The River - An Introduction

The southern branch of the River Wey rises in the hills that surround Haslemere. For fifteen miles it flows first westwards then north in an arc through Hampshire to re-enter Surrey near Frensham. It is joined by the Alton branch of the Wey at Tilford — the downstream limit of the River Wey Trust's area of interest. From Tilford the Wey goes on via Godalming and Guildford to join the Thames at Weybridge and thence to the sea.

In its upper reaches the southern Wey is a small river flowing through a predominantly rural landscape of woods, fields and gardens. The quiet nature of the valley today belies its history as the scene of intensive industrial and agricultural activity, much of whose legacy is still with us. The six miles of river between Haslemere and Headley supported over a dozen watermills.

the river in '3-D' - move your cursor over the image...

Less obvious are the watermeadows, which once ran almost uninterrupted from the source of the Wey downstream at least as far as Frensham. They were devised to improve the fertility and drainage of the riverside meadows, through a process of controlled irrigation, and so to increase hay production. Water was diverted from the river onto the meadows through a system of channels or "carriers", then returned to the river through a complementary pattern of drains.

The Wey meadows are known to have been in existence in 1680 and continued in use until the early part of this century, when changes in agricultural practices made them uneconomic.

Watermeadows are found elsewhere in the country. The most celebrated are in the valleys of the chalkstreams farther west in Hampshire and Wiltshire, but the Wey system differs in underlying geology, in scale, and in the complex arrangement of sluices, hatches, and particularly, aqueducts.

Rising on sandstone rather than chalk, the Wey is small by comparison with the chalk streams. The valley is narrow, and bordered by small and irregular meadows. Where a narrowing of the valley interrupted the system, stone aqueducts were constructed to carry water over the river — a feature believed to be unique to the Wey. Many structures remain — aqueducts, sluices and other less conspicuous features such as the hatches and "stops" lying overgrown in odd corners of meadows
throughout the valley.