving talks and negotiations with no less than eight Professional and Statutary Bodies, Archivists, Ecologists and Environmentalists. Here she freely acknowledges the invaluable information available in Sue Clifford's and Angela King's book HOLDING YOUR GROUND. Its comprehensive text would be an aid to any group contemplating the restoration of a large pond.

In October 1986, the Parish Council was presented with her detailed report, proposals and estimates. The Surrey County Ecologist had suggested a work programme with plan of action NAB/CA/2. It was a schedule that relied heavily on voluntary labour with the work load spread over a period of at least two years. Thames Water, who had expressed an interest in direct involvement as part of a "pump primer" to similar venture, had tendered a most attractive offer in the sum of £5842 to dredge the pond once the area had been cleared and the profile of the pond defined.

The Parish Council was impressed with the suitability of the project, dovetailing into the Council's plans for the development of recreational facilities within the Parish and therefore proposed that the project be submitted to a special conveyed Public Meeting, recommending the restoration of the pond and entering into an agreement with Thames Water for dredging.

In Nov 1986 A public meeting was held in the old village hall, where 100 people were recorded attending, Ann Adey gave a slide presentation of other ponds in the neighborhood, how they were constructed, and how they were essential to daily living in days gone by. There followed the report on her 6 months work consulting with SCC Ecologists, Rights of Way Dept. Surrey Wildlife Trust and explained in detail the offer from Thames Water, with all costings. A vote was taken if Normandy people wanted the pond restored with 100% to go ahead! A Mr Albert Cunningham new to the village offered to head the work force having had past experience in Cornwall on various projects. He asked for 6 people to join him with a positive result. A Mr John Squire volunteered to be treasurer, finally Ann Adey volunteered to be chairperson. Restoration of the pond was indeed launched!

Bringing the Pond Back to Life
Starting early in 1987 work parties met every other Sunday morning at the Normandy Scout Headquarters and were very soon at their alloted tasks. Those who could "did" and those who couldn't "gave". such was the spirit of co-operation. Those who gave were principally the local shops who provided soup, crisps and the like; others gave of their time in preparing food and drink for the more active workers. Almost without exception these work parties numbered twenty or more.

In between times, the committee met regularly to plan further stages of the project and to monitor progress. One of the important members of this committee was a representative from the Parish Council, who gave monthly updates for the benefit of the Council and who also was able to liaise informally but with authority between the Council and the committee.

Much of the credit for the rapid progress made with the clearance work around the pond must go to Albert Cunningham who was in attendance at the site nearly every day ensuring the management of the huge bonfires and the overall safety of the site. His natural aptitude for "man-management" of the workforce together with his obvious outward enthusiasm for the project, brought out the best in everyone with whom he came in contact. Within a few months the project was sufficiently advanced to invite Thames Water to take possession of the site for dredging. This they did in April 1987.

One month later in May, there was an expanse of water, all 830,000 gallons of it, pumped from the nearby stream. Little did the committee know then what problems this water would create for them at a later date! By the end of the summer there were seen the first early signs of visits from deer, geese and of all things a heron. So far as everyone thought, there were no fish in the pond, but perhaps that bird knew better.

Weed Control
It was mentioned earlier, that the re-filling of the pond was from the nearby stream. This was our undoing. What wasn't appreciated at the time was just how much phosphates etc were in the water - a lesson for all would-be pond restorers!

During 1988, just about two years after the refill, there emerged a veritable field of greenery, covering the whole surface of the pond. It was a lush crop of ley like fodder. Fortunately the growth was readily identified as Bulbous Rush and Floating Scirpus, growing in a more or less submerged form. Initially, consideration was given to weed cutting by hand and raking but despite this hard work, there was very little evidence of making worthwhile in-roads into the control of the problem. There was a marked degree of frustration within the ranks, of the apparent reversal of our much previous hard work in clearing the original stagnant pond.

A personal friend of Ann Adey was a senior ecologist with ICI at the Fernhurst Establishment a Mr.Paul Patton. Viewing the problem he kindly agreed to arrange for the spraying of a herbicide "Caseron G" under strict control measures. Small areas were treated in April 1989, with, of course, the approval of Thames Water, and with quite pleasing results.

Over the following months the problem slowly improved. Paul Patton generously left further herbicide with Albert Cunningham to use in local areas should the need arise. By 1990 clear open water once more prevailed.

Hopefully, with the gradual change of flora, a more diverse ecology will be added to the area, making the pond much more a place of interest than it has even been to date.

Footpaths & Bridges

Path around the Normandy PondNo doubt, one of the reasons why the pond remained undetected for so many years was the gradual dis-use of footpath No.367 and its subsequent take over by nature. According to the elders of the Village, this path or rather more aptly this "road" had been used extensively in the earlier part of the century, to take horses down to water from the nearby stables at The Anchor public house house and the use by the village blacksmith in his smithy nearby, where all wooden wheels would have been soaked in the pond, prior to the metal iron rim being fitted.

