For over two hundred years the newspapers of the Lake District have faithfully recorded the activities of the fell packs both on and off the hill. Writing styles change but these accounts open up a lost world now sadly gone when the hunt was an integral part of village life.
These accounts range from details of forthcoming meets, via stirring accounts of runs to Hunt Suppers and fund raising evenings in the way of Whist Drives.
As a lad it was a standing joke usually “cracked” as hounds disappeared into the mist or the next valley that “it will be in’t Gazette on Friday and sure enough it was with a detailed description of what we hadn’t seen or as we joked an inspired guess.
It was a source of wonder to me for years how these reports came to be filed, I didn’t wonder enough to investigate but it was always in my mind. The answer is obvious but I only found out a few months ago when in conversation with a lady on a separate subject she let slip that for a number of years in the 60s and 70s she had been paid by a local paper to take phone calls on a Sunday evening from the local huntsmen and Masters of foxhounds of the weeks hunting and any other matters they wanted published. She complied the material and on the following Friday it was avidly read by a small boy in Ambleside amongst many others.
Newspaper reports also give tantalising hint of long gone packs, the slightest mention can invoke a whole new line of enquiry into packs almost forgotten, below is a good example.
The Cumberland Stag Hounds will meet on Thursday, the 11th January, at Ellerton, at eleven o'clock.
The Wigton Harriers will meet on Monday, the 8th of January, at Kirkland; on Wednesday, the 10th January, at Onlton; and on Thursday, the 12th January, at the Kennel. Each morning at eight o'clock.
The Aikton Harriers will cast off on Monday, the 8th January at Aikton Hall; and on Thursday, the 11th January at Bolton Park. Each morning at half-past eight o'clock.
The Eamont Harriers will meet on Monday, the 8th January, at Culgaith; on Wednesday, the 10th January, at Low Plains Gate; and on Saturday the 13th January, at Great Salkeld. Each morning at half-past ten o'clock.
The knowledge of the countryside exhibited by the writers of some of these pieces describing the actual hunt is quite stunning, as the following two examples show.
Local Notes - Wasdale Head
On Friday morning "Laal Tommy" started from the hotel about eight o'clock, took a drag at the intake at Mosel Bottom, dragged away up Mosel, and put it off in a crag. It came right down to the bottom of Mosel, turned up by way of Red Pike, then came down under Black Crag by Door Head, through Stirrup Crag to the Brock Stone, where it ran into a field. The terriers were put in, and it was soon worried. It was afterwards dug out, and proved to be a vixen of about ten pounds weight.
The Whitehaven News - Thursday, January 18, 1923
On the invitation of MR. ROBSON, the Eskdale and Ennerdale hounds met for the annual hunt at Irton Hall. Breakfast was partaken of by a large company of hunters, and after the customary toast had been proposed by Mr. JAS. GRAVE, the chairman of the Foxhounds Committee, the Master cast off behind the Hall. A fox was quickly found, and to the accompaniment of bursts of joyous music the pack bustled him round the coverts again and again before he was forced towards his native haunts.
Closely pursued the fox took out to Irton Pike, but hounds were running strongly, and forced him to seek lower ground again, and he descended to Park Breast Wood, circling the tarn and leaping wall after wall with hounds in very close attendance.
Soon all was silent, and the Master met hounds coming out of the wood showing unmistakable signs of having run into their quarry, but the latter could not be found in the thick undergrowth of fern and bracken.
The next meet was a bye day from Kennels, when hunters in Eskdale were provided with a grand hunt. Three foxes were unkennelled behind Brantrake Fell, and one was observed to cross Milkingstead Bridge and on to Low Fell. A second fox took down low country by Birkby Fells to Stainton, where, after a fast run by Cleaver, Brilly, Welcome, and Jovial, the fox was run into.
The third rover made a circuit of Ansthwaite Valley and Dalegarth Woods before descending to Linbeck, near where he crossed the River Esk and made out by Muncaster Head. Skirting Muncaster Fell, the hunt led across the Mite and out towards Irton Pike.
