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Deer park

Medieval hunting scene.

Bishop Peter de Roches, who built fishponds in East Meon in the early thirteenth century, probably established the deer park as well.

East Meon Park in the 13th century.

This map shows its probable extent, stretching across both sides of the lane which today goes up to Park Farm. The bishops’ palace at East Meon served as a hunting lodge for the bishop and his guests, for whom the deer park was a source of both pleasure and venison.

On the commanding height of Park Hill there would have been a keeper’s (‘parker’s’) lodge; in 1367/8 this is listed as a simple hall house and stable; from it he could keep watch for the poachers who presented a constant threat to the bishop’s deer. The farmhouse which stands today was probably built on the same location.

Merdon Park Bank Hursley 19th C print

The area would have been enclosed by banks (those at another Hampshire park, Merdon, were described as ‘colossal’, left..

At nearby Bishop’s Sutton it took twenty carts sixteen days to fetch wood to build the fence, and a further ten to build it. Five carpenters took twelve weeks making park gates and deer leaps.

The bishop and his guests would either have shot arrows at driven deer or have chased them on horseback. King John hunted in Hampshire in 1208 and is believed to have stayed at Court Hall; in the absence of royalty, the hunt was conducted either by professional hunt servants or by knights from the bishop’s household. ‘Fewterers’ took charge of greyhounds and ‘berners’ of brachet hounds.

Three species of deer – the red, the roe and the fallow – ware recorded in the pipe rolls, and their numbers were carefully managed by culling and, when it was necessary to cross-breed deer to improve stock, by interchange between episcopal parks.

Another attraction was hawking, and mews were built for goshawks at the Court Hall in 1248/9; it is recorded that the bishop’s goshawk trainer visited East Meon in 1251/2. Rabbit warrens, or coney garths, were often situated within parks and, during the fourteenth century, rabbits seem to have become a significant part of the bishops’ diet. It is recorded in 1318 that sheep grazed in East Meon park; horses and cows were kept in most of the bishops’ Hampshire parks and may well have done so here. Park woodland was fully exploited for charcoal, firewood and timber, while pigs grazed on the mast (acorns and other food of the forest floor).