Houndbloggers Abroad: Tattersalls, home of The Fox

The Tattersalls auction house in England is the world's oldest Thoroughbred sales company and has a long association with foxhunting, as evidenced by the fox seen sitting in the iconic Tattersalls cupola. The structure, known simply as The Fox, is topped by a bust of King George IV. The Fox is a covered fountain that used to serve as a water trough at the company's original location on Hyde Park Corner in London.

The Tattersalls auction house in England is the world's oldest Thoroughbred sales company and has a long association with foxhunting, as evidenced by the fox seen sitting in the iconic Tattersalls cupola. The structure, known simply as The Fox, is topped by a bust of King George IV. The Fox is a covered fountain that used to serve as a water trough at the company's original location on Hyde Park Corner in London.

NOW UPDATED WITH AUCTION VIDEO!

IF you’re involved in the Thoroughbred breeding world, chances are you’ve heard of Tattersalls. The famous English auction house is headquartered in Newmarket and conducts seven Thoroughbred sales a year. But it also has a deep connection to foxhunting. The company no longer conducts sales of hounds, field hunters, or foxes (yes, foxes!), but it still honors the noble art and science of the hunt by including a fox in its corporate logo.

The company opened in London at Hyde Park Corner in 1766, and it’s worth noting that its founder, Richard Tattersall, started off as a canine auctioneer even more than an equine one. To quote from Peter Willett’s fascinating book The Story of Tattersalls, “Richard … was making friends with the county families through the medium of his hound sales–sales which he conducted in person at The Corner. This was a lucrative business, resulting in a daily turnover of anything up to 500 guineas, with the advantage that hacks and hunters were frequently offered at the end of the day. The horses caused the fodder bill to rise, but attracted a wider clientele. There was always a good market for horses of every description.”

The Tattersalls auction ring is round, intimate, light, and airy, with a domed top. It is, as one attendee observed, "a little like sitting inside a teapot." Unlike at major Thoroughbred sales in the United States, where the horses generally are held standing in the center of a small auction area, at Tattersalls the horses are walked around the path so potential buyers can watch them while bidding.

The Tattersalls auction ring is round, intimate, light, and airy, with a domed top. It is, as one attendee observed, "a little like sitting inside a teapot." Unlike at major Thoroughbred sales in the United States, where the horses generally are held standing in the center of a small auction area, at Tattersalls the horses are walked around the path so potential buyers can watch them while bidding. The empty auctioneer's stand can be seen to the far right of this photo.

Tattersall’s rise in the auctioneering business was steady and steep, partly because he had the reputation for conduting his sales with integrity. He and his auctions at Tattersall’s, as it was then known, were held in such esteem that it was said even the highwaymen wouldn’t rob him. One night, a story goes, Tattersall was riding along a lonely road when a masked man rode up alongside him. The two rode side by side for nearly two miles in silence before the robber said, “I think your name’s Tattersall?” When Tattersall confirmed this, so the story goes, the highwayman replied, “Ah, I thought so. I beg your pardon, sir,” and rode away without drawing his pistol.

In the early 1910s, before the outbreak of World War I, one of the firm’s auctioneers was J. R. Rawlence, who was also secretary of the Masters of Foxhounds Association at the time. Rawlence continued the auction house’s tradition of hound sales by conducting an annual hound auction until World War I intervened. Over time foxhounds, greyhounds, and other sporting dogs (in 1863, the firm also dispersed the late Duke of Gordon’s original group of Gordon setters as well as his terriers) faded from the trade at Tattersalls, but it continued selling hunt horses well into the 20th century.

Today, the company mantains a close cultural relationship with hunting, even though it has narrowed its business focus entirely on racehorses now. The current Tattersalls chairman and chief auctioneer, Edmond Mahony, is a great hunting man and Master of the Louth in Ireland. And nearly everyone we ran into among the Tattersalls staff was an active member of one hunt or another. So were many of the buyers and sellers at the company’s recent October Book 1 yearling sale.

To see Mahony in action selling horses, see the clip below.

Support for hunting and annoyance at the 2005 foxhunting ban were frequently in evidence in the form of pro-Countryside Alliance bumper stickers and even a large sign on one consignor’s barn!

