Chequers Crossroads and Biddestone
A series of recces to investigate the tributaries and origin of the Pudding Brook.
There are three possible sources for the Pudding Brook. A pond in the parkland seeps under the road and joins the stream named Pudding Brook south of the A4. North of the A4 two streams converge and flow through Mynte Farm, under the A4 and into the Pudding Brook; one of them appears to start at Jubilee Wood, the other near the pond by Stowell Farm crossroads. The third possibility is the stream which rises near Biddestone Manor, flows past the Holy Well, under the A4 and into the Pudding Brook.
On most maps, recent and earlier, the title Pudding Brook only occurs south of the A4 between Chequers Roundabout and The Pheasant and between the railway and the River Avon. However, the 1885 map labels the Mynte Farm stream as the Pudding Brook firstly next to Middlehill Farm (1) and secondly just before it flows through the farmyard. (2)
More information comes from John Chandler in his draft for an account of Chippenham Parish for the Victoria County History Society: The western portion of the parish is drained by three streams flowing eastward to the Avon. From north to south these are the Hardenhuish brook, which rises near Lanhill; the Ladyfield brook, which rises west of Vincients Wood and flows past Rowden; and the Pudding brook, which flows from Biddestone and defines the southern parish boundary. (3)
Wessex Water state that the point furtherest away from the stream's estuary is usually held to be the source – making Biddestone Manor the point of origin.
When the question was posed locally opinion was divided between the Biddestone Manor stream and the one which runs through Mynte Farm. Our aim was to investigate these three watercourses to assess the significance of their contribution, to observe other features and to determine the sources. Possibly the Pudding Brook only exists when it is made up all all these contributions and there is no single specific source.
10th Recce x 1 May 21st Late Afternoon
To investigate the parkland stream and the two which converge before flowing through Mynte Farm.
The weather was hot and the sky bright blue. We parked in the lay-by near Chequers crossroads and examined the pond which was just over the wall in the parkland. It was fed by at least two springs and lay in a slight dip between the road and the woods. The farmer was working nearby mending a stone trough, his dogs in the back of the land-rover. Sheep and lambs clustered in the shade. The pond was more of a saturation of the ground; the water slipping through a gap low in the wall, going under the road and out into a choked up ditch on the other side which took it towards the confluences of the other two streams with the Pudding Brook; the next one being the Mynte Farm one and after that the Biddestone Manor stream. The light was very bright – nearby the shapes of individual leaves and grasses were all sharply defined and the May blossom was a harsh white. In the distance a haze of mist had settled on the hills.
We crossed the road and walked up the lane. Mynte Farm was on our right with the stream flowing through the farmyard. The lane was dry and gritty. The big simple shapes of the sheds filled the space below the blue sky; around them a mass of unknown plants punctuated by yellow flowered cruciferae, a single tree white with blossom. A ditch emerged from the overgrown roots of the hedge then disappeared under the lane; on the other side it followed a course through fields, fenced and grassy on one side, unfenced and arable on the other. After the pond in the parkland this was the first stream to flow downhill into the Pudding Brook and our aim was to follow it, to see if the stream which joined it from Jubilee Wood was significant and to investigate the sources of both of these tributaries.
There was a narrow strip of light red soil between the crops and the hedge above the stream. The bank was at least six feet high and the stream was no longer a ditch but a fairly fast flowing watercourse, which, given the height of the banks, may have been there for many years. The hedge was hazel, ash, and possibly lime, overgrown with ivy. We decided to walk along the stream bed which was made up mainly of flat pieces of stone – there was very little debris: two pieces of broken china, part of a fire grate. Occasionally the stones gave way to mud, which was firm at the edges and marked with the two pronged footprints of deer and at one point, a large clawed print belonging to a bird. When the mud was under water it was very thick, with an unknowable depth and difficult to move through. Fallen branches lay across the banks and we shuffled under them. The light changed. The banks were now about ten feet high, looming above us, then the sky darkened and there was a distant roll of thunder. The water grew deep so we climbed up the bank and into the field.
The thunder rolled again, getting nearer. The sky was grey; a white curtain of rain dropped silently into the dark crops which were shifting slightly in the breeze. The air above us moved; tree tops were caught up in the gusts and branches were tossed down. We sheltered as the storm approached; it travelled around for some time and then it was overhead: pale yellow light stretched across the dull sky, hailstones on the red clay. The thunder lessened, gradually the rain stopped and the sky regained some colour. We walked on accompanied by faint thunder. Ahead there was a hedge which appeared on the map to mark the route of the stream which started at Jubilee Wood and joined the one we were following. A small ditch ran through the hedge. We crossed the ditch, entered a field enclosed by trees and followed the stream a bit further. As we peered through the hazel leaves, at the water down in the shadows, a brown bird flew silently along the tunnel of branches – a tawny owl?
A decision was made to return in better weather and to make further investigations of the ditch which could be the Jubilee Wood stream.
Pudding Brook Recce 10 x 2 May 27th Evening
Chequers crossroads to Stowell Farm crossroads
To continue following the Mynte Farm stream and investigate the Jubilee Wood stream
We had left the Mynte stream, the previous week, just after its confluence with the one from Jubilee Wood, and our plan was to explore both streams to see if there was a specific source for either of them. It was a warm evening; there had been thunder for the past three days but it had not cleared the air. We parked in the lay-by, crossed the A4 at Chequers crossroads and walked up the lane, noting as before the stream on our right which followed the hedge then appeared as a ditch before going under the lane. We entered the field and continued to follow the stream, not getting in this time but observing it from the increasingly high banks. In the few days since our last visit the plants were taller, more verdant, and the narrow track at the edge of the field was no longer visible under the overhanging field crop. This time there were dusty grey badger droppings and white owl pellets amongst the grass and dock leaves.
