Houndbloggers Abroad: An autumn miscellany

Good grief, is that the time?

The houndbloggers have been overtaken by fall events, starting with the Keeneland September sale and planning for a Champagne reception at the Iroquois kennels (which we were unable to attend but hear was a success–when is Veuve Clicquot not a success?), and then heading back to Wiltshire.

It seems like a long time since we’ve seen the hounds, sadly, but we have at least been able to keep in touch with hounds in news and literature while in England. 

Hounds on the job

Country Life magazine, for example, featured Hector the Bloodhound in its “Best of British” column. We don’t have a picture of Hector, but you can entertain yourself with this one of our old friend Ulpian the Wrinkly, who appeared in a 1914 edition of the magazine, while we briefly detail some of Hector’s work, as described in a more recent Country Life:

The magnificently wrinkly Ulpian the British bloodhound

Hector has been working in the Sussex Police Dog Unit for four years now alongside PC Steve Williams, and he is the only bloodhound currently employed for “scent-discrimination work,” according to Country Life.  When he’s not on the job, he’s at home with Williams. When he is on the job, he sounds pretty amazing.

“First we go to the missing person’s house and find a scent article particular to them–this could be anything from clothing worn next to the skin to a pillowcase,” Williams explains. “Just 15 to 20 seconds is all Hector needs with the item to hunt that scent alone.”

The ensuing hunt can vary in length (their longest so far was three miles), but Hector sounds as if he was good at it from the start. In his first assingment, Williams recalled for the article, “we had to find a 12-year-old boy who had consumed a liter of vodka in a town center. Police searched for three hours to locate the boy before calling on Hector, who found him 20 minutes later in an alleyway behind a dustbin. The boy recovered after a night in hospital.”

If you’re thinking that the alcoholic fumes should have tipped everyone off, including Hector, remember that vodka has no odor.

Fancy Dress

Baily's Hunting Directories

We were fortunate to meet up on this trip with the editor of Baily’s, hunting’s Bible and one of the houndbloggers’ favorite things to read. Peter Brook is excellent company and a wealth of information, and so are the Baily’s directories. Mr. Houndblogger has given me a 1924-1925 directory to add to our collection, and we found this interesting description of the Hampshire Hunt’s evening dress in it:

“Blue coat, white waistcoat, black cloth knee breeches, black silk stockings, gilt buckles on breeches and shoes.”

Fancy, eh? And no wonder, given the hunt’s illustrious history, as also described in its Baily’s entry: “The H.H. dates from about 1745, when Mr. Evelyn hunted the country, with kennels at Armsworth. In 1788, the Prince of Wales, while residing at Kempshott, kept staghounds, which in 1793 were turned into foxhounds, hunting most of the northern portion of the present H.H. country.”

Baily’s entries are a very thorough guide for the foxhunter of the day, frequently going so far as to recommend particular types of horse for each hunt’s country. The Newmarket and Thurlow’s entry, to cite just one, opines that “the most suitable horse is a short-legged, compact, deep back-ribbed one, with bone and as much blood as is possible in this class of hunter.”

Advice to hunt by

Not surprisingly, while in England the houndbloggers have spent much of their time in bookstores.

Sporting treasures, these from John and Judith Head's shop in Salisbury

While we’re most interested in older sporting tomes, we do occasionally find a new hunting book we like. This trip, our choice among new books is The Keen Foxhunter’s Miscellany, compiled by Peter Holt.  It’s a wonderful sampling of sayings from and about foxhunting–not all of it flattering!–and in it we found some typically sage advice from one of our favorite authors, D. W. E. Brock MFH, who wrote mostly in the 1920s and ’30s. With cubhunting season barely two weeks away, we thought we’d quote his list of tips for the novice, as it appears in the new miscellany. It originally ran in his book The Young Foxhunter in 1936:

  • Never crack your whip.
  • Never flick at a hound with your whip.
  • Remember that your hunt has not bought a monopoly of the roads and lanes.
  • Remember that the hunt only crosses the farmers’ land by their courtesy.
  • Remember that you are not the only person out hunting.
  • Obey the Master’s wishes immediately and implicitly.