During the start of the clearance work on the pond, volunteers probed and located under about nine inches of silt, not only the ancient path but the buried stones of the old ford or splash as some would prefer to term it. Where the path met the stream it was discovered that the stream had in fact diverted itself some twelve feet and thus burying completely the stones of the ford. What a find! Greedily the workers re-diverted the stream back to its original course and the beautiful stones uncovered so that once again the cool, clean, clear water of the stream courses over the ancient stones. Legend has it that the stones came originally from Chertsey Abbey and who would wish to disagree with that! Temporary bridges were built then across the stream to enable workers to have ease of access to the pond for the major task of clearance.

A newly appointed Rights of Way Officer formerly from Reading University arrived on site ready to survey for any track that would have been used in the past by people using the pond to get water for domestic use. To her delight a firm surface was found measuring axil width (for a cart) under a foot of mud, silt, and undergrowth. Evidently it was her first ever "find" and she was delighted. It followed that she requested on our behalf to SSC for hundred tons of material to reinstate the track as a public footpath after the debris had been cleared.

One of the small footbridges around the PondReinstating footpath No.367 throughout its length was a mammoth task for any group of volunteers let alone ourselves but here again the Parish and County Councils came to the rescue. Jointly, they agreed in 1988 to resurface the path thus enabling visitors, conducted parties and others to have access to the pond from the adjoining made-up highways at Guildford Road and Normandy Common. But what of the disabled you might ask? The County, through the good offices of the Area Highway Engineer, Mr Paul Higerty and his Rights of Way Officer, Miss Gillian Davies, provided and installed over the stream the magnificent "Monet" type bridge, from which, can be seen the pond and beneath the bridge - the ancient stones.

Since the western end of the pond is so close to the car park, from where so many visitors to the Village start their walks, a new access was created off the Guildford Road so that now it is possible to tour the pond and the surrounding area from almost any direction. Here again, it was necessary to build bridges. Although these are simple structures they are none the less both solid and secure. In no way however do they challenge the might and authority of the County bridge! It was gratifying to note, that during the storm and flooding of January and February of 1993 that the oft criticised structure of the County bridge was vindicated beyond all doubt.

Its Visitors
The area around the pond has always been one of interest and adventure to all ages simply because of its isolation, undulating terrain, hollows and trees, ideal for climbing by young children. Now the cared for pond and its environs with its easy approaches adds yet another dimension to the area.

Water, naturally attracts children and understandably one of the earlier fears expressed by some, was the consequences of offering to children a clear expanse of water. The committee set out, therefore, to educate children and parents alike by acquiring the confidence and expertise of the teaching staff of the Wyke Primary school here in the Village. Two consecutive years educational visits were organized for the whole of Wyke Primary School 270 children and staff. The Scouts headquarters was offered to facilitate the following, Merrist Wood tutors gave demonstrations on tree felling, use of equipment, fungi found in the woods with the children wearing yellow hard hats, which were a great success. Surrey Wildlife Trust ran two pond dipping events, ICI rep Paul Patton brought a microscope, sending children into the woods to find samples of interest, and the Rights of Way Officer discussed the finding of the old track plus the water splash showing old maps of the area, the hall was a buzz of activity on both visits.

It is pleasing to note, that there has been no unfortunate incidents and no serious misuse of the area. This we feel must be the direct result of keeping the community well informed of progress and results with the project. Certainly, the well used dipping platform, installed with children in mind has been most successful in encouraging them to use the area sensibly and with the minimum of supervision. The small floating island itself adds yet another feature of interest and although a pair of duck have been seen on the island, to date there has been no evidence of nesting!

Because of the increasing popularity of the Village to walkers, the committee, jointly with the Parish Council are to install in the car park a permanent information panel and plinth, sited so that visitors may read about places of interest within the Village, the history of the pond and note the directions to it. No doubt the excellent free parking offered by the Council accounts for some visitors, but none-the-less, the pond features in the walk itinerary of many organisations. Members of Ladies Clubs and Womens Institutes ask and enjoy the opportunity to have a conducted tour around the pond with its joyful combination of water, trees and plants, all located in a sylvan setting and within a few minutes walk of having parked their cars.

Around this time it was announced that The Pond Committee had won an award in the Ecology section of the Guildford Heritage Awards. Ann Adey attended the award ceremony held in the lovely room over the Clock in the Guildford High Street. Lord Beaulie shaking her hand said "I trust there is an abundance of tadpoles in the pond".

