Hare and Rabbit warrens

2000/04 pp7–8

 

Rabbit and hare warrens

 

I have long known the remains of the hare warren on Walton Downs near Langley Vale; much of the wall still stands to a height of eight feet or so. The hare warren is shown as such on John Rocque’s map, published in 1768, and is said to have been set up in 1720 by the fifth Lord Baltimore of Woodcote Park. The hares that bred in the enclosure would have been driven out through small trap-doors in the wall onto the downs to be chased by dogs. Hare coursing was a popular entertainment for visitors to Epsom Spa. The warrener’s cottage built into the wall still stands. My interest in the warren was rekindled by an enquiry from Mr. Albert Henderson of the Department of Biology, University of Leeds, who is researching hare warrens. He mentioned also the warren at Belmont that I had heard of, but had not previously taken the trouble to look at, and I made a point of going to see it. A considerable length of the stoutly built brick wall about six feet high survives in Warren Avenue and Onslow Avenue as the front garden wall of some large detached houses built in recent years. A few of the trap-door holes remain. The warrener’s cottage was pulled down in 1930. Little is known about the origins of this hare warren. It has been suggested that it was associated with Nonsuch Palace, since hare coursing was popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Some experts have expressed the view that the present brickwork is no earlier than the late seventeenth century. It could not be Tudor as it is built in Flemish bond.

 

Mr. Henderson has also been researching rabbit warrens and was kind enough to send me a paper he has written on this subject and to give permission for me to quote from it. It is not generally known that there were managed rabbit warrens as well as hare warrens, and a few details from the research may be of interest to members of NAS.

 

Although rabbits and hares were both early natives of the British Isles, rabbits became extinct over 10,000 years ago during the Ice Ages: in fact, they became extinct throughout Europe except in the milder regions of the Iberian peninsula, which led the Romans to refer to it as the rabbit-teeming Spanish Peninsula. The animal was appreciated by the Romans for its meat and its fur; rabbit rissole was higher on their menus than chicken. Rabbits were kept in warrens and use of these spread steadily through much of western Europe, although they did not arrive in Britain until the Normans introduced them in the 11th or 12th centuries. The animals were known as coneys, although the young ones were called rabbits and this name eventually took over. However, coney is still used in statutes and in heraldry. ‘Warren’ or ‘coney’ in place names can indicate one-time managed rabbit populations.

 

Warrens were mainly situated on land of low fertility, particularly sandy, gravelly or heathland areas. The boundary walls would be built of stone where it was available. For obvious reasons the walls of rabbit warrens did not need to be as high as those of hare warrens. Mounds of soft or gravelly earth were made inside the warren for the rabbits to burrow in and often provide archaeological evidence of the site of a rabbit warren. Several such sites are known on Box Hill. A large warren could be of sufficient economic importance to justify building a lodge for a warrener to live in. His job was to look after the rabbits and deter poachers.

 

The hares raised in warrens were mainly for sporting purposes, whereas rabbits were sold for their meat and their fur. There was a limited use of rabbits for sport, but an animal that tends to stop and give itself up when pursued is not an ideal beast of the chase.

 

Charles Abdy