  • When hounds are drawing, keep behind and as close to the field master as you can get.
  • When hounds go away with a fox, never cut off the tail hounds from the main body.
  • Do not press on hounds at any time, especially during the early stages of a hunt.
  • Never ride between the huntsman and his hounds.

  • Stand still and keep quiet when hounds check.
  • When you meet hounds always turn your horse’s head towards them.
  • If your horse kicks, put a red ribbon on its tail, but do not trust to that alone to keep you out of trouble.
  • Learn to open and catch gates.
  • If someone dismounts to open a gate, no one must go beyond him until he is on his horse again.
  • Concentration is essential if you want to keep with hounds.
  • A sound take-off is the first essential when selecting your place at a fence.
  • A black, strong-looking fence is much safer than a weak, straggly one.

Another bit of Brock also appears in Holt’s slim Miscellany, and we’ll leave you with that. It’s the recipe for “the perfect hunting sandwich,” in case you were wondering:

“Hunting sandwiches differ from all other sandwiches in that they are eaten under vastly more rigorous conditions, and they should be prepared with that in view. They should be so cut, formed and packed that they can be enjoyed even though eaten upon the back of a runaway mustang, in a hurricane of wind and cold rain, by a man who has recently broken his right wrist.”

 On that note, we’ll leave you for now, with good wishes for your preparations for the new season!

Advertisements

The weird and wonderful world of horse and hound

A heart-stopping moment for a high-jump competitor, preserved in the Gerald Webb papers at the National Sporting Library

SOMETIMES you come across stuff you just have to share. That’s happened a lot in the last couple of weeks here at the National Sporting Library. I’ll be poring over dusty tomes from hunting history, or scouring a huntsman’s ancient scrapbooks, or perusing the leather-bound Country Life and The Field magazines from the last century, and something unusual or eye-catching will pop up. Most involve hounds but don’t really apply to my research. Some, like the Country Life photograph of a giant mushroom (37 inches in diameter!) that was labeled “Five Pounds of Edible Fungus,” don’t fit in anywhere. But these curiosities are too wonderful to let go. So they fit in here.

J. Mell, the oldest foxhunter of the time in North Carolina, photographed with his most unusual hunting horn

Like Mr. Mell here. There’s no telling what year he had his photo taken, but here’s what the back of the photograph said: “J. Mell, one of General Lee’s men, age 84, oldest fox hunter in North Carolina, wearing the horn which he carved from the horn of a steer captured by him from the Federal forces at Petersburg, Nov. 5, 1864.” That looks like a mighty nice Walker hound you’ve got there, too, Mr. Mell.

The silver collar was given in Madison County, Kentucky, "to the Fastest Foxhound in the State" at a field trial on April 25, 1866. It is lined in red leather and is fastened "by a small padlock with a secret spring by means of which its circumference may be adjusted to the neck of any Foxhound," according to its history. The field trial was held three times consecutively, and a foxhound named Rock, owned by Bill Terrill, won the coveted silver collar twice.

Some of the weirdest items in the National Sporting Library’s collection aren’t photographs. They’re words, stories, accounts of events that happened on the hunt field. Or in a Los Angeles office building. This is from The Sportsman’s Review in the early 1900s:

The chase began in the gymnasium on the third floor of the Knickerbocker Building on Olive Street near Seventh. It ended with the capture in a steam bath cabinet of a small but exceedingly spry and bloodthirsty beast of the cat, coon, or marten family.

For nearly two weeks the occupants of the big skyscraper have been mystified by tracks over the floors, desks, and furniture. The tracks were believed to have been made by an astonishingly large rat or a cat with a curiously shaped foot.

No glimpse of the strange animal was caught, however, until yesterday noon, when George Bartini, the jiu jitsu instructor in the establishment, opened a small dressing room in the gymnasium. Bartini has the reputation of being afraid of nothing, but when he opened the door he let out a yell that could be heard outside the building and made a dash for the stairway.

With brooms, fencing foils, Indian clubs, and other weapons, men chased the creature into a bath cabinet.