Peter Blakiston volunteered to assemble text, photos, maps etc of the restoration of Normandy's Pond in a portfolio for submission to the National Campaign called PONDWATCH organized be Shell Better Britain. This was gratefully accepted for it was a huge undertaking.

Preparation of the "Pondwatch Award" 1990 Entry
In pouring rain on 6th July 1990, Mr David Webb, Assistant Conservation Officer of the National Rivers Authority and Miss Ann Spooner, both professionals in their own field, separately surveyed the Pond and their combined recordings accompanied the official entry form, subsequently dispatched to Slimbridge on the 4th September. Due note was made of the enthusiasm of Mike Thurner as to the presence of dragonflies especially the scarce Black Darter as noted in a letter from John Edwards of the Surrey County Council.

There followed a frantic period of preparation to assemble all relevant documents, photographs and other material for collation into this folio for submission. At the eleventh hour it was delivered on the 21st September 1990 in person by Audrey and Peter Blakiston to Caroline Aistrop, the Pondwatch Award Officer at Slimbridge.

Awards Presentation
There were 340 entries competing for the top prize in this first ever National Pondwatch Award Scheme, organised by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and sponsored by the Shell Better Britain Campaign. Surprise, surprise! Normandy reached the final twenty seven in the preliminary judging in the Community category and were delighted to learn in late November that the Normandy Pond Project had won first place in this category but regretfully had not won the "Pondwatch 1990 Wildlife Pond of the Year". This prestigious prize was justifiably awarded to the winner of the "Garden" category, the Bruton family, who had created a watery wildlife haven near Stroud in Gloucestershire. Their pond became home to an amazing variety of aquatic plants and animals including Britain's most threatened amphibian - the Great Crested Newt.

At a Press Conference on the 27th November, held in the Normandy Village Hall, Ann Adey accepted on behalf of the Normandy Pond Project the framed award of "Pondwatch Community Wildlife Pond of the Year" and an invitation to attend a presentation and Award luncheon at Slimbridge on the 3rd December. The awards were presented by Chris Bains a leading Environmentalist Campaigner, T.V. presenter, landscape architect at the Wetland and Wildfowl establishment Slimbridge nr Bristol. He made a brief explanation why we had been given the award out of 320 others that had entered. Normandy had had the foresight to draw up a Trust Deed Document signed by the chairperson of the Council and the Chairperson for the pond, that for all time the Parish Council will be ultimately responsible for the pond, nine trustees be appointed to oversee the management, meeting twice a year, and an annual report on the state of the pond be delivered to the Parish Council.

On a surprisingly dry, sunny 3rd of December, seven members of the Committee journeyed to Slimbridge, (Ann Adey, Peter and Audrey Blakiston, Albert and Averil Cunningham, Sheila Squier and Jean Taylor), and had a thoroughly entertaining day, thanks due to the kindness and efficiency of the Staff of the Trust and the Shell Better Britain campaign team, exemplified at the actual Awards Presentation Ceremony.

In addition to the Community Category Award cash prize of £250, which Ann received from Peter Woodward, (Manager of the Shell Better Britain Campaign), the Project Committee were also awarded a huge tree stump, beautifully cleaned, cut and polished and on which had been mounted a brass commemorative plaque. It would have needed a crane and lorry to have brought it back to Normandy! Although the offer was made to deliver this part of the prize, it was declined on the grounds that there were plenty of tree stumps at the Pond awaiting disposal! The Plaque was accepted, however, and was forwarded safely to Normandy a few days later

1991 - A Further Year of Achievement
Commemorative Plinth
An ongoing Community project, already undertaken by the Committee and approved in principle by the Normandy Parish Council, was to design and install a commemorative plinth in the Parish Car Park. The plinth would support a descriptive historical map of the surrounding area and the Pondwatch Award 1990, brass plaque.

With the help of the Normandy Historians, the map was designed and Messrs. Wickes of Fleet commissioned to produce a limited edition; a copy of which would be displayed in a hermetically sealed, glazed unit to be affixed to the plinth.

Sad to say, and despite the Committee donating £250 towards the project, the Parish Council declined to finance the cost of the overall design costing in the order of £1000.

Albert Cunningham and Peter Blakiston toured the area searching for suitable stone with which to construct a less expensive plinth. The final design, constructed from Cornish granite kerb edging, set vertically in concrete, was approved by the Normandy Parish Council and installed by Albert Cunningham, Roger Sage and Eddy Miller.

Since its installation, the plinth has been vandalised, struck by vehicles and in late 2004 was damaged so badly that the stones were removed. All that remains as evidence of its passing is the over-ground foundation slab.

In 1996 Normandy Pond was selected by the Nature Conservation Group and awarded a SNCI (Site of Nature Conservation Importance ) along with a policy to protect such sites across the Borough. It is now included in the Guildford Local Plan.


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