The fox was now apparently heading for the redoubtable Wastwater Screes, and pushed on over Mecklin, but the pack running strongly were rapidly overhauling him on the plain ground, and he turned at the top of Hole Ghyll, and came back into Mitredale by way of Low Beak.
Hunters climbing out for Screes were now right in amongst the proceedings, and at one time the fox was met several times while essaying to leap the walls out of the wood.
Though thus inadvertently baulked several times, the quarry managed to dodge hounds in the woods near Low Holme, and crossed the fields, where a boy was amongst the turnips.
This must have been the youngster's first
"view" of a fox and hounds; at any rate he failed tostand
his ground and made off out of the way of the fox and the oncoming pack
as fast as his legs would carry him.
The following meet at Boot Bank did not prove so fruitful, although a good run resulted. Hounds dragged out from Nab Ghyll into the mist which enveloped the tops. Here the pack split, a few couples going out towards Wasdale Head side past Burnmoor, whilst the major portion of the pack crossed the Mite and Tongue Moore, and made out to the screes. They were next heard coming out of Screes Summit near Coal Moss, and a rattling hunt led down Whinrigg breast again into Mitredale.
Crossing to Low Fell, the fox made several circuits round by Rakerigg borran and Hollin How breast before entering Gatehouse covers. Here the fox took the edge of the artificial lake. This enforced immersion, and the inevitable carpet of dead leaves enabled the quarry to save his brush.
Hounds kept on for a considerable time through the breast of Low Fell and out over Bang Garth, but were finally drawn off.
Meeting near the residence of MR. W. C. PORTER, the master and huntsman, followers ofthis pack climbed over Brantrake Fell, where MR. FLETCHER DIXON viewed a fox who led them back over the top to Brantrake Fell, and down over the private drive. He returned to Ainhouse plantation, and along the breast towards the Screes, where he found it too much for him and descended to the bottom towards Low Place and into Waite's Wood. The hunt continued into Low Place, the quarry was bowled over by all the pack. He proved to be a fine dog fox.
Newspaper reports are also of great interest as they occasionally provide snapshots of long gone participants and detail of small events usually unrecorded in the published hunting tomes, detail which adds to the overall history of the chase as the example below shows complimenting the reference to the small boy in the preceding piece.
Whitehaven News Thursday Nov
After having a successful week at Ennerdale hounds landed at Black How, Cleator, for the meet on the Dent. A fox was unkennelled at Cow Field Park and made a bee line for Ennerdale fells. The pace was too fast for him and they doubled him back into Uldale bottom. Young Rattler, a puppy, now took up the lead and broke from scent to view. He soon ran the fox to a standstill. Both hound and fox stood facing each other for a few seconds until the whole pack closed in and dispatched an old dog fox. A search was made for another without result.
The meet at Br. Bland's Farmery provided a flying hunt. A fox was seen stealing away on top of Stords. Irving soon had hounds on his track and it made downhill for the Calderbridge district, then back by Thornholm. The hounds were now taking the fell breast before them. With Young Rally and Music leading there was never a check. The fox made a bid forEnnerdale fells up Town Bank to Worm Ghyll, but the pace was too much for him so he crossed Stockdale Moor and went to ground in a sand hole near Bleng. After about five or six hours digging a big dog fox was accounted for.
The second day hounds unkennelled a fox about Gipsy Cragg, went straight away for the high fells and the result is not known. Two young hounds, Buxom and Dauntless, were lost at this hunt.
The salvers' hunt at Wasdale drew many old hunters, Isaac FLETCHER, an old huntsman who Willie PORTER served past of his apprenticeship under, was present and said it was 60 years since he first met old Tommy DOBSON at this hunt and Johnny SMITH. STRANDS, was delighted to have these two old friends staying at his house. Punctually at 8 "Willie" started off for Backbarrow and a fox was unkennelled right away. He made a grand hunt through the fell breast of Backbarrow and Middlegill. Hounds turned him back at a rattling good pace and were just about to pull him down when he went to ground at Goat Cragg and could not be dislodged. Another fox holed near Ennerdale Lake but there were no terriers available. Hounds were taken to the Strands without making a kill.