The hunt field, such as it was, managed to tip the creature into a cage, where “it barked much like a small and exceedingly peevish terrier and snapped savagely at any article stuck through the meshes of its cage. The animal is about two and a half feet long, brownish gray in color and has a long black-and-white ringed tail. ”

The verdict was that the quarry was a civet cat, but no one ever figured out how it breached the ramparts of the Knickerbocker Building.

If you think the civet cat sounded well dressed, how about Lord Ribblesdale (below)? The very essence of dash, yes?

The elegant Lord Ribblesdale shows how a gentleman dresses for hunting

The writing of the late 1800s and early 1900s was often clever and frequently florid. You could open The Field or Turf, Field, and Farm and find more words in a paragraph than most people put in a page nowadays. An example, from an 1873 story that led The Field‘s “Hunting” column:

“There is a story told, of the bygone three-bottle day, to the effect that an old gentleman, whose rubicund visage gave suspicious indication that his precepts as regarded temperance did not exactly tally with his practice, felt called upon to lecture his son on the vice of over-indulgence in stimulants.”

Got that? Essentially, he was a teetotal-preaching drunk.

For sheer beauty, it’s tough to beat the rare book room’s volumes of Daniel’s Rural Sports, the first of which was published in 1801. These were donated as part of the extensive and valuable collection that John and Martha Daniels donated. The leather covers surround inlaid watercolors on vellum. Together, the volumes are valued at $5,000, and it’s easy to see why.

A volume of Daniel's Rural Sports, part of the widely varied Daniels collection

Inside the covers of Daniel's Rural Sports, a history in bookplates

This volume tells some amazing tales of canine and hunting feats and also includes this nice sentiment: “Where has Zeal, Fidelity, Boldness, and Obedience, been so happily united as in the Dog? More tractable than man, and more pliant than any other animal, the Dog is not only speedily instructed, but even conforms himself to the movements and habits of those who govern him. Savage must that nature be, which can ill treat a creature who has renounced his Liberty to associate with Man, to whose service his whole life is devoted, who, sensible of every kindness, is grateful for the smallest favour, whilst the harshest usage cannot make him unfaithful; he licks the hand that has just been lifted to strike him, and at last disarms resentment by submissive perseverance.”

Feeling wrinkly? Consider Ulpian, who has, I assure you, got you beat in the wrinkles department.

Ulpian the Wrinkly

Ulpian, photographed in 1914, was one of many wonders to be found in Country Life‘s pages. This long-running magazine and its other British sibling, The Field, provided some of the most entertaining headlines and stories. I found a story this morning in an 1874 issue of The Field that discussed “The Octopus and Its Eggs.” Octopus? Eggs? Seriously? There was also a summary of a game–cricket, I think–between the Royal Engineers and The Wanderers; hard to imagine they were very compatible in temperament. The American periodical Turf, Field, and Farm also provided an impressive array of topics for its readers’ edification, ranging from “Strange Stories about Rooks” to “Gudgeon Fishing” to “A Wonderful Eel,” as well as a surprisingly riveting competition of “base ball” between the employees of the New York and Brooklyn post offices (presumably, their games were never called off on account of rain!).

Speaking of surprisingly riveting … It’s hard to tell who got more gussied up for this hound show, but they deserved to win–and they did!

While we’re talking about Country Life, how about this fellow? Word: you can’t beat the Country Life‘s letters to the editor department for obscure topics.

What the ... ?

I’ve also found a new artist to fall in love with. He’s not new (he lived from 1857 to 1927), but he’s new to me, and his name is Gustav Muss-Arnolt. The National Sporting Library has a group of nine hound paintings that Muss-Arnolt did in the 1890s, and they were my favorite things at the library. I will leave you with the largest of them, a portrait of a hound named Matchless who appears to personify the quality of sagacity that we always hear applied to hounds:

Matchless. Doesn't he look as if he sees right into your soul?

Needless to say, it will be hard for this houndblogger to leave the marvelous vault, shelves, and galleries of the National Sporting Library. Fortunately, I’ve stocked up on interesting stories that I can unwind over the next few months or years, so the National Sporting Library’s books, archives, photographs, and collections will continue to make regular appearances here.

Thank heavens we have such a priceless resource right here on our shores! I hope you will support them by joining, so that they can continue to help keep the history of field sports alive, thriving, and available to the public.