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Rabbits & Horses

Victor Lister was born in Freckenham in and lived all his life in the village. He left Freckenham School at thirteen and worked for his father as a warrener. He later worked for a local farmer then as a lorry driver and occasional chauffeur to the rector until he retired. He died in 1994 at the ripe old age of eighty-eight. Luckily for us he recorded his memories in 1991. He still spoke with a strong Suffolk accent, something rarely heard today, and this memoir tries to capture something of its richness:

'I was born in Freckenham in 1906 and it was a lot different to what it is now, I can tell you! M'father was a Freckenham man, too. He was a warrener and gamekeeper for Mr. & Mrs. Paley, up at the big house4 and when I left school I went with him. He used to go about trappin' rabb'ts, 'cause there were thousands of rabb'ts around here at one time, and m'grandfather and grandmother used to take 'em to Newmarket and sell 'em. They made half a crown or something like that, they'd take the skins off 'em and cure 'em and the skins would make almost as much as the rabb't in them days. We used to dry 'em so the skins were clean. Sometimes they would have a sort of bluish mark on the fur and they didn't make so much as the white ones did, not real white, y'know, a sort of greyish white.

We used to set traps and snares all over the burrows first, then we'd put in seven or eight ferrets. They were loose ones but they'd be wearing a choke - a muzzle made out of string. You'd put a choke over the nose so they didn't bite a rabb't and stay with it, because if you didn't put a muzzle on 'em they'd attack the rabb't and kill it and stop with it and eat it. And we used to have a line ferret - we'd put a collar and line on it, seventy yards, we knew the length of the cord 'cause it was in yards, y'see. Then m'father, he'd lay down on the ground and listen and he'd hear where that rabbit and ferret was. I don't think they used to poach so much round here. We used to lose a rabbit sometimes. We'd set a trap but sometimes when you went back they'd be a leg in it but no rabbit - somebody had pinched 'em out! I worked with m'father quite a few years, three or four, but he never paid me nothin' - a little pocket money, 'bout a tanner something like that! You couldn't buy much with that - a penn'orth of sweets!

Mr. Paley was a good man to work for. He paid m'father a wage but he could have these rabb'ts over and above it. Mrs. Paley was a very kind lady. She used to have her cook make up a big pot of soup twice a week and anyone could go and get as much as they wanted, it was good soup too.

They had some lovely horses y'know, thoroughbreds, not heavy. He had five horses and he wouldn't let them go in the Army, this was in the First World War.5 ' He loved those horses. He took 'em up the road here - I can take you to the spot now where he had them all shot - dug a big hole and had 'em all shot and buried, just kept one for himself. He used to have lovely carriages. He had five and he had them all shot bar one, that was the one that he used to ride.'

Contributors: Sandie Geddes, Robert Creasy, Hilary Anderson and the late Victor Lister.



A Forest Heath District Council (Suffolk) Project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Millennium Festival 2000 Designed by ArtAtac