Warrens Project

A late nineteenth-century view of Thetford Warren with the warren lodge on the horizonBarely had the dust settled after our highly successful Vernacular Architecture Project when the Society landed another grant: this time from English Heritage, for research into one of the most important aspects of the Brecks history: the area’s famous rabbit warrens. The grant of £12,100, together with £500 drawn from the Society’s own resources, was offered in 2008 and the project officially ended on 31 March 2010.

Breckland’s warrens first came to prominence in Medieval times, when designated areas were set aside for the breeding of rabbits for their meat and fur. Here they were nurtured, protected from poachers and trapped and culled by warreners.

Mildenhall Warren Lodge, restored by the Friends of Thetford Forest Park

There are over 25 warrens scattered across the Norfolk and Suffolk Brecks, and whilst some, such as that at Mildenhall, had already been studied on a limited basis, others remained almost completely unknown until this project. In particular, there was no detailed overview of how much remains of each warren in terms of its structure, namely the high banks that were built around each warren to keep in the rabbits, and the lodges constructed so that the warrener could keep watch over his charges. Many warren sites had not been visited and assessed in recent years, nor had any concerted work been carried out in the county archives to collate historical data and references related to the warrens and to the activities of which they were once the focal point, such as the trade in rabbit fur and meat.

Warreners photographed on the Elveden estate in the 1920s and showing their classic smocks, staves, dogs and ferret boxes

As a result of the project, all that has now changed. Over 40 volunteers were involved in fieldwork and archival research; an extraordinary amount of data was discovered and some starting new discoveries made. The project’s findings have been incorporated into a database that contains much of the original data and other material – see below. A downloadable version of the project’s final report is available here.