History of the Blackwater Valley
People have been present in the Valley since prehistory and it is likely that the Valley at this time would have formed a swampy wetland between the higher dry heathlands.
Evidence of early human occupation has been found in the form of two Neolithic arrowheads discovered at Tongham and a Bronze Age cemetery at Yateley. There are two Iron Age hill forts in the Valley which are prominent features of the heathlands. The two sites, confusingly both known as Caesar’s Camp, can be found on Aldershot Common and at Nine Mile Ride Bracknell.
Recent excavations at Tongham revealed Iron Age farmsteads in the Valley floor.
The landscape may have changed little from this period for another 2,000 years.
Daniel Defoe wrote in 1724:
”Much of it is sandy desert where winds raise the sands…The ground is otherwise so poor and barren, that the product of it feeds no creatures but some very poor sheep, and but few of these, nor are there any villages worth remembering and but few houses or people for many miles far & wide. This desert lies extended so much that some say there is not less than a hundred thousand acres or this barren land… reaching out every way in the three counties of Surrey, Hampshire & Berkshire.”
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Tithe maps show that the landscape at the early part of this century was one of small meadows and pastures separated by hedges, with much of the ground near the river marked as "liable to flooding". Many field names indicate the wet nature of the valley floor, names include:
- The Moor
- Five Acre Moor
- Rushy Plot
- Great Moor
- Heathy Moor
- Peat Moor
A number of small copses did occur in the Valley but bigger expanses of woodlands were largely restricted to the higher and drier ground away from the river.
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The landscape has undergone drastic changes in the past century. This is due in part to the geology of the area, as gravel is found virtually along the entire length of the river. Another factor has been the rapid urban expansion, which has reduced the open nature of the Valley to a narrow strip of land adjacent to the river. This is especially so in the southern part of the Valley.
Due to the Valley floor being subject to regular flooding the immediate area escaped the pressure of development, but instead became a natural communication channel with power lines, gas pipelines, railways and roads all present.
After the Second World War the demand for development of both roads and houses, and the associated requirement for building materials, meant that many fields in the Valley have been extracted for gravel and sand. This has produced a varied range of ages of water bodies in the Valley.
Since the 1950s gravel extraction has been constantly taking place in the Valley floor and many of the lakes found today are a result of this activity. Operators moved on as pits become worked out and the flooded workings resulted in ever increasing areas of open water. Most of these have been restored since the 1960s.