D is for Deer Parks
The first of Suffolk’s c130 medieval deer parks were probably developed by the Normans from c1086 to keep the Fallow deer they introduced from Europe from straying. Deer parks were kept by the wealthy ecclesiastical and lay landowners e.g. the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds’ park at Semer. The deer were bred and hunted or culled to provide meat for the lord’s table. Hunting was only possible in the larger parks suchas the Bigods’ 600 acre park extending north from Framlingham Castle. The deer were released from the smaller ones for the nobility to hunt across the surrounding open fields.
The park boundaries had to be substantial to keep the deer in and normally consisted of combinations of banks, with high hedges, fences, or pales on top and sometimes a ditch on the internal side depending on the nature of the land. The boundary fence, ditch etc had gaps at intervals for entrance gates which may have had an associated lodge. The main hunting lodge was usually more centrally located situated on a site with a good view over the surrounding park. It was used as a residence for the park keeper and where the hunting parties could rest, dine or stay overnight. Parks normally contained a mixture of coppiced woodland in which the deer could shelter (and that was also used for the production of timber for building, fuel etc) and more open woodland pasture for them to graze. Staverton Park, also owned by the Bigods, is one of a few remaining medieval deer parks in Suffolk, where the original working landscape can still be seen. Staverton was purchased by Sir Michael Stanhope, and is shown in some detail in John Norden’s 1601 plans of Sir Michael’s estate.
The location of the medieval deer parks can be seen on early maps and understood from placenames. By the early 16th century many of the medieval parks had been disimparked and the land brought under cultivation. Some of Suffolk’s parks that were later developed to provide an aesthetic natural landscape surrounding a country house developed directly out of an earlier deer park but many 17th-18th century parks were created from farmland.