06 - The village Otterspoor
The village Otterspoor appeals to the imagination. Articles have been written about the mysteriously vanished village.
In the book Vanished villages in the Netherlands part 2 from Bert Stulp a chapter is dedicated to the village Otterspoor. In an article Otterspoor in the tourbiking magazine from Feb. 1992, the magazine Old Utrecht is quoted in which the village Otterspoor had existed in the River Vecht area. There, at a small sluce, goods with the destination Utrecht were loaded over into smaller boats. Arie A. Manten founder and chairman of the Historical Circle Breukelen wrote many articles and in books about the village Otterspoor, the Otterspoordam, the Otterspoorsluce and the Otterspoorbroek (polder)
As far as I know Mr. S.J. Fockema Andreae is the first one who in his book ‘Study of the Waterboard History’ from 1950 states, that there must have been a settlement of some importance at the dam near the area Otterspoor
He saw the dam as one of the ends of the Utrecht overseas trade and shipping, and based the existance of the dam (with sluce) on Charters from 1228 and in 1397 wich confirmed the dam as the one near Otterspoor
However, it is Arie A. Manten who puts the village Otterspoor firmly on the map.
He adopts this- as base for the excistance- from the oldest Charter known to me from before 13 March 1139 in which the Name otterspoor (Otterspore) is mentioned.
Arie Manten is the only researcher who assumes that in this Charter is written about the Tenthtax (tiend) on the village Otterspoor (and the village Breukelen).
Fockema Andreae speaks here about the southern part of the village Breukelen.
Ary Leo Peter Buitelaar speaks about the old land Otterspoor in his dissertation ‘The Stichtse Ministeriality and the reclamations in the Utrecht Vecht area’.
M de Bruijn states in his article ‘Was there talk about a dam in the Vecht near Otterspoor’ that, other than for Breukelen, for Otterspoor the indication for a village (villam) is missing. (06.02)
Translation of the heading of the Charter
1139 (before march 13) Bishop Andreas allots a tenth (tax) near Breukelen and Otterspoor -that Diederik, son of Giselbert, appropriated- for twothird to the Kappitel of St. Peter in Utrecht, while the management over it is taken away from the Dean. (The First year of king Coenraat ends the 13th of March 1139)
Unfortunately my knowledge of Latyn is nil, but while puzzling with the help of a dictionary, I got the idea that something else may have been meant in the Charter from 1139. I could of course be totally wrong, but I would appreciate it if someone with more knowledge could react to this.
In the Charter the Latyn term ‘apud’ is used regarding the Otterspoortiend (tax) for Otterspoor and Breukelen.
Apud seems to stand for ‘near’ and possibly in this context for in between the Village Breukelen and the area Otterspoor.
In other Charters it is more common that the Latyn term ‘de’ is used, which stands for ‘from’. In Charters in old Dutch the terms from or in are used.
Dimidiam maybe could be read here as halfway between Breukelen and Otterspoor.
All in all, I doubt very much –also looking at the articles and other remarks from Arie Manten- that a village Otterspoor ever existed.
His main arguments are;
- The Charter from 1139 in which the hamlet Otterspoor is separately mentioned.
- The restriction for passing ships on the Vecht because of the dam and sluce.
- More emigrants in the late middle ages with the name ‘van Otterspoor’ than can be expected from a small aggricultural community.
Arie Manten furthermore says that;
- long before the reclaiming from land from the adjoining peatmarches started, the area Otterspoor possibly already had a settlement with the name Otterspoor in the tenth century.
- There is no concrete proof for a settlement of any significence in the area Otterspoor.
- In the time that he thought it likely that the Otterspoor dam and sluce were built, only one type of sluce excisted, namely the Flapdiver (klepduiker, no proper translation available)
- This oneflap sluce could only be passed during extreem circumstances (slow waterflow)
- The estimate of 1 to 2 ínternational ships per day was probably to high.
- The village Otterspoor probably existed more than three centuries.
- It was remarkable, that the village Otterspoor was not on the beer excise dutylist from the diocese Utrecht in Breukelen and surroundings in the years 1426 – 1430.
- In articles in 1986 and 1994 he states that the Otterspoorsluce was cleared away in 1327. (06.3), (06.4), (06.5)
I share the opinion of Arie Manten that the area Otterspoor was probably lived on long before the reclaiming of land from the peatswamps started.
It is plausible that this was a small community of farmers. I don’t think though, that this was a settlement in the sence of a proper village. As said, there is no concrete proof whatsoever for a settlement of any standing. There are no maps at all with the village Otterspoor on it. There is no charter or any other document in relation to a village Otterspoor. No other researcher sees the Charter from 1139 as a base for the excistance of the village. It is also stated that the indication for a village is missing.
Arie Manten himself states that it is remarkable that a beer excise duty from Otterspoor does not exist. Him stating in 1986 and 1994 that the sluce was cleared away in 1327 (what could explain the absence of the excise duty) is incorrect. Charters exist from 1378 and 1381 in which the Otterspoorsluce is mentioned. (06.6)
He does not mention the excise duty in his book from 2001, and does not mention the clearing of the sluce in 1327, but talks about the clearing of the dam in 1437 when the Hinderdam further downstream is constructed. He also states here that the dam with sluce in 1327 at Vreeland possibly never was build. This seems however have been the case, at least for a period, as Utrecht around that time complained about unjust toll at Vreeland.
