Medieval Deer Parks

in the Hundred of Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire


fallow deer, Dyrham Park

Fallow deer in Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire


Hunting parks, or deer parks, were developed on manorial land, mostly between 1200 and 1350. Early ones were not necessarily close to the manor house, later examples, especially those that have survived to the present day, tended to be around the house or a new mansion was built within the park- a nearby example is Dyrham Park north of Bath, still stocked with deer.

They were made by members of the nobility, or high-ranking clergy and usually required a licence to empark. They were usually stocked with fallow deer, although other animals were hunted, including boar and hares.

Having a park was a sign of status and could be used to entertain influential people, both in the hunt and in serving venison at the table, or as gifts. They ranged in size depending on the wealth of the owner and the nature of the ground -poor land may not have been suitable for agriculture.

They were usually enclosed by a pale -a boundary bank topped by a hedge and/or fence with an internal ditch -to contain the deer. In places there might be a leap-gate, which was a gap with a ditch that had a sloping side on the inside and near vertical side on the other that would allow deer to jump into the park, but not out. Leap-gates were often mentioned as boundary features in Anglo-Saxon land charters and various forms of the words frequently remain as place name, especially as Lyppiatt.

Park land, within the boundary, was characterised by an open grassy landscape with scattered pollarded large trees and small woods. There may have been fish ponds and rabbit warrens as well an sometimes cattle were grazed there.

Deer parks were expensive, with long stretches of boundary pale to maintain, the employment of a warden and the ever-present threat of poachers. Gradually most of them disappeared, especially after the ravages of the Black Death in the 14th century and the land was redeveloped for agriculture.

Laying out of new field systems and ploughing have often destroyed the boundary banks. Discovering the existence or traces of parks in the modern landscape involves discovering the banks by fieldwork and LiDAR, looking for field names that include park or leap-gate in old maps and documents. The possible existence of several now-disappeared parks have been found in the area of the Hundred of Bradford on Avon, in the modern Broughton Gifford, Holt and Monkton Farleigh parishes. Another area of old park, in the vanished manors of Rowley and Wittenham, was added in the 15th century to a larger park at Farleigh Hungerford, across the Somerset border.