Monument record STN 035 - Boundary banks for the medieval to post medieval Downham High Warren

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Documentary evidence indicates that the medieval to post medieval Downham High rabbit warren was established by at least 1440. Substantial, often multiple boundary banks exist along almost its entire perimeter, the earthworks of which have been recorded through ground survey, excavation, aerial photographs and lidar imagery. The site includes the banks relating to the smaller conjoined warren of Santon Downham. Where the banks extend into Norfolk, they are recorded as NHER 61559.


Grid reference Centred TL 8485 8683 (5206m by 4531m) Centred on
Map sheet TL88NW


Type and Period (4)

Full Description

Downham Rabbit Warren boundary. HER plot mainly after OS 1st ed map - follows surving mapped boundaries (S1) and earthworks (S2) on E side (not on parish boundary) where marked external bank circa 40m from slighter internal bank marking course of present, and original (?), trackway, S side (not examined) mapped by single boundary only. W side (not examined) again mapped as double boundary (infilled with wood at S end) although OS alignments differ in detail in places from modern mapped boundaries - possibly due to changed boundaries or inaccurate mapping? Marked by existing earthwork in dry valley at TL 825 864. Also see ELV 024 & (S4). On S side also marks parish boundary with Elveden (& Elveden Warren? ) on W side boundary with Brandon (& Brandon Warren?).

Extent NE of B1107, Brandon - Thetford road, unknown although 1986 AP shows extending to TL 8345 8569 where joins(?) with series of partially mapped boundaries running to E, where it continues as double (bank) boundary along either side of parish and county boundary. Note rectangular enclosure marked on 1:10,000 map on NW side of boundary opposite other enclosure (& parallel cropmarks on Norfolk side).

For the Warren Lodge see STN 008.
For relationship with Thetford Warren boundary see Barnham 049.

January 1995: Warren boundary on western side consists of four banks located on eastern side of track which runs from High Lodge and defines Downham High Lodge warren. A fifth bank appears c.TL 803 835 (length not determined on the ground but present OS map shows a feature running c.400m parallel with warren boundary). Some sections of the warren boundary have been damaged by felling operations: (a) Compartment 3122. Felled ?1994? Three banks still discernible although much decimated by felling. (b) Compartment 3151. Felled and raked ?1993/4? Three banks ran diagonally through the compartment. Odd chunks c. 1m x 1m still survive. © Compartment 3152. Felled and raked ?1993/4? One warren bank still survives here (S5).

March 1996: A cable trench was through slight traces of a linear bank during monitoring. As the trench was relatively narrow (300mm wide) little of archaeological interest could be seen. Chalk was encountered at 700mm with sand and grael deposits to the south-west. (S13)

Map of Cadogan Estate, 1791, depicts triangular mounds of (presumably) earth along western edge and mapped as doles. Not same depiction on eastern edge, although here, a corridor between Cadogan's land and Thetford parish is marked as "Lord Petre's warren in Downham" (Petre held Thetford)(S6).

Note possible separation into two warrens - 'Downham High Lodge Warren' (see STN 087 for N boundary banks) and 'Santon Downham Warren' (STN 188) (to NE, area of Little Lodge Farm).
Some of the E banks (at least) have flint facings on the outer (inner in at least one case) faces.
April 1800 sketch plan of part of warren (including Downham Lodge in elevation) in Record Office (R1).

2010 The Breckland Society's survey of The Warrens of Breckland identified warren banks which are generally substantial, particularly where they abut the warrens of Brandon, Thetford and Elveden. The 1778 estate map names "warren bank" and marks the "doles" at regular intervals around the perimeter. The three and then four linear parallel banks on the western edge of the warren, two of which converge to create a funnel, may be trapping banks. Probably owned by Ixworth Priory in existance by 1440 (S7).

2017: Survey of internal archaeology of Breckland warrens identified western boundary banks. The boundary bank on the western side has three other banks running parallel to it for approx 500m, with a possible fifth bank at TL803835. The two westernmost banks meet in a curved funnel shape at TL 802843 before diverging again and running parallel. The two innermost banks follow the same 'funnelling in' pattern. The bank system are complex in their layout, merging together and then splitting apart; some curve round towards each other and then are discontinued. Rather than simply being four parallel banks throughout, two banks can merge and four become three and, at another location, three banks can merge and become two (S8).

