"Fierce as a tiger, and long as a hay-band, and with an amiable cast of features very like the Chancellor of the Exchequer," is very bad to kill "top o' t' ground," and still worse when he gets into a burn (borran).
Jackson Gillbanks 1870
Material reproduced on this thread is reproduced directly from the source used. Any assumption that the fox concerned is of the greyhound type other than where stated, is mine and mine alone.
On 25th November 1809 a fox was caught after a hard run of three hours by the Haydon Hunt, it was stuffed and mounted in a case by followers of the hunt to record the event (see photograph). Is this an example of a “greyhound fox”?
Fell foxes a century or more ago were much more wary than the foxes of today who see so many walkers on the hills the whole year round. After the first World War large areas of land on the lower fell sides were planted with extensive areas of conifers, many foxes moved from the high ground to seek shelter in the warmer woodland.
In the late nineteenth century the rangy native foxes were described as being ‘big, long on the leg, lean, greyer in colour and very fit’. They were christened ‘greyhound’ foxes and often weighed in excess of 20lbs and could measure up to 5ft from tip of nose to tip of tail. Many a dog fox tipped the scale at 19lbs in the 1800s and early 1900s. Ordinarily an average red-dog fox weighs about 15lbs and slightly less for vixens. Even today Lakeland foxes can be bigger than the average low ground fox. Records are patchy but these fine specimens were found high up on the fells and said to more resemble a small wolf. An excerpt taken from a very old newspaper dated November 1st 1844 describes a hunt:
‘On Wednesday week a fine greyhound fox was started from his hiding place on the mountain Dodd, near Keswick, and after a gallant run of about one hour, by the hounds belonging to Mr. Crozier, of Riddings, the wily animal fell a prey to his pursuers in Skiddaw Forest, where he had in vain sought shelter from his implacable enemies’.
It appears at times there were few foxes on the high fell as this extract from the memory of “Fusedale” written in March 1910 shows. He is writing about a hunt with the Bald Howe pack prior to their amalgamation with the Patterdale Foxhounds in 1873. This piece shows the scarcity of foxes on that day at least.
“I remember Joe Dawson, myself,
and two or three others leaving Howtown one fine morning to loose at Dale
Head, Martindale. After trying Beda we went to Heck and Buck Crags, in
Bannerdale, over Rest Dod to Rampskin Head, over High Street, by way of
Fox Bields, to Thresthwaite Mouth. There we struck our first line, but
little could be made of it, so we tried through Thornthwaite Crag to Park
Quarries in the Vale of Troutbeck, over Ill Bell to Rainsbarrow in Kentmere,
back by Longmire End to Nan Beild, through Blea Water Crags, over Longstile
to Riggindale and ended without a find at Kidsty Pike. There we left our
Martindale friends and went to Mardale to hunt the following day.”
The distance covered by a fell fox in the course of one night is quite astounding as the following report shows.
Once the same pack (The Coniston) took a line by Rydal Park wall and carried it over High Pike up to Hart Crag and down the ridge on the other side into Hartsop, unkennelling in Low Wood on the hillside above Brothers Water. Another time they found a drag in Skelghyll Woods above Dove’s Nest, persevering with it up the whole length of the Troutbeck valley and out at the top over Threshthwaite Mouth. About a mile on the other side of the wall the fox got up, escaping after a short but very exciting chase into the fastness of Broad Howe. The distance covered by these hounds must be little less than ten miles, enough perhaps to constitute a record.
From “Fox Hunting in The Fells”
by the Rev E. M. Reynolds M.F.H
The Saddleback, or more properly the Blencathra range, has no cover for a fox except the rocks, a little ling, and a few juniper bushes among the heather. The base of Skiddaw, including the Dodd and the Barfe, is best covered with larch and whins. The Castlerigg, Borrowdale, and Armboth Fells have good covers of oak and hazel, but the fox prefers keeping to the rocks rather than the woods, and they generally drag up to him rather than chase him.
Saddle and Sirloin by The Druid 1870
The Coniston Subscription hounds threw
off on Holme Fell, about two miles from Coniston. Only seventeen dogs
were uncoupled, all however, of the right sort, and in condition to run
for a man’s life. They quickly hit on a drag, and “Reynard”
no doubt hearing them, stole away, and so got, it is conjectured, three
quarter of an hour’s start before they dragged up to his resting-place.
They then settled on a line of scent, at a rattling pace around the fell
to the Yew-trees, and across the country to The Tarns, near Hawkshead.
He had been going upwind for this three to four miles, and turned back
over High Cross, past the Lake residence of Mr. Marshall, and on to Yewdale
Crag. The ascent is long, steep, and one of the roughest amongst the northern
fells, from the great quantity of loose stones on the sides of the hill.
When out on top , it is probable Reynard thought he would bid a final
adieu to his pursuers. He proceeded right on end over a long tract of
moor and hill to near Black-Hall, the highest house in Seathwaite. Here
he made a round and steered back to Tilberthwaite mines, above Coniston,
turned again and boldly ascended Tilberthwaite High Fell, which he crossed,
and over a long tract of country to Wrynose, a steep mountain pass well
known to tourists between Eskdale and Langdale. On Wrynose he laid down
amongst some furze, and a second glorious unkennel took place. The hunt
had continued without a check, for fully thirty miles over some of the
roughest hilly country of the north, and went on at a great pace by Red-tarn
to the foot of Bowfell, with one or two exceptions, the highest mountain
in England. All the hardy footmen of Coniston were “tailed off”.
