Weird Norfolk: The Phantom Rabbit of Thetford Warren Lodge
PUBLISHED: 15:20 07 May 2017 | UPDATED: 15:20 07 May 2017
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2015
It's a rare reminder of a time when the warrens that carved a honeycomb under the Brecks were a rich source of income for landowners.
Thetford Warren Lodge was built around the 1400s a few miles west of Thetford – probably at the bequest of the prior of Our Lady’s Priory who had Royal approval to hunt small game and was keen to protect his livelihood by constructing a defensive lodge which could repel poachers.
It was big enough to accommodate hunting parties and the prior’s warrener, who protected, farmed and sold the rabbits which were prized for their meat and their fur, and strong enough to deal with those who came prepared with bows, arrows and sharpened sticks with a view to rabbit poaching.
Warreners, who lived in the highest part of the warren on the second floor, would bore holes to make burrows and provide food such as groundsel, dandelions and thistles, spreading gorse and tree boughs as shelter and food in colder months. On the ground floor of the building was a storeroom for traps, nets and racks to dry skins and hang salted meats.
At one point, the lodge was acquired by the Maharajah Duleep Singh – the Indian prince exiled to Norfolk in the 19th century – on a 99-year lease.
A few warreners are still working in Breckland, trapping rabbits and moving them to other warrens in a bid to control the population.
As with many medieval buildings, the lodge – which is now maintained by English Heritage - has its fair share of spooky stories attached to it.
One ominous tale harks back to the building’s warrening history: it is said that a large – even huge – ghostly white rabbit with flaming red eyes guards the doorway to the lodge and is an omen of death to anyone who lays eyes on it.
A further two strange stories appear to be rooted in the nearby Leper Hospital of St Margaret where poor souls suffering from this highly-contagious disease were kept away from the rest of society on the edge of town: the building was ransacked by thieves in 1304 who stole silver, linen and cloth and then set fire to the building.
It is said that a figure with a strange, two-dimensional face can be seen gibbering horribly and terrifying witnesses as it wanders the area close to the lodge and an eerie face has been reported looking out from the first floor window of the building, even though it no longer has any floors. In 2011, a man was seen peering from a second floor window wearing blue and white clothing and boasting gaping black holes where his eyes and mouth should have been.
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