WHEN we’re not chasing hounds chasing game, the Houndbloggers’ favorite hunt is for old sporting books. We prefer ones dealing with the management, breeding, and training of hounds–and especially if they include great old anecdotes about specific hounds, their personalities, and their adventures (or misadventures, as in Captain Pennell-Elmhirst’s great piece about the Ootacamund Hounds in Ooty, India).
There’s probably no better place in the world to shop for those treasures than in England. Hunting with hounds has such deep roots there, and the love of the dog is so generally strong, that you are likely to stumble on some extraordinary and delightful find every place you try, from the second-hand bookstore on the corner to the expensive sporting specialist shop. Every year, we visit England and return overloaded with tomes that have taken our fancy, often on fairly obscure topics. England’s bookstores, in fact, seem to specialize in the obscure, which is one reason I love them so much. How could anyone resist the slender volume titled Arthropods of Medical Importance or the obviously intriguing Life of the White Ant found in d’Arcy’s second-hand bookshop in Devizes?
Here are a few of our favorite sporting shops, excerpts of books we’ve recently spotted there, and their websites or contact information, in case you’re interested in inquiring about your own particular passion, from the history of the grouse to house-training your own dog.
Most of these are in England’s southwest because that is where we spend most of our time. But there are excellent second-hand and sporting specialist book shops throughout England and around the world. If you know of one and would like to share information about it, please let us know, and we’ll be happy to do a later post on them.
R.E. and G. B. WAY, Burrough Green, near Newmarket.
Contact (from the US): 011-44-1638 507217. From the UK, dial 01638-507217.
This lovely shop’s location near the heart of Britain’s racing country attracts a lot of Thoroughbred lovers. But their enormous and varied stock covers many, many canine and hunting subjects, too. Their hound-book inventory, in particular, is outstanding. They’ve got single copies of exceedingly rare or hard-to-find books, but they also have multiple copies of desirable volumes considered classic and essential for foxhunters and hound lovers, like The Noble Science of Fox-Hunting by F. P. Delme Radcliffe and Ikey Bell’s Foxiana, all beautifully aged.
The shop is open by appointment and occupies a marvelous ivy-covered house just a few miles outside of Newmarket. Among the unique offerings there are several personal, handwritten hunting journals kept by individuals who hunted with some of England’s most renowned packs at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century.
The Ways’ shop took the biggest toll on our bank account, and it is fairly expensive, but the fact that they have multiple copies of many books does allow the shopper some chance to compare prices.
Good to know: The bathroom on the ground floor also serves as the half-price room! The books there cover a huge range of subjects and fill the shelves all around the, er, bathroom equipment. Worth a visit.
A Find: The Science of Foxhunting, by Scrutator. Published in 1868, this volume is a presentation copy signed by the well-known 19th-century huntsman Frank Goodall, who gave it to a friend whose name, unfortunately, we can’t decipher! (UPDATE! We’ve found that it is inscribed to the Hon. Alan Pennington, an apparently very dashing and forward sort of rider to hounds who also served as Master at the Holderness for one season before “resigning on account of the scarcity of foxes,” according to one reference.)
A View: “We dislike to see hounds at anytime huddled up together round their huntsman, like a flock of sheep penned in the corner of a field by a dog snapping round them. When the entry have become steady, and are admitted into the pack, discipline of this kind is as injurious as unnecessary, since we have remarked that hounds kept in such strict order are more inclined to run riot than those treated with more confidence.
“The late Assheton Smith was, in this respect, the most trusting huntsman we have ever seen in the field, and we were often amused with the sudden change in the behaviour of his hounds on his arrival at the place of meeting. Whilst in charge of the kennel huntsman and two whips, they trotted along in a compact body, solemnly and demurely, not a hound venturing to step out of place; but no sooner did they catch sight of their master, or hear his voice, than, breaking loose from further restraint like boys out of school, they rushed eagerly to meet him, jumping and playing round his horse, with other manifestations of excessive delight.
“The character of the hounds seemed changed in a moment, and as they moved off to draw covert, an independence of action was assumed totally at variance with their former deportment. They knew no whipper-in dare touch or control them in their huntsman’s presence, to whom, however, they yielded that cheerful obedience so pleasing to behold in all animals attached to a kind master, a word or wave of the hand being sufficient to recall or turn them in any direction.” –The Science of Foxhunting, by Scrutator, p. 165-166
JOHN AND JUDITH HEAD, Salisbury
In Salisbury, our favorite stop is John and Judith Head’s, one of Britain’s top sporting booksellers. They specialize in highly prized rare volumes and sporting prints, but don’t be afraid to peruse the handsome shelves if your budget is small. We’ve found terrific books there for prices starting as low as £7, about $13. Small hunting prints, including some by Munnings that are difficult to find in print form in the US, also start in that price range. Also on offer: signed prints by Snaffles, Lionel Edwards, and John King.
But the real beauty of the Heads’ shop is in the variety of rare and high-end stock on a wide range of sporting and countryside subjects. My favorite purchase from there is my copy of Hon. George Charles Grantley Fitzhardinge Berkeley’s Reminiscences of a Huntsman from the late 1800s, and more recently we have spotted some beautiful treatises on hound and dog training.
Another plus to visiting the Heads’ quiet shop in Salisbury is the chance of meeting John and Judith. They are wonderful storytellers and are also a wealth of information about books, field sports, and much more.
Good to know: The Heads’ shop is closed on Saturday. On the other hand, if there is a game fair or horse trials going on any particular Saturday, you can probably find them there!