Reynard fearlessly ascended the mighty hill and crossed some little distance
from the summit, then by the Stake at the head of Langdale and into Borrowdale.
A few shepherds from Langdale followed and were joined by some Borrowdale
men. After a round, the gallant fox took Butterlikeld High-fell and all
were “tailed off” again.
Ulverston Advertiser 27th December 1860.
On Wednesday morning the sportsmen and hounds (The Coniston) again turned out in search of a fox, and soon found one in Storrs allotment. Reynard soon bolted after hearing the voices of the challenging dogs, and shifted his quarters in double quick time, to make south for Fox hole Bank in Crosthwaite. He then shaped his course westward to pay Mr. Birkett, of Birkett House, a visit, but being hard pushed, he ran to Rosthwaite, thence north to Merslake, where the hunters viewed him, and afterwards by Low Lindeth, Birthwaite, and down to Calgarth Farm. The fox then turned back by Troutbeck Bridge, Elleray, and Holehird unto Borrans, on the borders of Hugill. Here he turned north and made for the head of Kentmere park, thence by Froswick, Blue Ghyll, and round by Thresthwaite Mouth to Red Screes, above Kirkstone Tavern. Here he turned back over Cowdale Fell, and to Kentmere High-street. Being here hard pushed by the staunce dogs, he crossed Blea-Water Crag at the head of Mardale, and made through Martindale Forest to Angle Tarn, one of the numerous feeders of Ullswater. Here he was forced to give up and yield to his numerous pursuers, after a continuous chase of above five hours and a run at a moderate estimate of fifty miles. Mr. John Gelderd of Patterdale, who was near the place where the finale of this gallant hunt took place, immediately after the fox was killed cut off one of his ears which he fastened round the neck of a hound with a memorandum, stating when and where poor reynard gave his last squeak. This is one of the most splendid runs within the memory of anyone in this neighbourhood, and will be long remembered by the gallant Nimrod’s who participated in it.
Westmorland Gazette 16th January 1847.
(John Gelderd was Master of the Patterdale foxhounds and also had his own pack of beagles; he was the nephew of Anthony Gaskarth who founded the Coniston hounds in 1825.)
In the early years of the twentieth century lowland foxes greatly increased in number and subsequently there was a further influx as banished incomers arrived in the fells in search of fresh territory. The foxes of today have very different habits to those a century ago.
As fox numbers greatly increased, they seemed more reluctant to leave the valley in which they were found, rarely running the great distances recorded by huntsman of times past. There are several records of foxes being chased for most of the day round a large wood or block of forestry without making any attempt to leave it. In fact I have memories of days spent in the plantations above Hawkshead huddled against a wall out of the biting wind and rain showers when exactly this happened. It reached the point where we stopped going to any meet with likelihood of this happening. "We’ll go with the Ulswatter tomorrow," said my father at dinner time. "Cunistan, are at Hawkshead, "be running round in the forestry all day, see nowt."
“Chappie” in his book Hark Forrard, says that foxes (the “newer sort”) seemed to like the forestry and “cubbed” on the surface, as it was sheltered, warm and dry and there could be a large number of foxes in a small area.
Even so there were occasional accounts for many years; ordinarily the average red-dog fox weighs about 15lbs and slightly less for vixens. Still today Lakeland foxes can be bigger than the average low ground fox. Records are sketchy but there are reports of foxes being killed that were much larger than average and it was not unusual to still find foxes weighing over 20lbs.
Tuesday, being a general holiday amongst
the apprentices of Ambleside, it was arranged to give them the opportunity
of a hunt, of which a great many availed themselves, Skelghyll Woods being
the fixture at 7 am.
Westmorland Gazette 10th November 1883.
The following story illustrates not only the size of Lakeland foxes but gives an insight into hunting politics of the time.
On Saturday, the 12th inst, the Eskdale pack met at the homestead of that well-known foxhunter, Mr. W. Woodend, of Nook End, Ambleside, under the charge of Anthony Chapman, “Tommy” having gone over to Eskdale for some hounds which had been left behind. Going through the High Pike breast they hit upon a drag, and took it through, underneath Dove Cragg, and by Lon Cragg end, through the Houndshope Cove over Hart Cragg, to Fairfield. Going down the top towards Rydal, they unkennelled him in Stone Cove. Driving him out, by the top of Fairfield, they took him in by Caugha Pike, sown to the shilloe beds to Grisedale Tarn. Leaving Willy Wife’s Moor on the left, they went over the top of Dolly Wagon Pike, and turned in towards Wythburn, along the fell above the mines to Long Cragg, then by Helvellyn Cove, Swirrel Edge to Bleaberry Edge in Grisedale, where he went to ground, after a run of nearly two hours duration. Messrs. W. Wood, sen T. Jackson, G. Hogarth, Anthony Chapman, and his son Tom were speedily on the spot, and the terriers were put into the borran. They began marking him immediately, but he refused to bolt, and after a severe fight, the terriers killed him. “Anthony” went to Braesteads Farm, about a mile distant for help. Returning with Mr. Leek, and the necessary tools, operations were at once commenced, and carried on til dusk, three terriers being left in overnight. The hunters then adjourned to Mr. Leek’s, where both hunters and hounds were most hospitably entertained, Anthony and the hounds remaining all night. Work was resumed in the morning, and continued during the day. The terriers were got out about two o’clock in the afternoon. Grip and Crag were severely mauled about the head, and Pitcher the head and forelegs, and it is feared he will loose the sight of one eye. Work was continued until 6 pm, when it was decided owing to the great depth of the borran, to give up trying to recover the body of the fox, which from the nature of the injuries to the terriers, must have been above the average weight.
