Hidden Histories

Eye Deer Park

The Domesday Book of 1086 records 37 parks in the whole of England with 5 listed for Suffolk, which by 1400 had increased to 70.[1] Of the original 5 recorded in Eye, Dennington, Ixworth, Leiston and Bentley, it is the park at Eye that has had almost continuous use until it was ‘disparked’ in the 16th century. These early parks pre-date the conquest and may be far older. [2]

Deer parks were typically enclosed areas that were bounded by a park pale, an earthen ditch and bank forming the boundary that sometimes had palisades. Generally, for the parks in Suffolk, earthwork or boundary bank remains are rare and somewhat elusive, as intensive arable farming has contributed to much of their loss and many medieval field boundaries. [3]

The site of Eye Deer Park.

In East Anglia we know that ancient woodland pastures most frequently featuring oak descended from Royal hunting forests and were incorporated into many parks, whilst other counties in the medieval period became less wooded. The symbol of the oak is mythical and is present in the funerary practices of the late antique early medieval period. In the cemetery at Snape, branches of charred oak were carefully arranged in Grave 9, a burnt container made of oak heartwood was deliberately placed over a body in Grave 3, and oak was ritually placed under and around Grave 4. [4]

The stag as a ‘guide’ appears in Frankish and Germanic legends, and in Norse mythology 4 harts gnaw at the leaves of the sacred tree Yggdrasil, the World Tree. [5]

By 1591 the Queen’s park pale at Eye was recorded as being in very great ruin with the park totalling 100 acres at this time. It’s clear the park lay to the south-west of the town, bordering Braiseworth, with Park Lane and Park Meadow, and Cranley Hall estate recording fields of its probable easterly boundary in 1726. [6] A processional way may have crossed the floodplain and river at King’s Bridge forming part of the wider landscaping. The south-east and western side boundaries are a little less clear and present-day earthworks, some up to 1 metre deep and 2 metres wide and intermittent ditches and banks may be a relict feature of these.

Hunting played a significant role in aristocratic society with the parks in Suffolk owned by the major ecclesiastical landowners. The symbol of the deer within religion and royalty is fitting, given the importance of the symbol of the stag and hart as a cult-animal in sacral kingship, [7] preserved in late antique royalty on top of the Sutton Hoo sceptre, where it symbolises the sun. The Huns recorded a legend of the stag with a sun on its forehead while there are later Christian legends of St. Eustace and St. Hubert encountering a stag that bore a cross on its horns. [8]

These early deer parks were established by religious institutions amidst the wave of enthusiasm for imparking amongst the religiosi. Mythological imagery associated with wild creatures of the forest world continued with the shedding of antlers, relating to seasonal decay and regeneration, and representative of the cycle of life itself – with growth, death and regeneration aligning symbolically with Christ’s resurrection. [9]

The site of Eye Deer Park.


  1. Hoppitt, R. in Liddiard, R. (ed.) (2007) Hunting Suffolk’s Parks: Towards a Reliable Chronology of Imparkment. The Medieval Park: New Perspectives. Bollington, Windgather Press, and Hoppitt, R. (2020) Deer Parks of Suffolk 1086-1602. The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology & History. Gipping Press.
  2. Hoppitt, R. in Liddiard, R. (ed.) (Ibid)
  3. Hoppitt, R. (Ibid)
  4. Filmer-Sankey, W & Pestell, T (2001) Snape Anglo-Saxon Cemetery: Excavations and Surveys 1824–1992. East Anglian Archaeology 95. Suffolk County Council.
  5. Helm, K. (date unknown) Altgermanische Reliogionsgeschichte, II:1.
  6. Hoppitt, R. (Ibid)
  7. Chaney, W.A. (1970) The cult of kingship in Anglo-Saxon England; the transition from paganism to Christianity. Manchester University Press.
  8. Davidson, H.R.E. (1993) The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe. Routledge.
  9. Enright, M.J. (2006) The Sutton Hoo sceptre and the roots of Celtic kingship theory. Four Courts Press.