One consignor let his feelings on England's 2005 foxhunting ban be known

One consignor let his feelings on England's 2005 foxhunting ban be known

Tattersalls has not been based in Newmarket for all that long, considering how old the firm itself  is. It moved from Hyde Park Corner to Knightsbridge, also in London, in 1865. Tattersalls purchased the Park Paddocks land in Newmarket where it currently is headquartered back in 1870. But it wasn’t until 1977 that Tattersalls completely consolidated its operations in Newmarket.

The ornate Tattersalls arch once formed the entrance to the auction house's Knightsbridge location in the late 1800s.

The ornate Tattersalls arch once formed the entrance to the auction house's Knightsbridge location in the late 1800s.

When the company finally relocated to England’s racing center at Newmarket, it considered leaving The Fox behind, but it ultimately had the cupola dismantled and very carefully removed to Park Paddocks, where it now is a central and much loved focal point, as it had been throughout the decades at the London sales. Even more ambitiously, in the late 1940s the company also moved the enormous stone arch from its Knightsbridge location’s entrance. That huge edifice now stands near the Park Paddocks entrance as a grand monument to the auction house and its deep roots.

For the horses on offer at Tattersalls today, the setting is much simpler. The barns are situated around the sale pavilion, and they provide a peaceful, leafy setting that promotes relaxation in the horses and thoughtful contemplation among their examiners.

The Tattersalls barn area: bucolic and peaceful for man and beast.

The Tattersalls barn area: bucolic and peaceful for man and beast.

Thoroughbred sales surely have entered the technology age, with digital X-rays, endoscopic exams, and computerized race replays and pedigree analyses. But there are still traditions aplenty at Tattersalls. The firm still conducts its auctions in the old currency of guineas, the equivalent of £1.05 per guinea. Charmingly, the sale sessions are still opened each day by a man who stands outside the pavilion ringing a large brass bell for five minutes before the start of each day’s selling. (When sales aren’t on, John the bellringer told us, he does the gardening at Park Paddocks)

The auction begins each day with five minutes of bellringing to draw the bidders into the pavilion. When he's not carrying out this tradition, John the bellringer is a gardener at the Tattersalls Park Paddocks.

The auction begins each day with five minutes of bellringing to draw the bidders into the pavilion. When he's not carrying out this tradition, John the bellringer is a gardener at the Tattersalls Park Paddocks.

At 10:25 a.m., John emerges and clangs his bell steadily as fair warning to the crowd that the sale will open in five minutes’ time. Sure enough, the bidders and spectators all are drawn toward the pavilion very much as if they are heading for church, but carrying catalogs instead of Bibles. At 10:30, another man signals to John from the pavilion door that it’s time to start the selling; John and his brass bell go back into the sale offices; and the auctioneer calls in the first lot of the day.

One of the Tattersalls sale barns, occupied by the Highclere agency's consignment.

One of the Tattersalls sale barns, occupied by the Highclere agency's consignment.

The Tattersalls auction style is very different from that seen at most U.S. Thoroughbred sales. Each auctioneer has his own highly individual style. Mahony, for example, is precise and elegant and quite serious, while Alastair Pim is more theatrical and sometimes resembles a strict schoolteacher chiding his students (see below).

In 2005, Newmarket’s local Thurlow Hounds paraded at Tattersalls to remind the public how entwined are the histories of hunting, racing, and Tattersalls. For fun, we took Tattersalls up on the offer to arrange a kennel visit to the Thurlow, and we’ll report back on that later this week. But, as a tempting sneak preview, we offer this lovely view of the Thurlow hounds. Happy hunting, all!

Thurlow hounds

Of horses and hounds

Stalker the horse and Stalker the hound

Stalker the horse and Stalker the hound

IROQUOIS has a lot of horses that are named for hounds. Joint-MFH Jerry Miller always has named all his horses for hounds, not all of them Iroquois hounds. Miller’s great hunt horses Furrier and Tennessee Lead, for example, were both named for famous hounds from history. (Furrier was described as “crooked as a crab’s claw” but the black and white Belvoir-born hound “ran hard at head and was as stout as oak” in his career with the Quorn and Brocklesby, according to author William Scarth Dixon; Furrier went on to become not only a famed hunting hound but also a renowned sire).  