January 2019. 'Brecks from Above' and Breckland National Mapping Programme.
Boundary banks presumed to be associated with the medieval to post medieval rabbit warren of Downham High have been traced as earthworks for almost the entire perimeter of the warren, primarily on imagery from a 2015 lidar survey (S10-S12). As described above, they are markedly substantial and well-defined, and frequently more than one bank is present; the exception is on the southeastern edge of the warren, where only a single, insubstantial bank was tentatively identified. Sections of the banks are visible on various of the aerial photographic sources, but the mapping relied almost exclusively on the lidar imagery. As the lidar survey was flown relatively recently, it is probable the most of the earthworks still survive.
Several other former rabbit warrens are situated adjacent to Downham High: Brandon (SHER BRD 082) to the west, Elveden (SHER ELV 049) to the southwest, Thetford (NHER 54069) to the east and Santon Downham (no separate SHER number) to the northeast. Although the boundary banks described here have been assigned to Downham High Warren, in the absence of detailed documentary or map evidence, the assignment of any particular banks mapped by the project to a specific warren is to a large extent notional. Some of the banks recorded as belonging to Downham High Warren might equally be associated with Brandon or Thetford warrens. For Santon Downham warren, the banks were indivisible from those of Downham High, so they are all included as part of this record. Where the banks extend into Norfolk, they are recorded as NHER 61559.
A very dense and complex landscape of boundaries, enclosures and cultivation or plantation ridges has been mapped from the aerial sources across Downham High Warren, and these features are recorded as SHER STN 185. They are most prevalent to the south of an east-west boundary (SHER STN 087), which subdivides the northernmost part of the warren from the rest. It is possible that this boundary reflects an expansion, contraction or division of the warren at some stage in its history. Contrary to the suggestion above, this bank does not appear to divide Downham High from Santon Downham Warren, as the latter is recorded as lying further to the northeast (S7, p30; S8, p20).
S. Tremlett (Norfolk Historic Environment Service), 21st January 2019.

Sources/Archives (16)

  • <S1> (No record type): OS, 1:10,000 & 1:10,560 maps, TL 88 SW, TL 88 NW & TL 78 NE, 1980 & 1959.
  • <R1> Source Checked: Suffolk Record Office. SRO(B), Q/SH/87, highway diversion and plan, April 1800.
  • <M1> Unpublished document: Suffolk Archaeological Service. Parish file. Parish file: OS 1st ed map at 1:10,000 scale.
  • <S2> (No record type): SAU, Pendleton C, December 1993.
  • <M2> (No record type): AP: (Ipswich) 43 86 156.
  • <S3> (No record type): SCC, AP, 43 86 156, vertical 1:10000 colour county cover, 1986.
  • <S4> (No record type): SAU, Pendleton C, field report, STN 035, November 1994.
  • <S5> (No record type): SAU, Sussams K, January 1995.
  • <S6> (No record type): Cadogan Estate Map of Downham, 1791, SRO (Bury).
  • <S7> Bibliographic reference: The Breckland Society. 2010. The Warrens of Breckland: A Survey by The Breckland Society. P 19.
  • <S8> Unpublished document: The Breckland Society. 2017. The Internal Archaeology of the Breckland Warrens. p. 19 and photo on p. 15.
  • <S9> Unpublished document: Mason, A.. 2009. The Archaeology of the Warrens of Thetford Forest. p. 11.
  • <S10> LIDAR Airborne Survey: LIDAR airborne survey. LIDAR Santon Forest Research 0.5m DTM 17-JUL-2015 (BNG Project, FC England, Fugro Geospatial).
  • <S11> LIDAR Airborne Survey: LIDAR airborne survey. LIDAR Thetford Forest Research 0.5m DTM 17-JUL-2015 (BNG Project, FC England, Fugro Geospatial).
  • <S12> LIDAR Airborne Survey: LIDAR airborne survey. LIDAR Wangford Forest Research 0.5m DTM 17-JUL-2015 (BNG Project, FC England, Fugro Geospatial).
  • <S13> Unpublished document: Newman, J.. 1996. Archaeological Monitoring: Underground Cable, Santon Downham.

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Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

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Record last edited

Nov 1 2022 12:22PM

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