Kendal and County News 19th April 1890.
There must have been some problem with acceptance of the conclusion of the hunt as the following appears in the next week's issue.
The fact that these hounds having killed underneath Striding Edge on Saturday 12 th inst, as reported in our last being doubted in some quarters, Anthony Chapman accompanied by Messrs. H. Dugdale, J. Townson, E. Forsyth, William Woodend, D. Hodgson, T. Fox and G. Fleming who walked “Pincher” the terrier so badly bitten about whose recovery there is some doubt, met in the early part of the week and carried the necessary tools over Grisedale Pass to Bleaberry Crag to try to recover the dead fox. Upon reaching the place, Dugdale’s terrier “Whisky” began marking almost immediately and continued to do so until the fox was got out by “Anthony” about half past twelve after three hours hard work. He proved to be a fine dog fox of eighteen and a half pounds weight after being dead a week, so that when living he must have been considerably over twenty pounds. This is the third fox killed by these hounds during their visit to Ambleside and neighbourhood.
Kendal and County News 26th April 1890.
The biggest fox killed by Joe Bowman was in 1923. It weighed 24lbs and measured 54 inches from the tip of his nose to the end of his brush. He also recorded a 20lb silver-grey fox having been killed on Nethermost Pike in February 1916 along with the comment that 'it was of a species nearly extinct nowadays’.
In 1934 the Ullswater hounds accounted for another, which was said to be one of the ‘greyhound’ foxes. In the 1960s a huge fox was killed by Joe Wear, which apparently was entered in the Guinness Book of Records at that time as being the largest fox to be officially recorded.
The Coniston pack killed a fox in 1929 described as being ‘an old dog fox weighing 24lbs’ and another in January 1946 at Nibthwaite, which weighed 20lbs. They had previously accounted for a vixen weighing 17.5lbs in the Cartmell Fell area the year before.
Also in 1946 the Blencathra caught a dog fox weighing 20lbs. Anthony Chapman killed another large fox in the Coniston country in January 1957. It weighed 21lbs and could well have been a throwback to the old greyhound foxes.
THE LUNESDALE- After meeting at Howgill last Thursday hounds put up a fox at Bleasefell and raced it down to Carlingill before bolting it from a borran and rolling over a fine dog fox. On Saturday, from Dent, another big fellow of over 20lbs was killed in Barbon Manor after traversing Dent and Leck Fells. TALISMAN
Westmorland Gazette 20th March 1948
Even as late as 1980 it was reported that Maurice Bell with his Wensleydale pack hunting on the edge of the Lunesdale country had caught a fox weighing 23lbs.
An interesting piece from The Glasgow Herald concerning the Eglinton Hounds.
Returning to lower country, the hounds were drawing a little strip of woodland near the hamlet of Auchmillian when a big grey fox was seen to slip quietly away. He must have been a moorland fox for he at once set his mask for the Auchmannoch Moors with the pack in full cry and the horses going hard to live with them. So from wood to wood the hunt went on til breaking from the long coverts that stripe the stubble lands at Auchenbrain, hounds were leading on up the long slopes at Meadowhead when huntsman and whips galloped to their heads and stopped them as they got near the fringe of the red moorlands across which loomed up the bare remote hill of Distincthorn. KNOCKJARDER
Glasgow Herald 24th November 1955.
And finally from a Hunting Forum November 2010:
Whilst dung spreading last week, I saw a fox looking for worms, thought nothing of it, looked like an ordinary fox until it turned away. Head and top of its back (down the spine) were the normal red colour, but sides and brush were steel gray.
Perhaps from time to time the old genes make an appearance who can say.
Reynard appears to have been originally
divided into three distinct sorts, the greyhound, the bulldog, and the
cur-fox. The first is the wildest, stoutest, and fleetest, and is found
in wild and mountainous districts. It is the indigenous species, and the
best; hard to find, harder still to kill. Though now fast becoming extinct,
he frequently leads the hounds many a mile up-hill and down dale, from
dawn till dusk, ere his funeral chime is rung..............
Horn And Hound in Wales and some adjoining Counties. Edwin Wathen Price. Pub. Daniel Owen and Company, Limited. Undated but believed to be 1895. Pages 45-46.