Thetford Warren Lodge


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014778

Date first listed: 09-Oct-1981

Date of most recent amendment: 18-Sep-1996


Ordnance survey map of Thetford Warren Lodge
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Norfolk

District: Breckland (District Authority)

Parish: Thetford

National Grid Reference: TL 83927 84062


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

The term warren during the medieval period had two separate meanings. A warren in the more specialised sense was land set aside for the breeding and management of rabbits, often looked after by a warrener. The right of free warren was, on the other hand, the right of a landowner to hunt small game such as hare over his own estates and, like the right to hunt deer and larger game, was granted by the king. Hunting, and the management of game for that purpose, was therefore a privilege confined to the upper levels of society. The possession of a rabbit warren was also associated originally with wealth and high social status, although it required no license; the meat and skins of rabbits, which were introduced to England from the continent in the 12th century, being prized commodities. In the post-medieval period, from the 16th century to the early 20th century, rabbit warrens were an increasingly common feature of manors and estates throughout the country, managed on an increasingly commercial basis and often very profitable. Features associated with hunting and warrens, including hunting lodges and warreners' lodges, provide evidence of the social and economic standing and development of ecclesiastical and secular estates, and all well preserved examples of medieval and early post-medieval date will merit protection.

Thetford Warren Lodge is a rare example of an intact warren building and it retains many original features. As a substantial stone building in an area where stone and brick were costly materials, it demonstrates the wealth and social standing of its builder. Its defensive aspects reflect a need on the part of the land holder to protect the warren, and his rights within it, from encroachment by the less privileged and possibly resentful population of the area. The area immediately around the standing structure and on the west side, where the well survives, is likely to contain archaeological evidence, below the ground surface, of less substantial structures and activities associated with the lodge. The subsequent use of the building into modern times, as part of a large and productive rabbit warren, give it additional interest.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


Thetford Warren Lodge is located on the north eastern side of Thetford Warren, c.260m south west of the Brandon Road and c.2.67km ENE of St Mary's Priory, Thetford. The monument includes the Lodge, which together with an area surrounding it, is in the care of the Secretary of State and is Listed Grade II*. There is a well to the west and the remains below ground of extensions, now demolished, which adjoined the original building to north and south and related to its later use in the 18th and 19th centuries. The lodge, is a rectangular building of two storeys measuring c.8.5m NNE-SSW by 5.8m, with a chimney c.1.6m wide and of two stages projecting from the west wall. The walls, which stand for the most part to almost their full original height and are up to 1m thick at ground floor level, are constructed of mortared flint rubble with some brick and tile and with limestone dressings which include many reused architectural fragments of 12th century type. The floor of the upper storey no longer survives, although its level is marked by an offset on the interior face of the walls. The flat roof, with skylight, is modern.

On the east side of the building, towards the southern end, is a door opening with pointed arch and brick vault which gives entrance to the ground floor. The internal and external stone surrounds of the entrance have been removed except for the base of the jambs on the north side. Slots lined with tile in the thickness of the wall to either side of the opening are thought to be for drawbars to secure the entrance. The lower apartment has a floor of worn brick. On the west wall are the remains of a large fireplace, and to the south of the entrance, in the south western internal angle of the building, is an obliquely set, narrow doorway with pointed arch and jambs of stone opening on to a newel (spiral) stair which leads to a similar doorway on the first floor. The stair was originally crowned with an octagonal turret which projected above the level of the roof of the building. This no longer survives but was still standing in the early 18th century, as shown in a sketch of the building dated c.1740. The south eastern angle of the building, which forms the external wall of the stair, shows evidence of rebuilding, probably following a collapse, the repair being clearly marked by the inclusion of random ashlar and brick in the fabric. The ground floor was lit by five narrow window slots: one in the east wall to the north of the entrance, one centrally placed in each end wall and two in the west wall, to either side of the chimney. At first floor level there are four wider, rectangular window openings, one in each wall. All the embrasures are widely splayed internally. Where the external stone dressings of the windows remain intact, the jambs are of reused masonry with double bevel, and where the stone has been removed, in the east window on the upper floor and all except the north window on the ground floor, the impressions remain visible in the surrounding mortar.

