A warren is an area of land set aside for the breeding and management of rabbits or hares, usually comprising a series of purpose-built breeding places known as pillow mounds and buries, vermin traps and enclosures to contain and protect the animals, and living quarters for the warrener who kept charge of the warren. Warrens are mainly situated in open countryside, but a few examples are known within urban areas.
The warrens consisted of mounds that were flat topped and rectangular in form giving rise to the descriptive name, pillow mounds. A shallow ditch and/or a retaining wall could also surround the mounds. Many pillow mounds are known at Quarrendon where they are thought to date to the sixteenth century and are superimposed on the earthworks of a deserted medieval village. There are also pillow mounds in Wing Park belonging to Ascott House.
Although hares are native to the British Isles, rabbits were introduced into south-west England from the Continent in the 12th century AD and were no doubt kept in warrens from that time onwards. They did not become established until the 13 and 14th centuries when documentary sources record the presence of warrens. These sources also suggest that the zenith of warren construction lay in the late medieval and post-medieval periods; most of the field evidence visible today probably dates from the 17th century and later. The rabbit warrens at Lillingstone Dayrell date to this period, though the rabbit warrens at Quarrendon probably date to the sixteenth century.
One of the pillow mounds for the rabbit warrens at Quarrendon are in the foreground of this picture.
The tradition of constructing and using warrens continued down until fairly recent times, in the case of some of the Dartmoor examples as recently as the Second World War. For the most part, however, the changing agricultural environment in the C19, together with the onset of pests and diseases such as myxomatosis in the C20, put an end to the economic management of warrens.