Harold Miller - Maintaining the Marshes

(Note: the Bridge End house mentioned here was demolished in 1965, when numbers 4 -17 were replaced.)

Seventeen Bridge End I knew very well, because there lived Harold and Winnie Miller and son Michael. My aunt, uncle and cousin, they returned from temporary accommodation at 1 Castle Terrace to live at 17 Bridge End at the end of the Second World War.

Number17 had been commandeered by the Army because of its strategic position overlooking the road junction, Pevensey Bridge and with a distant view of the railway at Pevensey Bay Halt. A machine-gun position had been made in the front bedroom.

Harold worked for the Old Haven Catchment Board, one of the predecessors of Sussex River Authority, first as a longshoreman, working with the mechanical excavators which, with their ponderous dredging buckets and swinging jibs, cleared, re-dug and reshaped the thousands of ditches and other waterways of Pevensey Marsh and surrounding areas.

Later, Harold became responsible for surveying and maintaining proper water levels over the whole of this large area. Every day he would be out on his bicycle taking water-level measurements and opening or closing sluice locks and gates according to the amount of water. There seemed to be a never-ending stream of farmers calling at Number 17 to say they had too much or not enough water, and it was clearly difficult for Harold to keep them all happy. Always, downfalls of rain or periods of drought upset the balance of things and involved Harold in feverish activity.

For a number of years, his old black mongrel,Tubber, would follow Harold’s bike every day, trotting at a leisurely pace to keep up with his master, and covering a hundred miles or so every week.

During the wettest part of the year, Harold opened the large sluice gates at Pevensey Bridge, to let excessive water drain off the marsh and make its way to the sea. These gates marked the division between the inland fresh water and the seaward salt water.

Sometimes the gates remained open for days and weeks. During this time large numbers of freshwater fish would be swept through to the south side of Pevensey Bridge. When the gates were closed again, these fish would be trapped and doomed to die as they could not survive in salt water. Then they would shoal in their hundreds, sometimes thousands, in the tunnels beneath Pevensey Bridge, where they delayed their inevitable end by keeping in the highest concentration of fresh water as it leaked through the gates and to a greater or lesser extent according to prevailing conditions diluted the strength of salt water.

At such times, in our early teens, we village boys in thigh-boots or wellingtons, would spend hours wading in the water beneath the bridge, armed with shrimp-nets and buckets. With these, we scooped out thousands of fish – tench, bream , roach, rudd, and returned them to safety on the freshwater side. At the odd time of innovation, we took some of these fish to stock the castle moat, Westham horse pond and other suitable areas of water.

Years before the war, a similar but professional operation was undertaken at Pevensey Bridge at certain times of the year. Nets were let down to catch the eels swept under the bridge. These eels were boxed there and then, all alive-alive-o, and put on trains to the London markets.



The photograph shows Harold Miller at Pevensey Castle, 1925.

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