Deer Park - Encyclopedia

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DEER PARK, an enclosure of rough wood°d pastureland for the accommodation of redor fallow-deer. The distinction between a deer "park" and a deer "forest" is that the former is always enclosed either by a wall or fence, and is relatively small, whereas the forest covers a much larger area, and is not only open but sometimes contains practically no trees at all. Originally, the possession of a deer park in England was a royal prerogative, and no subject could enclose one without a direct grant from the crown - a licence to impark, like a licence to embattle a house, was always necessary. When Domesday Book was compiled, there were already thirty-one deer parks in England, some of which may have existed in Saxon times; about one-fourth of them belonged to the king. After the Conquest they increased rapidly in number, but from about the middle of the 1 1th century this tendency was reversed. In the middle of the 16th century it was conjectured that one-twentieth of England and Wales was given up to deer and rabbits. Upon Saxton's maps, which were made between 1575 and 1580, over 700 parks are marked, and it is not improbable that the number was understated. Mr Evelyn Philip Shirley enumerated only 334 in his book on English Deer Parks published in 1867. To these Mr Joseph Whitaker, in A Descriptive List of the Deer Parks of England (1892), has added another fifty, and the total is believed to be now about 400. It is a curious circumstance that despite the rather minute detail of Domesday none of the parks there enumerated can now be identified. There is, however, a plausible case for Eridge Park in Sussex as the Reredfelle of Domesday. The state and consequence of the great barons of the middle ages depended in some measure upon the number of deer parks which they possessed. Most bishops and abbots had one or two, and at one time more than twenty were attached to the archbishopric of Canterbury. When the power of the barons was finally broken and a more settled period began with the accession of the house of Tudor, the deer park began to fall into decay. By Queen Elizabeth's time a considerable proportion of the ancestral acres of the great houses had passed into the possession of rich merchants and wealthy wool-staplers, and it had become more profitable to breed bullocks than to find pasture for deer, and even where the new men retained, and even in some cases created, deer parks, they reduced their area in order that more land might be available for grazing or for corn. Thus began that decadence of the deer park which has continued down to the present time. More than anything, however, the strife between Charles I. and parliament contributed to reduce both the number and size of English parks containing deer. By the Restoration the majority of the parks in England had for the time being been destroyed, the palings pulled down, the trees felled, and the deer stolen. Of the duke of Newcastle's eight parks seven were ruined, that at Welbeck alone remaining intact. Not a tree was left in Clipston Park, although the timber had been valued at £20,000. One of the results of the Restoration was to empty the parks of the Roundhead squires to replenish those of the Royalists, but this measure helped little, and great numbers of deer had to be brought from Germany to replenish the depleted stocks. A gentleman of the Isle of Ely was indeed given a baronetcy in return for a large present of deer which he made to Charles II. The largest existing deer park in England is that at Savernake (4000 acres), next comes Windsor, which contains about 2600 acres in addition to the 1450 acres of Windsor Forest. Lord Egerton of Tatton's park at Tatton in Cheshire, and Lord Abergavenny's at Eridge, each contain about 2500 acres. Other parks which are much about the same size are those of Blenheim, Richmond, Eastwell, Duncombe, Grimsthorpe, Thoresby and Knowsley. All these parks are famous either for their size, their beauty, or the number and long descent of the deer which inhabit them. The size of English parks devoted to deer varies from that of these historic examples down to a very few acres. A small proportion of the older enclosures contains redas well as fallowdeer. In some of the larger ones many hundreds of head browse, whereas those of the smallest size may have only a dozen or two. Although many enclosures were disparked in very recent times, the 19th century saw the making of a considerable number of new ones, usually of small dimensions. The tendency, however, is still towards diminution both in number and extent, cattle taking the place of deer.

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