Bedtime Stories: On Beagling

An occasional series in which we wish our readers a happy good night, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

THE BEAGLE HOUSE hounds , if they asked us to read them bedtime stories, no doubt would have us reach for this slim but charming volume that we got at the recent Virginia Hound Show. It is called Harehunters All but apparently went previously, that is before  1951, by the more intriguing name Jellylegs All. If any of you has ever been beagling, you will understand why.

Harehunters All contains brief histories of many of Britain’s beagle packs, written by people closely associated with them. In the entry for the Caldbeck Fell Beagles, established in 1928, Master of Fox Hounds C. N. de Courcy Parry writes thusly (and please excuse the reference to “any stupid greyhound”; we know several greyhounds, like them very much, and have never met a stupid one ourselves!):

“Now, I am a foxhunter with all the ‘hooroosh,’ the bad manners, ill temper, and lack of consideration so often, and truly, attributed to foxhunters. But when I want relaxation and genuine hunting I turn to my beagles and cordially  agree with the old song that states ‘There’s no sport to compare with the hunting of the hare.’ Many people in these latter days seem to want to look down upon beagling as a shoddy imitation of foxhunting and in many establishments there has crept in the desire and the attempt to hunt hares as though they were foxes; huntsmen delight in saying that their hares ‘ran like a fox.’ Let me assure you that no two animals run more differently and is every hare did run like a fox then there would be no hares left, for hounds would catch the lot of them.

“The joy in beagling and in seeing hounds hunt a hare is most essentially not in the racing of one down, for any stupid greyhound can do this. The fascination is in watching hounds unravel the various intricacies which the hare has left for them, without the assistance of a huntsman and two hard-running whippers-in.”

From the wonderfully named Mr. Butcher’s Beagles, C. Leslie Butcher, MFH, chimes in:

“In those days we always met at eleven o’clock, twice a week. With little or no motor transport, we walked our hounds on–often eight or nine miles–leaving kennels at nine in the morning, hunting all day till dark: after a good tea at the private house where we had met, or at the local inn, again walked or trotted hounds home, generally arriving between seven and eight o’clock. That was what we called hunting!”

England’s Britannia Beagles, who are celebrating their centennial this year, are attached to the Royal Naval College. The pack has an esteemed history, but, as Harehounds All notes, “the beginnings of this pack were very humble.” Founded by Lieutenant Guy Mainwaring and named for the ship on which he served at the time, H.M.S. Britannia, the beagle pack at first included his own terrier, “as is testified by a stone, now passed by cadets daily as they proceed from the College to the river for sailing or engineering instructions at Sandquay, erected in the early 1880s to  ‘Jim–First of the Pack.’

“… Though the Commander of the College almost invariably undertook the mastership, it seems that one of them must have decided that though hunting hounds was required of him, running after them certainly was not. For, as long as anyone can remember, though cadets, including the whips who are selected from them, follow hounds on foot, the master invariably has been mounted. Contrary to the belief that sailors are notoriously poor performers on horseback, this fashion does not seem to have caused them any worry. Farmers today still talk, for example, of Commander Philip Neville, master in 1928, who was never troubled by wire because he could always find a way by a gate–but never stopped to open it. It must be admitted that the pack had occasionally had a master who would, on approaching a bank, direct cadets in a quarterdeck voice to fan out on the far side of it to catch his horse in case he parted company. …

“Incidentally, it was during the 1914-18 war that one farmer, having heard beagles were to be put down, arrived at the kennels with a cart and pig netting and offered to take hounds home and look after them for the duration. …

“Before the last war, the problem of getting both cadets and hounds to outlying meets was met in typical naval fashion. Hounds were embarked on a 42-foot cutter, and cadets in the steam launch which took it in tow. The party could then proceed up the River Dart to disembark on either bank to commence hunting. The ‘Beagle Barge,’ as this venerable cutter has been known since it was a tender to the ‘Britannia’ in the last century was used once or twice last season.”

We note with some disappointment, however, that not all hunting authors look so fondly on beagling! One of the houndbloggers’ favorite sporting writers, Frederick Watson, often used his pen for cruel–but evenhanded–satire on nearly every branch of hunting and hounds! He had this to say about beagling, harriers, and harehunting:

“The harrier chases a hare in small circles so that members can pull one rein and still maintain the usual grip on the saddle. When the hare crosses the same field for the seventh time, how the farmer cheers and waves his hat. The beagle is smaller and therefore eats less. It is followed quite a long way off by persons of maturity acting under medical advice.”


To see some beagling (and bassets, too) from this blog, check out videos herehere and here.

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