The most prominent feature of the upper apartment is a large fireplace in the west wall, which is finely built of brick with ashlar jambs and moulded brick base. To the south of this is the western window opening, and in the south western angle, opposite the entrance to the stair, is the narrow, arched doorway to a garderobe (latrine) in the thickness of the wall. A rebate for the door can be seen in the stone surround. In the west wall behind the garderobe is a large inserted opening, and below this, in the outer face of the wall, is a narrow breach through which the circular garderobe shaft can be seen. In the east wall, above the doorway on the ground floor, there is a rectangular opening with stone jambs giving on to a recess in the thickness of the wall, with a quatrefoil light to the exterior. A rectangular slot in the floor of this recess, opening on to the vault of the doorway below is interpreted as a `murder hole' (through which missiles could be dropped on anyone attempting to force an entrance).

The interior of the building shows evidence of alteration including the subdivision of the northern end of the ground floor to create two small, additional rooms, one above the other. The partition walls do not survive, but the floor at this end, to the north of the fireplace, has been lowered and the interior face of the lower walls has been cut back by c.0.45m, truncating the splay of the northern window embrasure and leaving impressions in the mortar where flints have been removed. Above this, and below the level of the upper chamber, two small, rectangular openings were inserted in the east and west walls to light an intermediate floor. These alterations were probably carried out at some time after 1740, since the inserted openings are not shown in the sketch of the lodge as it was at that date. The sketch indicates that there was then a small lean-to structure against the north wall and another small shed to the west of it. Two single storey thatched wings were subsequently added and a communicating door inserted in the south wall of the original building. These additions were demolished after a fire in 1935, but are recorded in a photograph of c.1900. The outline of their roofs is marked by differences in colour on the external faces of the north and south walls, and the blocked opening of the inserted door is also visible in the south wall. The remains of slates bonded into the fabric of the west wall outline the pitch of the roof of another adjoining structure of unknown date.

A well, possibly contemporary with the original building, lies c.13.8m to the west of the lodge. The circular well head measures 1.6m in diameter, and is now capped with mortared flints.

Until the suppression of the monasteries in the 16th century, Thetford Warren was held by the prior of the Cluniac Priory of St Mary, Thetford, who enjoyed there the right of free warren (a license from the king to hunt small game). Subsequently, after the final dissolution of the priory in 1540, the monastic lands were granted to the Duke of Norfolk who had been its patron. Thetford Warren Lodge is generally considered to have been built c.1400, and to have been occupied by the prior's gamekeeper, the defensive features of the building (the narrow slit windows on the ground floor, the `murder hole' and the evidence for draw bars on the door) being for protection against armed poachers. The character of the building is indicative of high status, and its interior features and fittings are consistent with its having been intended as a hunting lodge to accommodate hunting parties rather than a gamekeeper alone. It is possible, however, that it postdates the dissolution, since the reused masonry which is an integral part of the fabric includes fragments which must originally have been part of an important, probably monastic building or buildings.

In the post-medieval period, until the early years of the 20th century, the area surrounding the monument was one of the most productive rabbit warrens in the Breckland region of Norfolk and it is known that Thetford Warren Lodge was occupied, from at least the 18th century onwards, by the warreners who managed and culled the stock. The later alterations to the building relate to this use, and it is recorded that the rooms on the ground floor were used for the drying of the rabbit skins on racks and for the storage of the traps, nets and lanterns used by the warreners.

The fence and fence posts around the site in the care of the Secretary of State, the gate and the English Heritage information board are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 21410

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Clarke, W G, In Breckland Wilds, (1925), 116,117
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906), 368
Dymond, D, The Norfolk Landscape, (1990), 114,115
Rackham, O, The History of the Countryside, (1987), 293
Rigold, S E, Thetford Priory, (1979), 22, 23
Yaxley, D, Wade-Martins, P (ed), An Historical Atlas of Norfolk: Medieval Deer Parks, (1993), 54
Breckland: Thetford 2760,
in Church Notes (folio vols), Martin, T, (1740)
reproduction of photograph of c.1900, Thetford, Ancient Burg, (1986)

End of official listing