Hunt season might not start until the fall, but midsummer is plenty busy for working foxhound packs. One highlight of the season: the annual puppy show, when hunts parade their new entry for judges and local landowners, taking the occasion to thank the puppy-walkers who have helped raise those hounds in their own homes before returning them to the kennels for hunt training.
We’ve found an excellent depiction both of puppy-walking and the puppy show tradition in England, thanks to Great Britain’s wonderful Horse and Country television channel.
VIDEO LINK: For the moment, we’re having trouble embedding the video directly here, but until we solve that issue you can easily view the episode at http://www.horseandcountry.tv/episode/berkeley-english-country-estate-episode-5 Note that there is a short ad for Horse and Country at the beginning, which might make you think you’ve gotten the wrong show. You haven’t!
Horse and Country has been following activities at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, home of the Berkeley Hunt, in a series of documentaries. The Berkeley’s pack is one of the best in the world and is England’s oldest, dating back to the 12th century. Much of Horse and Country’s documentary series on Berkeley Castle deals with the estate’s care, daily life, and renovations, but the pack gets some good airtime! Episode Five covers the puppy-walkers and the puppy show in good detail and offers lots of beautiful scenery–both canine and countryside–to boot.
The Berkeley hounds today hark back to the oldest bloodlines in England, as described at the hunt’s website:
There are 6 main male lines in existence, 4 of which can be found in the Berkeley kennel. The 6 main roots are Mr Meynall’s Stormer 1791, The Earl of Yarborough’s Bumper 1743, Lord Darlington’s Benedict 1812, Glog Nimrod 1904, The Earl of Scarborough’s Saladin 1830 and Geilligaer Topper 1916. In the Foxhound world most will have heard of the celebrated Tiverton Actor 1922. He is a descendant of The Earl of Yarborough’s Bumper 1743 whose line is the oldest in the Foxhound Kennel studbook. Berkeley is full of Actor blood going back through Duke of Beaufort Ardent 1930. This line is a great example of how careful line breeding can produce superlative progeny with plenty of drive and longevity.
With such a long history, it’s no surprise the Berkeley family has some colorful characters. One who has left behind some fun sporting stories is the Hon. George Charles Grantley Fitzhardinge Berkeley, youngest son of the 5th Earl of Berkeley. He resided for much of his hunting career in Buckinghamshire, where he hunted both stag and fox. He was also, as one biographer put it, “a well-known if somewhat eccentric member of society.” Grantley Berkeley’s mode of dress alone, which Herbert Maxwell called “a coarser kind of buckish coxcombry,” was attention-grabbing: “He delighted in wearing at the same time two or three different-colored satin under-waistcoats, and round his throat three or four gaudy silk neckerchiefs, held together by passing the ends of them through a gold ring.”
However odd his wardrobe, Berkeley knew hounds. In 1854, he published Reminiscences of a Huntsman, chock full of amazing stories from the hunt field. An example from his stag-hunting adventures:
The chase … frequently ended in mansions, cottages, or barns, and I cannot help but saying that, in almost every instance, I met with the greatest good nature. On one of these occasions we ran up to the entrance of a gentleman’s kitchen, in the rear of his premises, and the hounds bayed at the closed door. Heads of domestics through the pantry window informed me that the stag was in the house, and that they would admit me ‘if I would keep the dogs out, as the children were afraid of them.’ The door being opened and closed carefully behind me, I went in, ushered by a butler, and peeped at by many maids; and, on asking where the stag was, the butler replied that he had been in all the lower offices, and when he last saw him he was going up the drawing-room stairs. … The butler introduced me to the drawing-room, but neither master nor stag were in it, when at that moment a door at the other end opened, and the owner of the house came in, under visible though suppressed excitement. I began all sorts of apologies, as usual, and for a moment the gentleman was civil enough. But on my asking where the stag was, all restraint gave way, and in a fury he replied, ‘Your stag, sir, not content with walking through every office, has been here, sir, here in my drawing-room, sir, whence he proceeded upstairs to the nursery, and, damn me, sir, he’s now in Mrs. ——-’s boudoir!’”
Grantley Berkeley formed his own first pack at the age of 30 in the Bedfordshire country by receiving older hounds drafted from notable hunts. One of his favorite early hounds was Stamford, whose provenance he couldn’t quite remember by the time he wrote of him many years later: “Old Stamford’s soft and prolonged note, when he found a fox, sweeps by my ear now: and often and often had I to cheer the young ones to him throughout my first fox-hunting season. What he must have been in his youth … I can easily guess; and if these pages meet the eye of the gentleman who bred him, he will accept this tribute to the memory of as gallant, as sensible, and as attached and faithful a hound as ever killed a fox. … I shall never forget how proud that old hound was when he found I petted him, and that he was still to be treated with all the ceremony and usages of a well-ordered foxhound kennel. And when we began cub-hunting, his alert dignity and industry was so great that he still more won my heart.”
This respect for a hound’s work ethic is key to the breeding today at the Berkeley Hunt, which says “looks come second to performance, for a good-looking hound is nothing if it cannot hunt.”
For more information about the Berkeley Hunt and its hounds, view the hunt’s history page, which details both the hunt’s background and its breeding philosophy.