• The story behind
    W1 – Wraysbury Nature Reserve

    W1–Wraysbury Nature Reserve has come a long way from its humble beginnings, starting life as a gravel pit in the 1920’s.

    The venue only came into being in the early 20th century. Yet its roots stretch further back. Archaeological excavations in the Wraysbury area have revealed that woolly mammoth roamed the land over 10,000 years ago – perhaps omens of the giant carp that would swim here millennia later. Archaeologists have also discovered evidence of Stone Age settlements from the 3rd century BC, as well as items crafted by Bronze Age peoples around 750 BC.

    The vestiges of Anglo-Saxon settlements have also been discovered in the shape of Saxon pottery and coinage dating from between the 5th and 10th centuries AD. Royal records from the 11th century, meanwhile, show that the King of the time, Edward the Confessor, owned a palace and lands in the Wraysbury area. These incorporated fish markets and ‘garths’ – river weirs for capturing fish – together with fisheries renowned for their excellent eels and salmon.

    Wraysbury also came to the fore in 1086 AD, when the village, then known as ‘Wirecesberie’, was mentioned in the Domesday Book: the famous survey of England and Wales commissioned by William the Conqueror. By 1422, ‘Wirecesberie’ had become ‘Wyrardisbury’, or, in Saxon parlance, the ‘stronghold of a man called Wigraed’. It was just one of the many variations of the village’s name through the ages.

    The area has other claims to fame, too. Some scholars believe that Wraysbury, rather than nearby Runnymede, was the true site of the signing of the Magna Carta by King John in 1215. It is also home to one of England’s oldest trees: the magnificent Ankerwycke Yew. Standing near the now-ruined 12th century Ankerwycke Priory, this age-old tree is thought to be between 1,000 and 3,000 years old and to have sheltered King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn during their courtship.

    The Origins of W1

    Between the 11th and 19th century, Wraysbury changed from a Crown Manor into a farming village. In 1848, the arrival of the railway prompted a new era of growth and prosperity, although it wasn’t until the advent of a new industry in the 1920s and 1930s that Wraysbury as we know it today really took shape.

    Over the centuries, Wraysbury became increasingly known for its sand and gravel deposits – a geological phenomenon resulting from its proximity to the River Thames, which, over time, had washed minerals into the area. The deposits attracted cement and building companies keen to extract the natural resources. Consequently, the mid-1920s to the 1970s saw an influx of companies who arrived to mine huge open cast sand and gravel pits.

    Once the minerals had been removed, any disused pits were left to flood with water, a process accelerated by rock and clay surrounding the quarries. Over the following years, the pits were then colonised by plants, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. By the 1930s, lakes had begun to form. A map of the time records the earliest presence of W1, already measuring 50 acres. By 1945, the lake had expanded to 90 acres, as evidenced by aerial photography. Even so, W1 was still the only lake in the vicinity, with Wraysbury 2 and others lakes such as those at Kingsmead and Yeoveney still to form.

    Excavation hadn’t stopped however. Mining at W1 continued until the 1970s, when the lake’s two sections, known as the North Lake and South Lake, were connected following the removal of a dividing spit of land. What had been an anonymous gravel pit was quickly evolving into a beautiful, 120-acre stretch of water that would inspire anglers for decades to come.

    Early Angling

    As it took shape in the 1960s and 1970s, W1 began to attract attention from the angling community. Fishing began under the auspices of the Hall & Company building materials group, which established what was known as Hall’s Angling Scheme. When the company changed hands in the 1960s, the scheme mushroomed and W1 became a magnet for fishermen.

    Although no one is entirely sure how W1 came to be stocked with carp and other coarse fish, it is clear that Hall’s Angling Scheme would have provided the initial stocks. Local angler and Fleet Street journalist, Bill Keal, also introduced small carp from Cheshunt Lake, drawing on its small Leney, Dutch and Israeli carp. Rumour has it that these newcomers included Mary’s Mate, a fish that would later become the stuff of legend. It’s likely other fish were introduced, too. And if W1 was about to become known for its big carp, it was in good company. Several nearby lakes had produced giant carp in the 1950s, including Englefield Green AA’s Moor Lane water, where a 26lb 8oz specimen was caught in 1955.
    First Landing & Stockings

    W1 first became associated with big carp in 1959, when angler Cliff Glenton landed a 20lb+ specimen from what the press called a ‘private lake near Wraysbury’. Although it can’t be certain, it seems highly likely this was W1.

    A fallow period then followed: a stretch of time that would accelerate the lake’s transformation into a premium carp venue. From 1959 to the late 1970s, the water and its fish were left largely to their own devices. This, along with the absence of large numbers of anglers, allowed the fish to explore their surroundings and helped engender prime conditions for them to flourish and grow. By 1979 or so, it’s believed that W1 housed a small but significant number of carp.

    The construction of the M25 in the early 1980s provided another boost. Earth-moving projects around the new Staines interchange sounded the death knell for the neighbouring flooded gravel pit at Yeoveney. It was here in 1978 that angler Peter Springate had nabbed an incredible brace: two mirrors weighing 36lb and 38lb. In 1979, 20 big carp from the drained Yeoveney were transferred to W1. Amongst them was a future star – a handsome, chestnut-toned mirror called Olive weighing 29lb.

    The First 40

    In 1980, W1 served up its first 40. Angler Nick West captured a monster 40lb 4oz carp, triggering new excitement about the lake’s treasures. Soon afterwards, however, it became clear that the Yeoveney ‘stockies’ were struggling, with many dying when they reached 35-36lb in weight. Although Olive survived, stocks were replenished by new introductions, which fared better. These included 20 carp and a clutch of bream in 1983 from Bedfont Lake near Heathrow and four carp from Rayners Lake in 1986. Amongst them were fish that would be named Cluster, The Pug, Goldie (later known as Mallins) and Mary – carp celebrities, every one.

    By 1987, these restocks were feeding W1’s legendary status. Pete Springate landed a 36lb Olive, while Chris Ball hooked Cluster and Goldie at 21lbs and 22lbs in turn. A year later, Dave Cumpstone snared the soon-to-be-named Mary at 28lb 4oz.

    In the early 1990s, W1 began producing the gigantic carp that many had anticipated, with the prized, weighty specimens probably helped along by lower stock levels and reduced competition. In 1990, Dave Cumpstone captured a 40lb 4oz Olive and Dave Mallin landed Goldie at 37lb – a catch that saw it re-christened as Mallins. In July 1991, meanwhile, Pete Springate netted Mary at 45lb 6oz. Despite it being a male, this splendid catch was named Mary – a tag that stuck. Pete’s catch fired another wave of interest, with more and more anglers flocking to W1 for a piece of the action.

    The Mary Milestones

    1992 brought several record-breaking landings. In December, Dave Cumpstone caught Mary again, this time at 50lb 8oz. Along with Mary came Mary’s Mate at 40lb 3oz – making Dave the first to catch a brace of 40lb+ carp. Mary was hooked again in 1993 at 49lb, and in 1994, when she hit 49lb 8oz. In August 1994, Kevin O’Farrell caught Mary again at 50lb 8oz, prompting speculation that if she had been caught in the autumn or..