Just over a mile from Thetford, heading towards Brandon, you’ll find the ruins of Thetford Warren Lodge on the left hand side of the road. This was a small tower house built in the late medieval period to house the gamekeeper who protected Thetford Priory’s rabbit warren from poachers.
In those days Thetford was surrounded by sandy heathland, not the trees we see today, and the Prior had ‘free warren’ which gave him hunting rights over large tracts of the heath. This hunting reserve was beset by large bands of poachers who resented the wealthy religious houses and, consequently, the gamekeepers had to take stern measures to defend themselves.
It’s thought that the Lodge was built some time around 1400 and from surviving details it is possible to see the style in which the gamekeepers lived.
Thetford Warren Lodge retains many original features and is a rare example of its kind. It is a rectangular tower-house built of mortared flint rubble and reused stones, some of which are reddened and were probably removed from the nearby priory after a fire. The walls were substantial – up to 1 metre thick at floor level – and stand for the most part to almost their original height. The limestone dressings also include many reused 12th-century architectural fragments. The level of the upper storey is marked by an offset on the interior face of the walls.
The lodge had numerous defensive features, including a parapet from which the gamekeeper could look out over what was then open country. The lower windows are narrow loops and the single entrance has a hole over the porch, which allowed the warrener to lower a board through it from the floor above to secure the closed door against unwelcome visitors.
Inside the house the remains of an internal staircase and two fireplaces can be seen. There is also a partial intermediate floor at a lower level with sluices in the wall, possibly a suspended game larder.
The south-eastern angle of the building has been rebuilt and the repair is clearly marked by the inclusion of random ashlar and brick in the fabric. The roof is modern.
The Warreners’ Tales film was produced by Ember Films as part of the Breaking New Ground Landscape Partnership scheme, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. For more information and associated schools pack, please visit www.breakingnewground.org.uk