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A marvelous moat?

Written by volunteer, Vernon Burgess.

While in residence at the Palace, it was the responsibility of the Bishop of London to maintain the estate as well as ensuring the ancient one mile moat was kept in good condition. Caring for the moat included a twice daily opening of the sluice gate that linked with the Thames. After the First World War, it became apparent the moat was not being properly cared for and it became so foul smelling that a health notice was issued by Fulham council ordering the Bishop to clear it out.

Clearing the moat of weeds, rubbish and Fulham Town sewer materials was an expensive proposition and previous clearances had cost about £1000 each time. The Bishop Winnington-Ingram obviously of short funds realised that this was a thankless task and consequently proposed that the moat be filled in permanently. This suggestion caused an uproar. In June of 1921 questions concerning the Fulham Palace moat were raised in the House of Commons. As the Bishop of London had previously spent £600 on caring for the moat, The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings investigated the Palace’s moat’s status and discovered the sluice gate had rotted away which would require a further sum of the same amount. It was suggested at the time that perhaps funds could be provided by public subscription for the clearing and remedial work. There was also a statement that the foreshore outlet was obstructed.

Despite the findings, the Bishop, however, decided to fill the moat in before the suggested work could take place. The Bishop sold licences to the local builder for disposal of the rubble and rubbish and the Fulham Borough council to use the space as a dust shoot. A clinker was also added from the local power station. Mr. Stitch, an MP in Parliament, objected to the Bishop’s response but the minister at the time, Sir A Mond, found he could not intervene in this matter as the material deposited was not a public health risk. Bishop Winnington-Ingram’s action meant that the only water filled moat left in London was filled in despite the commission’s request.

Although surveyors had suggested that by deepening the sluice gate area the problem could be solved, Bishop Winnington-Ingram, mindful of future expenses, saw it better to fill the moat in. Not only did this provide the Bishop with funds for other projects but it also removed a source of potential accidents.

The moat, within the last 60 years, especially between 1886 – 1889 was recorded by local newspapers of multiple accidents taking place. Local reports included various drownings in the moat. Drownings included accidental drownings such as fishing accidents, tripping over a tree root and falling in and some people who tried to cool off on a hot summer’s day after enjoying too many drinks. Additionally, the moat became a site for suicides.  The moat posed great danger as the steep muddy slopes made it almost impossible to climb out to safety.

In the council minutes for June 1921 it is stated that the Bishop of London made arrangements to fill-in the moat and also offered to hand over to the council that portion of the moat extending the length of the land belonging to Fulham Borough Council on Fulham Palace Road providing the council erect adequate fencing on the acquired land. They agree to erect 7ft high cleft oak fencing at cost of £500.(This part would in due course have been filled in by the local builder licence.) A licence was also to be purchased for £775 so that the moat running along Bishops Avenue and the area alongside Bishops Park on the south side could be filed in. Subsequently the fence became a climbable iron fence at the cost of £450.

In July 1921 the council commenced filling in the south side. In July 1922 the council, the Bishop’s surveyors and solicitors negotiated to add to Bishops Park the filled in area fronting Bishops Avenue. In December 1922 more negotiations took place and the Councils Works and Highways Committee. It was reported that the Bishop’s new solicitors Caree and Passmore (perhaps the previous solicitors did not do the best job) had communicated with the council asking whether they would be prepared to take over and fence in the area of the moat from the north-western side by the Kings head public house extending in a south easterly direction for 500 feet, an area of some 1423 sq. yards, and approx 25 feet in width. The council saw no useful advantage in doing so.

Learn more about the Fulham Palace moat at the upcoming lecture on Wednesday 30 March hosted by community archaeologist, Alexis Haslam.