Rabbit Warrens of South-West England: Landscape Context, Socio-Economic Significance and Symbolism
Gould, David Robert
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I wish to publish papers using material that is substantially drawn from my thesis.
For several centuries following their introduction into the British Isles by the Normans, rabbits were farmed on man-made warrens. The right to hunt rabbits during the medieval period was restricted to the highest strata of society and warrens, and rabbit products, carried connotations of wealth and exclusivity. During the post-medieval period, as rabbits became less expensive, their exclusivity declined and access to the species increased across a wider spread of the population. Consequently, later warrens tended to be purely commercial ventures that in places lingered as a form of animal husbandry up until the early twentieth century. Evidence of these warrens is particularly common across England and Wales and typically, although not exclusively, takes the form of pillow mounds, earthworks created to encourage rabbits to burrow. Despite their longevity and high numbers, warrens remain relatively little studied. This thesis investigates surviving warren architecture within south-west England, incorporating archaeological data into a GIS in order to identify the locational, morphological and typological trends of the region’s warrens. It also assesses associations between warrens and other classes of archaeology, notably elite residences and parks, large ecclesiastical institutions and prehistoric earthworks. Doing so allows for a better understanding of warrens’ roles within their immediate environs and of their relationships with other aspects of the human landscape. This study also addresses natural geographical aspects of the landscape in order to determine the principal factors that influenced where warrens were installed. This study investigates documentary reference to warrens as many have not survived within the landscape. Medieval chancery rolls in particular allow for the creation of a national framework of warrening so that the South West can be compared and contrasted to other regions of medieval England. Documentary references, both medieval and post-medieval, to the South West’s warrens allow for the creation of a discrete regional history that defines the context for the establishment of the region’s warren architecture. This study assesses how rabbits were interpreted by medieval society and discusses symbolism, particularly the visual role played by warrens in advertising their owners’ wealth and any possible religious concepts associated with rabbits.
Creighton and Prior, Oliver and Stuart
PhD in Archaeology