The Rabbit Warren
The remains of a medieval rabbit warren, in the form of a series of pillow mounds, can still be made out under the horse chestnut trees, south of Warren Cottage.
Rabbits introduced to Hatfield Forest
Rabbits were introduced to England and the Forest by the Normans. They were farmed as an important source of meat and also for their fur.
The Warren is located in the angle of plain between Collin's Coppice and Warren Coppice. It consists of a roughly oval earthwork enclosure, approximately 4 ha in area. This earthwork includes 13 pillow mounds, arranged in three broadly parallel lines aligned north west to south east. Within the enclosure are a further 5 linear pillow mounds and 4 circular mounds.
Each pillow mound is roughly rectangular in shape, flat-topped and surrounded by a ditch, varying in length from 13 to 45m , from 7 to 10m wide and 1m high.The circular mounds are smaller, only 0.4m high and from 5 to 6m diameter, also encircled by a ditch.
There is an enclosed annex at the south east corner, measuring about 60 by 100m. The eastern boundary is formed from a coppice boundary wall. The purpose and date of this annex is uncertain but believed to be associated with refurbishment of the warren by Sir Edward Turnor (see below).
Confusingly, the wood bank of Warren Coppice runs parallel to and about 15m from the eastern boundary of the warren, for about 200m.
The pillow mounds provided burrows for the rabbits, so they could be more readily farmed, and are found in many other locations in the country.
What you can see today
If you head off from the main car park, by the Cedar of Lebanon tree, and then along Cedar Ride, you will start to see signs of the pillow mounds, somewhat obscured by more recent tree growth. The northern part of the site is now covered by large horse-chestnut trees. The southern area is more open, with the earthworks forming the southern boundary covered with smaller trees. There are no pollards or coppiced trees, suggesting that the area may have been treeless in the past, rather than part of the ancient set of coppices.
Warren Cottage is located in the north east corner.
Whilst it is certain that the pillow mounds were deliberately introduced in the medieval era, to assist the farming activity, the origin of the main earthworks is less certain.
This is a bank with an external ditch. It could have been constructed at the same time as the pillow mounds or could have dated from an earlier era and then adapted for use in the rabbit warren.
Remains of unaltered earthworks remain between most of the pillow mounds and there are long stretches in the north and south without mounds.
A single shard of Iron Age pottery and a flint blade were recovered from the surface during a survey in 1993.
The existence of the parallel woodbank (see above) suggests a later rather than an earlier origin, since there would then have been no need to construct the separate woodbank. The purpose of the original earthworks is not clear. It is however unlikely to have been a coppice boundary.
There is evidence from Forest records for a warren in the mid 1600's.
The Sharers (commoners) of Takeley submitted a petition accusing the owner of the Forest, Lord Morley, of "lately making a Warren in the Forest". He was repeatedly fined in the manorial court in connection with keeping rabbits, including "making Coney Burroughs and erecting a Cottage".
There was a revival of interest in the late 1680's, under the new owner, Sir Edward Turnor. He built Warren Cottage, appointed a warrener and restocked the warren. It seems however that this was short lived as, by 1735, the warren was no longer active.
A scheduled monument
The warren is a scheduled monument, on the National Heritage List for England (no 24886). It is described as the most complete surviving example of a large scale warren in Essex.
This stands in the north east corner of the Warren. Records suggest (see above) that the first cottage was probably erected by 1639 but the present building is of later date.