Poaching

Most plentiful then, as now, was the rabbit. A good, wholesome rabbit stew was a weekly treat. No doubt the odd rook or blackbird made its way into a pie as well and poaching was commonplace.

Carole Worrall remembers the kitchen at Briar Cottage: That’s where I learned to skin a rabbit by watching my grandfather do it. They used to catch rabbits by using ferrets to flush them out and they would put a net over the  bolt hole to catch them as they escaped.

Ron Emmett describes himself in the 1930s as: the number one poacher in the area. He made his own bows and arrows and with his school friends used to go rabbiting regularly. Ron’s first home-made bow is still in perfect condition (pictured above) and he remembers making it from a large tree at the entrance to Brook House drive. Because of his reputation, he couldn’t go past the Keeper’s house (Toll Bar Cottage) as a boy, so with Cyril Emmett, his next door neighbour (no relation), he used to go down across the fields to Fernfield (in the woods below Toll Bar), trying to knock rabbits out of their squats in the turf with a ‘bunny bunker.’  A ‘bunny bunker’ was any missile that could knock out and kill a rabbit. Ron tells us: We would throw this thing and knock the rabbit over, just like that. We took the rabbits to Brighstone to sell to the village shop. We occasionally had the odd pheasant, but not very often.  

Later, in the 1950s and 60s when food was more plentiful farmers and landlords were keen for people to catch rabbits. Robin Shepheard recalls how:  Mr French, the estate gamekeeper (father to Avice Mariner), would lend us two ferrets, a pole cat and a bag of 50/60 nets.  We would go off all day and catch an average 50/70 rabbits and sell them to a Newport butcher, Mr Stevens in Scarrotts Lane.  The local farmers were pleased and we earned a few bob.  Somehow seems cruel today.

Jane Phillips says Den never had wages as such all his life. All he had was his ‘rabbit money’: he went out on Sundays up the Downs to catch as many rabbits as he could, and woe betide any of the Tyrells who were up there poaching on his patch!  He would take his catch of rabbits into Newport to sell to Mr Whapshot, the dealer. Den was delighted when he reached the age of 65 and could draw his old age pension from Brook Post Office, he saved it in a tin which lived on the top of the corner cupboard.