A Find: Tell Him, by Lt.-Col. G. H. Badcock. We usually spend most of our time looking at the books about hunting and hounds, but we happened across this slim but interesting volume about dog training and thought it worth mentioning, although it is less representative of the Heads’ stock than the more beautiful and rare books are.
A View: “The whole secret of success with a dog lies in being perfectly natural with him, and trying to copy someone else is not being natural. How many times have I said that you cannot fool a dog by trying to be other than yourself, I should be sorry to say, but certainly, in regard to training, it is the greatest truism of all. Every normal dog has the power of thought-reading very highly developed, and they will give their confidence to one person who they know understands them as readily as they will withhold it from someone who does not, and I admit at once that this is a very difficult proposition to tackle, if the gift for understanding and winning the confidence of a dog is not a natural trait.” –Tell Him, by Lt.-Col. G. H. Badcock
D’ARCY BOOKS, Devizes, Wiltshire
Contact: 011-44-1380-726922 from the US. From the UK, 01380 726922.
This charming two-storey shop on the High Street in Devizes is a must-visit for us. It’s known in our family as “McGregor’s,” because the owner is a Mr. McGregor; he usually can be found at the shop on Thursdays and Saturdays, sitting in a lawn chair just to one side of his shop entrance, wearing his fingerless gloves and reading some interesting book.
Inside, d’Arcy Books is the epitome of an English second-hand bookshop, complete with creaky stairs leading up to the history and military sections. You can find anything and everything there, from cookbooks to ancient guidebooks describing local landmarks, and, in fact, the section reserved for sporting and equestrian books is fairly small. But we have always, always been extraordinarily lucky at d’Arcy, and I never seem to venture in without leaving with something exquisite–and usually with some change still in my pocket!
One of our two best finds there was a pristine biography of the famed but tragic jockey Fred Archer, who rode Iroquois (for whom the Iroquois Hunt is named) to victory in the 1881 Epsom Derby. The book dated from the early 1900s and had the softest red leather covers, and it is one of the best biographies I have ever read, of anyone.
The other miraculous find: an exceedingly rare presentation copy of artist Joan Wanklyn’s Guns at the Wood about the Royal Horse Artillery’s elite King’s Troop.
Good to know: The sporting section in d’Arcy Books might look small, but new books are added there regularly, and it is always worth checking back there even a couple of times in a week. It is one of the best sources we know for wonderful volumes at good prices. Also worth a look: the local history and countryside sections.
A Find: The Way of a Dog, by William Beach Thomas. Essentially an essay on living with dogs, this lovely and moving book is written largely in the form of a letter to the author’s dog.
A View: “Though I let you wander freely, it scarcely occurs to you to leave the garden. A walk with me is so much greater sport than a solitary ramble that you have half-forgotten that the second is a pleasure at all. But when I promise a walk you even open the wicket gate, which leads to the fields, by yourself and hurry to the juncture of road and path to await, in utter excitement, my decision. When the field path is chosen every nerve in you tingles to delight. Companionship with me–that is your consummate pleasure; and if two animals enjoy companionship as you and I do, each must surely understand the other, by virtue of some sense of which this reason, or our boasting, is mere branch. If you possess no reason, you are conscious of something better and more full of meaning even than instinct.” –The Way of a Dog, by William Beach Thomas
MR B’s EMPORIUM, Bath
For new books, we heartily recommend Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath. It occupies three floors of in one of Bath’s remarkable champagne-colored stone buildings, and it is, without question, the best bookstore for new books that we have ever been in.
Mr. B’s isn’t a sporting specialist; it is a general-interest shop that specializes instead in very high-quality editions of old classics and new works. But we include it here because it offers a notable array of works about countryside subjects that are near and dear to many foxhunters’ and dog-lovers’ hearts. Not only can you find unusual works pertaining to wildlife and country life here, but almost every book they offer is also gorgeous, making it an outstanding place to purchase gifts or books pretty enough to collect on their looks alone!
Head up a twisty staircase to the shop’s second floor, and there you’ll find the shop’s horse, dog, and country life sections. Conveniently located in the next room is what Mr. B’s calls its Bibliotherapy Room: comfy chairs facing a fireplace, with free coffee on offer in Mr. B’s own mugs. All of which makes it very tempting to sit for a long while, paging through dog books.
Good to know: Mr. B’s has a resident dog, Vlashka. Ask to meet her!
A Find: Words from The Countryman, edited by Valerie Porter. A collection of wit, wisdom, article snippets, observations, and letters to the editor that have appeared in The Countryman magazine, published since 1927.
“While staying with a friend in Scotland, a very deaf man of my acquaintance thought it would be interesting to try the effect of his electric deaf-aid on the 15-year-old dog. He put it in place, and when the owner called the dog it immediately started to its feet, barked, and wagged its tail. It had not heard its master’s voice for years.” — from 1953, in The Countryman
“Motoring one night recently I saw, on rounding a bend, that the whole roadway ahead was dotted with pairs of tiny green points, gleaming iridescently in the darkness, and continually appearing and disappearing. I found that I had met an army of rats on the move, and that the green points were the creatures’ eyes. The gleaming brilliance of animals’ eyes, when caught in the glare of headlights, is a common sight to motorists. A cat’s, a dog’s, or a rabbit’s eyes usually shine green. The eyes of a fox flash back bright crimson, the eyes of a bullock a kind of rich amber.” — From 1931 in The Countryman
We hope you’ve enjoyed this e-ramble through these shops. I know the Iroquois hounds haven’t been able to hunt much recently due to the terrible weather, and so that means their devoted followers have been “in kennels,” too! Here’s hoping this “paper chase” of sorts has helped keep you occupied until you and the hounds see sunshine and the hunt field again.