GARDENS OF EARTHLY DELIGHT: The history of deer parks

by John Fletcher

Publisher Windgather Press  (2011)
ISBN  978-1-905119-36-3

Paperback
£25

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Deer parks have always fascinated me: whilst bringing up my children we lived overlooking Bushy Park, one of the royal deer hunting parks adjacent to Hampton Court. Bushy Park was our front garden, full of intrigue and fun for a growing family. In the autumn to hear the annual rutting was amazing. So when asked to review this book I jumped at the chance.

The author John Fletcher  is a specialist deer vet having spent all his working life with deer, in deer parks and farms, often his work entails sitting in a magnificent oak or beech tree waiting for deer to drift below to either dart for medical reasons or to move to a new place to start a new deer park. He claims the book aims to help us remember the long traditions which entwine the lives of our ancestors with those of deer. The most prolific animal once the large predators were gone.

He is ‘the deer man’.  However, having done no primary research to write this book he claims not to be a historian but has put together  this wonderfully informative book by drawing on already published material. It is written with passion and in an easy to read style.

The book delves back into prehistory and works through time to explain the deer parks today as ecological oases and urban lungs.

He talks about the history of the word ‘park’ which is linked to the word ‘paradise’. The word originates from the old Persian word ‘pairidaeza’ which means ‘enclosure’ or ‘park’. Parks and deer historically have been about status while hunting is deep in the human psyche.

He covers the early hunting enclosures from Alaska to China, the sacred role of the hunt, affinity with royalty, and the powerful symbolic value of the deer in the temperate north; with large predators gone deer became the ultimate status symbol. In 1100 AD Britain had 2-3000 deer parks, yet deer were never domesticated. He explains the status of owning deer and the symbolism of venison as an elite gift. He covers the Tudor era in all its splendour, the destruction due to the civil war and up to the 21st century where some are now urban lungs for busy town dwellers.

What he has achieved is a well written and well put together book about the history of the deer park. This is a thoroughly informative read.

Hilary Bosher