The two stretches of water we now know as The Lakes first make their appearance in the historical record as an ornamental feature in the early eighteenth century when the Duke of Argyll was in residence at Adderbury House. They formed part of the formal grounds of what was then a rather grand Classical house, and were fed, as the Lakes are today, by five springs to the north of the top water. Plans to have “Capability” Brown reshape the oblong ponds into something more in keeping with later, more “natural” landscaping tastes came to nothing, and it was not until 1848 that the Lakes took on a character close to what we have today.
At that date Mr W.H.Chamberlin, who had bought the house and park in 1826, set about making the Lakes more ornamental. He lined and reinforced parts of the top Lake and installed a sluice, with a spillway to the lower water. He constructed a boathouse and a summer house, as well as the little “sentry box” shelter that faces south; all three of these survive today. What was very different from today, however, was that he had the bottom water converted into a water or bog garden, with a serpentine stream running through it and a path alongside.
Between the time of Mr Chamberlin and 1939, Adderbury House had many owners. On the outbreak of the Second World War the house was requisitioned and subsequently used to house troops. After the war, the Oxfordshire County Council took over the house and park for use as an old people’s home, a situation which continued up to the 1980s. Through all this time the Lakes were left unattended, with no maintenance since 1939. Both waters were completely silted up, the top Lake was blocked with the trunks of the five large trees that had fallen into it, all the paths had disintegrated, and the undergrowth had become so dense that entrance was only possible on hands and knees.
It was in 1982 that it was proposed at the Adderbury Parish Council that this derelict area would make an attractive leisure facility for village residents. The leader of the Council, Colonel Hadfield, pressed for the area to be a nature reserve open to visitors and fishermen, and this was the plan that began to be carried out in May 1983 under the supervision of Andrew Barnes. There was a major clearance of the area and urgent repairs were carried out on the sluice gates. Something like six hundred tons of silt were removed and disposed of. All the paths were dug out to six inches, lined with heavy-duty plastic and bordered with timber planks. Over a hundred trees were planted, the waters stocked with fish, two sturdy fishing platforms were built together with three timber bridges, and water plants put in place. The labour for all this was provided by a dozen youngsters provided by the Manpower Services Commission, an agency of the government of the day, set up to help young people to acquire skills that would equip them eventually to find a permanent job.
The nature reserve was opened to the public in May 1984 and to fishermen in June 1985. The work had cost a total of £70,000. Since that time the Lakes have been well used by walkers, families and schoolchildren, and wild life has been preserved. Major policy decisions, such as the dredging of both Lakes in 2013, are determined by a Management Committee and funded by and through the Parish Council. The Parish Council, under the chairmanship of Mrs Diane Bratt, has raised sufficient money to purchase the Lakes from the Oxfordshire County Council and ensure that this facility will be owned by Adderbury in perpetuity.
This is an edited version of a 2014 article by Nick Allen.