The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

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Thursday, December 09, 2004

Hunting Mammals with Dogs

In the run-up to the ban on hunting, there has been a lot of uninformed waffle by journalists that fox-hunting was an invention of effete Georgian landowners. This is, of course, nonsense The earliest books printed concerned themselves with the two chief subjects of Religion and Sport. By Sport, we do not mean football, but hunting with dogs. The great classic was 'The Master of Game', originally written in the 14th century

"The hunting for the fox is fair for the good cry of the hounds that follow him so nigh and with so good a will. Always they scent of him, for he flies through the thick wood and also he stinketh evermore. And he will scarcely leave a covert when he is therein, he taketh not to the open country, for he trusteth not in his running neither in his defence, for he is too feeble, and if he does, it is because he is forced to by the strength of men and hounds. And he will always hold to covert and if he can only find a briar to cover himself with, he will cover himself with that. When he sees that he cannot last, then he goeth to earth the nearest he can find which he knoweth well; and then men may dig him out and take him, if it is easy digging, but not among the rocks. . . ."

"A little greyhound is very hardy if he takes a fox by himself, for men have seen great greyhounds which might well take a hart and a wild boar and a wolf and would let the fox go."

George Turberville wrote the classic English text at the time of Shakespeare, in a book called 'The Noble Art of Venerie'. The strange terms employed in the practice of the various types of hunting sports are another indication of their continuous and ancient tradition. The keeping of a pack of foxhounds is first attributed to Lord Arundel at the end of the seventeenth century but it would seem that the evolution of fox-hunting into its modern form was a gradual process.

One blushes to admit that, in the Stour Valley, it was Otter Hunting that was most popular, though rabbits and hares provided great sport. Otter Hunting was an egalitarian sport. Around here, anyone could participate, though it was always better to get the correct gear, latterly purchased from 'Peddars' in Clare. The pack was kept in Glemsford. Nobody can remember the last time an otter was caught: It didn't seem to matter. There was lots of splashing around in the river, wonderful companionship, and good walking over the meadows. They might as well have been hunting boojums for the carnage would have been the same. It transformed itself into a Mink hunt and instantly became an eco-friendly service to the community (When mink move into a section of river, all other wildlife have to leave). It is still practiced, though due to become illegal in February, a collateral casualty to the banning of fox-hunting.

We have contacted the local hunt, and are hoping to feature a publication giving the history of this fascinating sport, as it was such a characteristic local event.

In collecting old photographs of working men, we are struck by the number of times they chose to be portrayed with their working dogs. They stare at the camera with pride. They would surely sigh in disbelief that any government would seek popularity by finally banning the sport that provided the chief diversion of generations of rural labourers. The whole debate has been so startlingly ill-informed that it would be nice to collect together the history of hunting with dogs in the region. It is part of our shared history. Before any outraged reader spits out the standard rhetorical question "How would you like to be torn apart by a pack of foxhounds", I'd say that I wouldn't worry as, like the fox, I'd be dead by then. I'd willingly suffer the fate just as long as the armchair-moralists all suffer the same fate that my beloved hens suffered at the hands of Mr Fox, a death both cruel and painful by any standards.


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