Rabbits are not native to this country, having been introduced in the twelfth century, but they had been bred on mainland Europe since Roman times. Rabbits did not roam freely over the countryside but lived in special areas set aside for them which included suitable places for them to make their burrows and ample space for browsing for their food. Such an area was called a “coneygree”, and was managed to produce a plentiful supply of rabbits, or conies as they were then known, for the table. The owner of a coneygree was usually an important man such as the lord of a manor or a wealthy tenant. When a lease of New Hall was drawn up in 1586 the prospective tenant, Sir Percival Willoughby, was given a right to “forty couple of conies” from the estate each year.
Coneygrees were also known as warrens, and the one at New Hall gave its name to Warren House Farm in Walmley Road. In the nineteenth century a piece of common land near Little Sutton Lane was still known as the coneygree, although it had long since ceased to be managed as one. This was not far from Moor Hall, so perhaps the warren there had furnished Bishop Vesey’s table with rabbit stew. The warren at New Hall in 1789 was farmed by the tenant of New Shipton, William Twamley, who paid an annual rent of £3.00 for it. It was a long, narrow series of banks and ditches suitable for rabbit burrows covering over twelve acres alongside Walmley Road, next to Warren House Farm.
By 1800 rabbits had escaped to the hedgerows and coverts of the countryside, and they became too numerous to be said to belong to anyone. However, shooting rights were jealously guarded on private land, and even the rabbits in Sutton Park could only be shot by the person who had been granted the licence. The Reverend E.H.Kittoe, Vicar of St. Michael’s Boldmere, had the licence in Victorian times - sometimes distant gunfire could be heard on a Sunday morning, and he would interrupt his sermon to say “there goes another of my rabbits”.
In World War II local people could obtain a permit from the Corporation to take rabbits from the park (but not to use guns) to supplement their meat ration - this was before the disease myxomatosis exterminated rabbits, so they were probably not the black variety of rabbits which delight the park visitor today