The "Bobbing " Ponds

From torture to tranquility

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Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The

The fishing ponds on Doggetts farmland have long been known by local people as “the Bobbin'”. The name comes from the fact that these ponds were said to have been used by witch hunters to prove the guilt of women, and a few men, accused of witchcraft or sorcery.

Photo:Actual site of the Bobbing Pond, close to Doggetts Ponds. See Brian Meldon's comment below (RDCA-Admin)

Actual site of the Bobbing Pond, close to Doggetts Ponds. See Brian Meldon's comment below (RDCA-Admin)

Witch hunting in England reached a peak in the middle of the 17th century at the time of the Civil War. Witches and sorcerers were said to be in league with the devil and therefore to be outside Christianity. In fact, anyone who behaved in an eccentric or antisocial way. Anyone who was just different or upset their neighbours could be accused of witchcraft and would then be tested to see if the accusation could be proved true.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The

Testing could take many forms and torture was permitted by law. Searching for unusual body marks, such as birthmarks or a third nipple which was taken to be a sign of the devil was allowed. A particular attachment to a pet cat, frog or other creature which could be seen as an incarnation of the devil was seen as certain proof of guilt. But the most common test was “swimming” the suspect.

Swimming meant that the accused would be attached to a stool or chair fixed to a long pole. The “bobbing stool” was lowered into deep water and the accused held under for some time. The pond at Doggetts farm was used to test those suspected locally.

If they were still alive on being raised again, they were guilty of witchcraft on the grounds that they must have renounced their baptism by consorting with the devil, therefore had no affinity with water and could not drown. If the accused drowned they would be seen as innocent, albeit dead!

If found guilty of witchcraft by any of these dubious means, the accused would be burnt at the stake in the middle ages. By the 17th century they would be sentenced to be hanged. Altogether, some 500 people were executed for witchcraft in England, 300 of them were convicted during the Civil War and period of Cromwell's government.

So, although today the “Bobbin' ” ponds are a tranquil area where people walk, fish and enjoy the nature reserve, they have a grizzly past. It would be interesting to know how many innocents lost their lives here just because they lived or behaved in an unusual way. Nicknames can go back a very long way. 

(With thanks to Peter Whittingham, “Rochford Past and Present” audio CD)

This page was added by Sue Horncastle on 09/01/2014.
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The ponds at Rochford were excavated by a drag line. They were worked on and as they got deeper they would build sand banks to minimise the water flooding the area. They were dragging in hot summers and when the local farm (doggetts) were taking water for irrigation you could walk all the way across the ponds fron island to island. Spent hundreds of hours swimming there as kids, and at Stambridge Mills. My dad Ray "Tubby" Wilson worked there when he first came down to Rochford from Guyhirn, Cambs. He joined Bysouths of Hockley in 1947 and stayed until 1989 when he retired

By Mark Wilson
On 31/08/2016

The ponds shown in the photos were made by sand and gravel excavations. When I was a boy, we used to play over there and use old wooden doors with the panels knocked out and empty oil drums put in their place and use them as rafts. It was still a working sand pit. Some of the site was also a large rubbish tip where the council lorries emptied all the rubbish. The site was gained via The Drive and then up a gravel road past the Bobbin to the left, and then onto the tip/sand pit areas. They used to park some rubbish lorries there overnight and some at the rear of the fire station.

By Len Bickford
On 27/07/2016

This is an interesting article but just to make things clear the Doggetts bobbing pond no longer exists.

It was located under what is now the NE end of St. Clare Meadow housing estate and was filled in some time between 1961 and 1964.

The ponds that remain close to this location today are not on the same site and were created as a result of sand extraction after WW2.

The bobbing pond was actually marked on every O/S map from 1874 up to 1961 but was gone by the time of the 1964 map.

When the map opens up remove the blue background by clicking the icon in the top right corner that says "Switch Print Extent Off". It may thereafter be possible to magnify the map one level by clicking the + arrow on the left. If you go too far then click the - arrow (RDCA-Admin).

Here is a link to the 1874 map centred on the bobbing pond:

Next the 1961 map again centred on the bobbing pond showing the location of the adjacent post WW2 sand pit:

Finally the 1964 map after the bobbing pond had been filled in but the sand pit remained:

The last link is to the modern Google maps view that clearly shows the surviving sand pit pond and St.Clare Meadow built in the site of the bobbing pond.

By B Meldon
On 11/01/2014
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