We continued to follow the stream, making for the point where we had turned back last time; it was quite shallow and in some parts almost dry between its tall red clay sides. There was a gap in the hedge and some trampling in the grass leading to a curved basin of earth above a particularly dry part of the stream: badgers again. We reached a field gate where the stream flowed under the path and continued towards a small wood. Here we realised that what we had been following for a short time was the Jubilee Wood stream and what we had taken for the Jubilee Wood stream was just a ditch running downhill to join the Mynte stream of which we had lost sight because it must have veered off. We continued along the course of the Jubilee Wood stream which was now almost dry. The wood consisted of hazel trees with an undergrowth mainly of dog’s mercury. Where the wood met the road what was left of the stream flowed beneath; there was a cast iron drain cover for easy access to clean the culvert. On the other side of the road a damp leafy hollow, hidden by hawthorn trees marked the possible origin of the stream; there was no sign of a spring so perhaps the water accumulated there from higher ground.
We had come out onto a lane which led to the crossroads below Stowell Farm. Here, just below the farm, was a small pond and on the map on the opposite side of the road from the pond there is the thin blue line of a stream which follows the lane and eventually flows through Mynte Farm. This was the other stream which we had set out to investigate. The pond was behind a hawthorn hedge, reeds and hemlock water dropwort blocking our view. It was impossible to see if the pond fed the stream which lay low in the field on the other side of the road.
One side of the field sloped up towards the hedge but it was mostly flat with another hedge on its opposite side, and it was across this wide grassy flatness that the stream filtered – so shallow that its edges spread out into the marginal plants – more of a trickle than a stream but there was constant movement across the stony and grassy stream bed. It was early evening and we followed the stream through the gently sloping little valley; in parts it was overhung with old trees including an ash – dark bunches of ash keys hanging down. This field ran alongside the road and in addition to the hedge there was a fence made out of wire joined together in a grid of large squares. Up to a particular height all the wires were coated with pale brown sheep’s wool and there was a curve running along most of the fence as if the sheep in their constant rubbing had not only deposited wool but some part of their bodies had left an indent.
By now the stream ran through steep overgrown banks and eventually we reached the point of confluence, where looking over the barbed wire fence we were able to see that the Mynte stream which we were following did actually turn off at an angle after being joined by what we now knew to be the Jubilee Wood stream. The foliage was so dense that from the other side it had not been possible to see this on the previous recce. We continued alongside the stream until it left the field and went under the lane which led to the A4.
Pudding Brook 10th Recce x 3 June 2nd Evening
Chequers crossroads to Middlehill Farm
To investigate the watercourse flowing into the pond at Stowell Farm crossroads.
We parked in the lay-by near Chequers crossroads, crossed the A4 and walked up the lane; the air still warm from the heat of the day. This time instead of following the stream through the field we took the lane to Biddestone with the stream on our left. Soon we arrived at the crossroads near Stowell Farm, our shadows long in the late sun where the four roads met. The pond situated in the field below the farm seemed to provide the first significant flow of water to the stream which may be the Pudding Brook. Our plan was to investigate the watercourse which flows into this pond; on the map it follows the route of the lane and like a large portion of the Pudding Brook defines the parish boundary of Corsham. The hedges were dense with coppiced hazel and overgrown with ivy, nettles and cow parsley; through the foliage we could just see a dry ditch, a substantial bank and a hedge on the opposite side. However, there was a small section taken out of the hedge to allow access, via a metal gate to the long field with the pond in the corner. This gap allowed us to see the hedge in section; the ditch here was narrow and choked with grass, small saplings, cleavers, buttercups and docks; there was little evidence of running water, more a sense of plants nourished by damp conditions. We decided to investigate the pond later and concentrate on the watercourse flowing into it, labelled Pudding Brook on the early map, which seemed to come down the lane between the hedges. Middlehill Farm stood opposite the break in the hedge, by the roadside, outbuildings to the right. The garden was plain, no planting here, just cut grass, trees, a low wall.
We continued up the lane past tall hedges with double banks and verges higher than the road, clumps of purple and cream comfrey amongst cow parsley and nettles. The road followed a rise in the land and the hedge became less substantial and lower and the fields bare earth, recently harrowed, or scrubby grass with yellow-flowered cabbage plants.
The first field entrance we came to was partially blocked by a large broken twisted tree branch and a white builder’s sack filled out to its full cubic shape with bottles, – old, new, broken, dusty– and other kitchen rubbish. A clothes drier was the top item of a pile of household refuse piled up amongst the grasses in the hedgerow. After this point the ditch continued to run by the hedge but it narrowed, full of grass with no water. To our left, across the field, was a line of trees leading from a small copse to the lane we had just walked up. We walked across the dry stony field to see if there was a watercourse there and low down in a ditch about three feet deep, edged with white flowers, was the black gleam of water. We followed this ditch upstream as it shifted its direction twice then there was a gap in the hedge where the earth was packed down on top of it. Through the gap was a bare scrubby field: two hares leapt off in different directions.
We headed back and followed the lane a bit further until it became evident that the ditch by the hedge was not a significant carrier of water, so we retraced our footsteps down the lane. We noticed that point where the watercourse we had explored earlier in the field met the ditch running parallel to the lane was the first place where there was more than just a residue of water. We parted the hazel branches and peered upstream; in the dark between the two hedges a slight curve in the water showed the confluence where the stream from the field joined the roadside ditch. Interestingly on the 1885 map the Pudding Brook is first named after this point. A decision was made to investigate the small copse on the next recce to see if there was a source for this significant flow of water.