It seems reasonable to assume that a village Otterspoor would have been situated on the safe side of the dam and sluce, but the village Otterspoor does not appear on the list of villages and places that had to pay Otterspoorhoeven (tax) for maintenance.
When the dam and sluce in the Vecht were constructed is not known.
A charter from 1228 is the oldest one that according to F Andreae mentions the dam.
Two researchers disagree with him, while Arie Manten supports him. F Andrea also states that a charter from 1397 confirms his view. He furthermore thinks it possible that the dam and sluce were constructed about 1140 – 1150 because of the digging through of the Vaartse Rijn into the Vecht.
It is not untill 1323 that the Otterspoorsluce near the estate Ganzenhoef is first mentioned in a letter of inspection by bishop Johan van Diest from Utrecht stating the rules concerning the upkeep of the dam. (06.7)
A closer look at the sluce
According to literature a ‘Flapdiver’ is a pipe (in history a hollow tree er something
Similar and at the present from metal or plastic) with on one end a flap on a hinge.
In 2000 years they have hardly changed in construction and working. (06.8)
It seems obvious, that this kind of sluce cannot be passed by ship at all.
But Arie Manten calls this sluce in his continuation a oneflap sluce.
Again according to literature he seems to talk about two different types of sluce.
At Spaardam, after a big flood-tide a dam was constructed in 1248 between the river Spaarne and the IJ (sea arm). In 1253 a simple oneflap sluice was constructed to allow shipping to pass the dam. This sluce could only be opened with the same waterlevels to allow ships to pass. (06.9)
It would therefore be no problem to pass a ship a day through such a sluce twice a day at neap tide.
An other option in those days to get ships to the other side of a dam is not mentioned by Arie Manten. It is an ‘overhaal’(overtoom, no translation) whereby a ship is pulled across two slopes using rolls or with a winch. (06.10)
An english book in which Fockema Andreae is cited seems to point to that.
‘By way of the Southern sea to the river Vecht, to the dam at Otterspoor. From there a canal dug around 1150, through the city of Utrecht, by way of the Ijssel direction the Rhine, whereby near the Gein another dam had to be crossed’ (06.11)
Arie Manten states further that the village Otterspoor lost its right of excistance after the dam and sluce were removed. A village that is said to have existed 300 year, no ships, take down the houses and move. I cannot quite see this.
First of all people already must have lived in the area Otterspoor alongside the river and they lived in a predominantly agricultural area. In every community life does not only exist about one specific job, specially not after a developement over 300 year.
Apart from that it seems to me that in those days common workers would have been used to walking to there job, and a few kilometers would not have meant very much. The distance between the villages of Breukelen and Maarsen is 6 kilometers and the village Otterspoor was supposed to have been about in the middle. According to Arie Manten about two kilometers from Breukelen.
The other way around, walking to a sluce from Maarssen, Breukelen and farms in and around the area Otterspoor did not mean much either in those days.
A last argument from Arie Manten has my special interest, as researching the genealogy of all Otterspoors and Otterspeers is my hobby.
He states that there were more emigrants in the late middleages by the name ‘from Otterspoor’ than would be expected from a small community. Unfortunately he does not substanciate this argument.
Assuming that the area Otterspoor was possibly lived on for centuries before, it would also be possible that there would have been a fair amount of offsprings ‘from Otterspoor’.
On average the late middleages are said to be from about 1200 to 1500.
In all the years that I have been researching, I found in fact very few persons with the name Otterspoor that would fit within this period.
Apart from the ones that I count to be part of my familytree, only 11 persons.
Three in Belgium in one family relation, one in Amersfoort, one in Delft, one in Diemersbroek, two in Leiden related and three in the city of Utrecht.
From five I am fairly sure that they may well belong to my familytree.
The name Otterspoor is pretty unique.
Every living Otterspoor in the world is part of my familytree.
Every living Otterspeer in the world is part of the same familytree, that starts about 1670 in Nieuwpoort. This familytree could well be part of my familytree as one Otterspoor from my tree already lived in Nieuwpoort in 1570.
There are two more bigger Otterspoor familytrees where the name Otterspoor became extinct. For both it is possible that they are part of my familytree.
Apart from that there are eight small branches and I believe that several are almost certain part of my familytree. This is also the case for a lot of bits of information that I still have to research further to place them.
Working on the (internet) book Ottersporen has more and more strengtened my believe that our name is pretty unique. At first I believed that the area Otterspoor and the polder Otterspoor-broek brought forth quite a few not related families Otterspoor. It looks more and more that this is not the case.
It is now my believe, that already in the eleventh century or before a farming family developed in the area Otterspoor, that used the name ‘from Otterspoor’. A family that developed into a well to do family that spread there wings in the late middleages and after that over the province of utrecht en furter away and that produced sons in higher professions and functions.
It will not surprise me that most of all Otterspoors that I have information about will in the end turn out to be part of this family.