The Wickham Market Rabbit Catcher
Rabbits were introduced from France in the 12th Century for both their meat and their fur which resembled expensive Ermine. East Anglia appears to have been the centre of this farming with many large Warrens. In 1306 there was reported a rabbit fodder shortage at Staverton. 640 years later Jack Kemble who purchased Staverton along with his land at Wantisden employed 2 warreners and they produced for him more income than come from the growing crop – they caught 9,000 rabbits that year and during harvest the meat wholesaler would call every day. Rabbits were very much part of the staple diet of all country people and as late as the early 1950s would sell for between 2 to 4 shillings each. A journeyman would call round to buy the skins usually for 6 pence. It was at this time that man allowed the introduction of a hideous laboratory induced Rabbit disease called Myxomatosis which like so many ‘Scientist introduced fixes’ brought appalling suffering and devastation contrary to nature.
In the medieval period the method of catching Rabbits was with ferrets and home made nets. Andrew uses exactly the same method today having learned from his Uncles, from his Grandfather before and probably going back the 800 years to when it begun. I believe that for this is the oral tradition where it is the custom for the elders of each generation to hand on through story and instruction their inherited wisdom to the next generation (Writing and print were never ever a considered option). Here Andrew tells us not just the stories he received from his many Uncles but demonstrates the time honoured way of both ferreting and making their own nets which he makes and uses to this day.
Andrew’s Grandfather Freeman Stannard (Known as Joe) who was born in Bedfield in 1875 and died in 1955 had a family of ten children – eight boys and two girls. Andrew Stannard was brought up to be interested in the old ways and thus was passed on much lore, language and love of country life and tradition, not just from his Father Derek for he would visit his Uncles in turn, sit around their fireside and listen and learn. From his Uncle Russell he learned many things including how to play the button accordion and still plays Russells ‘C’ box to this day as you will hear. Russell likewise passed on to Andrew the technique of making his own snares and rabbit nets, mole and rat catching from the use of the long staled rabbiting spade with the hook on the end to when puff balls are required, recognising what the sight of dhom means, and how to use his Grandfather’s black powder muzzle loading gun which he used to fire across the back of a Donkey. When he comes to his Uncle Reuben, however, Andrew has a sparkle in his eye. He could always put meat on the table he said, he was a horse breaker and it was from him that he learned how to live off the land and the importance of a deal. Andrew sings us out with one of Reubens songs.
Time: 1 hour & 20 minutes Produced: November 2010
Product Code: NLDVD71