But many of Miller’s current horses–such as Gangster, Farmer, Bonfire, and Grundy–are named for Iroquois hounds of the recent past. A few are named for hounds that are still with us, such as Stalker (pictured above with his equine namesake). Now retired under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund, Stalker is the fourth hound profiled in the “Meet the Hounds” link provided with his name above.

The Iroquois field secretary has a hunter named Harlequin after her favorite hound, the Hound Welfare Fund’s retiree of the year for 2009-2010.

Members of the field also have honored hounds by naming horses after them. I understand one of our accomplished young riders has a horse named Glog, just as Iroquois has a hound named Glog. Willy, if you’re out there, send us a photo of your horse!

If you’ve got a horse who shares a name with a hound, please e-mail beagle52@aol.com. Tell us why you chose the name you did and a little about your horse. If you’ve got a picture of your horse, send that as a JPEG file, too, and we’ll post it.

I’ll get the ball rolling. My horse, Sassoon, and the hound Iroquois Sassoon ’04 both were named for the English writer and World War I soldier Siegfried Sassoon. He’s best known for his poetry about the war, but he also is the author of the sporting classic Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man. I got my Sassoon in 2003 from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. The same summer, Jerry gave the name Sassoon to the only male puppy in that year’s litter by the great Iroquois stallion hound Grundy and out of Bicester Sandal.

The hound Sassoon was entered at Iroquois in 2004, the same year my Sassoon hunted his first full season.

Sassoon hound

Sassoon hound

 Iroquois Sassoon ’04 has gone on to fame and fortune! He won the foxhound championship at the Mid-America Hound Show a couple of years ago and has turned into an exemplary hunting hound. He’s easily recognizable in the hunt field, because he’s large and woolly.

My Sassoon has had a more up-and-down path. In 2005, just before the start of what would have been his second full hunt season, Sassoon got a tiny puncture wound underneath his fetlock while he was turned out. The puncture went into the tendon, infecting the tendon sheath, which then required four surgical tendon flushes and a stay at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.

We weren’t at all sure he’d survive, but he did. Then we were pretty certain he’d never be rideable again, but he surprised all of us by coming all the way back. It was a long recovery, but in 2008 my vets declared him hunting sound again. He had missed two full seasons when I took him out again last October for the first time since his injury.

 

Sassoon horse

Sassoon horse (the black one!)

He’d been off so long, I put a green ribbon in his tail to let everyone know he might be unpredictable. That morning I overheard another rider remark, “She’s saying that horse is still green?”  That seemed unkind, but then she didn’t know the full story!

Sassoon doesn’t get out hunting as much as either of us would like (this really is true, according to a “horse psychic” I met at a horse sale the other day!), but he’s a great pleasure in my life, as I’m sure your horse is, too.

By the way, Siegfried Sassoon died in 1967, but his son George carried on his father’s support for hunting. When the foxhunting ban was debated in England, George and his stepson put pro-hunting signs on the family’s pasture fencing. The day the ban went into effect in 2005, George attended a local hunt’s first post-ban meet for drag hunting. He was too frail to ride anymore, but he wore a Countryside Alliance sticker (and an old Soviet army hat!).

George Sassoon and his furry Soviet hat attended a local drag-hunt meet in February 2005 after live fox-hunting was banned in England. He thought it was both flattering an amusing that there was a hound named Sassoon across the Atlantic in Kentucky!

George Sassoon and his furry Soviet hat attended a local drag-hunt meet in February 2005 after live fox-hunting was banned in England. He thought it was both flattering and amusing that there were canine and equine Sassoons hunting across the Atlantic in Kentucky!

George, a farmer, engineer, and linguist, died in 2006 after a remarkably interesting , though sometimes turbulent, life. After his funeral, the attendees gathered in in his regular pub. One of his pals at the bar, on hearing I was from Kentucky, said, “That’s where they’ve  got that hound and horse called Sassoon!” I got a kick out of that, and I guess George did, too.