The History of the Washlands dates back to the 7th century when Saint Modwen built a chapel and settlement dedicated to Saint Andrew on Andressey Island. In 874 AD, when the Danes invaded the region by sailing up the river Trent, they burned down the Saxon buildings and destroyed Saint Modwen’s Chapel. Evidence of the Danish presence remains in names that are still present today such as “Holme” (meaning island). A few examples of this are Horse Holme and Broad Holme. A shrine to St Modwen was later built in the Burton Abbey and was visited by many pilgrims including William the Conqueror. Today only the cherry orchard and yew tree mark the site of Saint Modwen’s Chapel. In 1002 to 1004 AD during the reign of Ethelred the Unready, a Saxon Earl called Wulfric Spot established the Burton Abbey on the Banks of the river Trent at Burton, where the Market Hall, Technical College and Memorial Grounds now stand.
The original Bridge witnessed two battles – the first, in 1321 AD, during King Henry II’s reign and the second during the civil war of 1643 AD. At both battles the town of Burton upon Trent was sacked and burnt. The town expanded during the industrial revolution and the old bridge was unable to cope with the increased traffic and so it was replaced in 1864 by the bridge we see today. By 1879 the centuries old ferry crossing at Stapenhill also became heavily used as a short cut to Burton. In 1889 Lord Burton replaced the outdated ferry with the Ferry Bridge. In the same year, he also constructed a viaduct from the bridge to the town thereby improving access across the wet meadows. The Washlands have been used for public recreation since 1841 when the landlord, the Marquis of Anglesey gave permission for Sports to be played on the Hay, and in 1875 the Burton Public Swimming Baths was built close to the Burton bridge. In 1985 Saint Peters bridge was built to try to alleviate the traffic problems of the other bridge.
The Monks and the Meadows
The low-lying meadows give the washlands it’s Distinctive character. The washlands are prone to periodic flooding from the River Trent. The first record of floods was made by a monk in 1284 AD. Flooding enriched the meadow soils making excellent pastures for grazing sheep. This enabled Burton to develop it’s first international reputation for the Monks fine wool. By 1315 AD the monks of Burton Abbey had expanded their wool trade as far as the famous Florentine markets in Italy. As the cotton trade became more popular the wool traded declined. The meadows have also been important for it’s many well’s. Saint Modwen had a well on Andressey island for holy water, which was used to heal the sick.
The Monks of Burton Abbey also collected water from wells for brewing ale. Gradually over the years independent breweries established good reputations for themselves because of the quality of the water and the taste of their beers. Trade in many forms further increased for the town from 1698 when the Trent at Burton was made navigable from the port of Hull all the way to Burton through an Act of Parliament. Today brewing remains an important industry in the town and water is still collected from the wells on the Washlands. The meadows have benefited from the continued use of these wells as chemical herbicides and fertilizers are forbidden and the meadows have therefore retained much of there diversity of wetland flowers and wildlife. .