Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Sheep, more Sheep and Rabbits in 15th Century Wiltshire.

I became a member of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society for the second time last week. I had been a member way back in 2002, but was then a working woman, and did not have enough time to pursue my interests in history and archaeology.   Now, as a lady of leisure,  I have all the time in the world!  The leaflet left, gives information about many of the artifacts in the newly opened museum galleries, some of which will be lent to the new museum and visitor centre being built at Stonehenge, just 15 miles from Devizes, which opens on December  18th.   

The old visitor centre has been a national disgrace for the last decade, and the new one will have all the facilities of a modern centre, with museum, cafe, shop, and all that's necessary for a memorable visit.  Visitors arrive at the centre, where they climb aboard small vehicles, which take them the short distance to the world famous stones.

Devizes Museum hosts a number of Saturday talks throughout the year,  given by eminent historians, who give an illustrated talk about their particular interest.  Last Saturday's talk was about land use in 15th century Wiltshire, and the division of the landscape into what was suitable for sheep grazing and agricultural farming.  Thousands of sheep roamed the hills, with the rich earth of the valley areas set aside for crops, oats and barley, potatoes and other vegetables.  A good source of protein was produced by rabbits, and throughout Wiltshire, "Warreners" managed the rabbit population as best they could,  in huge rabbit warrens.  

Our speaker's name was Dr David Hare (rabbit!) and he talked at length about the problems of accessing animal numbers during the 15th century, when so few records remain.  There are, however, some important farm documents still in existence, which can be used to assess possible numbers of sheep and  rabbits.   In one such document, a warrener tried to count his rabbits, which is no easy feat, but he came up with an approximate number.  He suggested that he had more at one time, but that some of the rabbits had walked away!   Rabbits tend to do that sort of thing, just wander off into the landscape!

Inside the museum leaflet, with photos of various artifacts.

The museum was founded in 1853, and shows an interesting collection of artifacts from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age, Roman, Saxon and Medieval periods.  New galleries have recently opened, displaying roman gold ware,  some of which has never been displayed to the public before.

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