Researching Rabbits!

This week’s blog post is written by Anne Mason, who works as a heritage consultant, making funding applications, developing, and delivering projects. She particularly enjoys working with volunteers, helping them learn new skills to discover more about our history and historic landscape.

The Breckland Society is doing more research into the warrens of Breckland, a project which is part of the Heritage Lottery funded ‘Breaking New Ground’ Landscape Partnership Scheme. For 6oo years, from the 1280s, these warrens were areas where rabbits were farmed for their meat and fur and they were looked after by a warrener. Using a combination of archival research and fieldwork, this project aims to identify the internal features of selected medieval warrens, including the sites of the lodges and the multiple banks which may have been used for trapping.

Volunteers have already been trained to measure and map the banks and on Friday 16 January they made a visit to the Norfolk Record Office to find out about documents there and how to access them. From being shown how to use the online catalogue (NROCAT) and how to request documents in the searchroom, to seeing one of the strongrooms and then the conservation department in action, everyone was enthralled and fascinated. An added highlight was being able to look at documents related to warrenning, especially selected for us by the NRO staff. For the volunteers researching Beachamwell or Santon Downham Warrens for instance, having maps of 1842 and 1778 before their eyes was amazing! A volunteer wrote afterwards ‘seeing those old documents was quite addictive and made me feel a connection with people from hundreds of years ago’.

One of the things that makes Breckland so important in terms of the heritage of the warrening industry is that the banks and lodge sites are still there, protected by Thetford Forest. The second is that this archaeological evidence can be supported by information from archives and our NRO visit was the perfect way to see what a rich and unique resource it is, not just for warrening records but for the whole history of Norfolk, and it’s there for all of us to use.

Some tweets from the day:

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