Monday's meet proved a fast one, finding at Thistleton Wood and killing at Backbarrow. On Tuesday hounds unkennelled a fox at Middlefell three times and eventually killed at Backbarrow. On Saturday's opening hunt hounds met at King George in a downpour of rain. "Willie" decided to loose at Muncaster Fell but eventually hounds were called off without a find.
The Salvers Hunt was a traditional hunt which took place after the tenants had given their labour to the local landowner to salve the sheep, this entailed rubbing tar and grease into their coats as a form of prevention against insects, it is an ancient tradition, certainly going back to the middle ages
On occasion a notable deed was recorded, in the case below quite rightly bringing the attention of the community to bear on the participant.
West Cumberland News 14th February 1959
A hunt near Appleby when the fox dashed past and vanished in an old mine-working HOUNDS RESCUED FROM MINE CLIMBED DOWN OLD MINE TO SAVE HOUNDS.
A visitor to the Lake District risked his life at the weekend to save two foxhounds of the Ullswater Pack which had fallen down an abandoned mine working.
The visitor, Mr. Richard DAVIE, of Sunderland, a keen follower of the Ullswater foxhounds, was watching followed by the hounds.
Mr. DAVIE ran into the mouth of the mine just in time to see a fall of rock knock two of the hounds into the sump of the old mine. He climbed down about 15 feet, picked one of the hounds out of the water and climbed safely back.
Then, despite the risk of further falls of loose rock, he insisted on being lowered down again and rescued the second hound which had been slightly injured
Funding the hunt was always difficult, unlike many of the mounted packs who had very large fields with each member paying in some cases several hundred pounds by way of a subscription, fell packs were centred in poor communities. There never was a minimum subscription; a follower gave what he could afford , this meant that hunts were run on basically a shoestring and any attempt to bring in revenue was always welcome.
Like the Ball reported below many were followed the next day by a hunt.
Although the brief account suggests the writer may have had too good a night previously.
West Cumberland Times 14 November
The annual whist drive, supper and dance
were held in the Yew Tree Hall, on Friday. Fifty-two players sat down
for whist, the following were the prize winners: -
Messrs. J. ROBINSON, F. WOOTTEN, W. BAXTER and J. J. LENNOX acted as M.C’s., and checkers. Miss. M. HOPE presented the prizes and was thanked by Mr. J. ROBINSON.
SYMN’s Orchestra, Aspatria played for the dance which was most enjoyable, encores being frequent. Messrs J. TINNION, J. ROBINSON, and J. J. LENNOX were the M. C.’s. Miss. MOFFAT provided the supper and Messrs. J. ROBINSON, W. BAXTER and F. WOOTTEN were the doorkeepers.
The hunt on Saturday morning provided excellent sport, foxes being plentiful. A rousing hunt followed and resulted in two kills, the first at Cass How Wood. Then the hounds went off at a rattling pace to Strawberry Howe, Cockermouth, where the fox holed, but was dugout and dispatched.
Comment was made on the excellent conditions of the hounds, this making their thirteenth kill of the season. The hungry hunters afterwards returned to the Horse Shoe Inn where Mrs. BENTON served excellent tatie-pot.
Many followers served in the Armed Forces during the various wars this country has been engaged in and they never forgot the loss of friends and comrades as the next piece shows.
The “John PEEL” Blencathra Hunt were hunting on Skiddaw on Wednesday, and huntsmen and followers observed the two minutes silence up on the fells of Skiddaw and amid the wreathing mist.
West Cumberland Times 14th November 1931
Fund raising was always difficult in an economically depressed area such as Lakeland, the following piece reflects this.
The Whitehaven News - Thursday,
July 24, 1913
On Monday evening a Committee meeting was held at the King of Prussia to consider the proposed new kennels for the Eskdale and Ennerdale Foxhounds, and to receive reports as to the amount of money which had been raised and what amount would be wanted to build new kennels, boiling house, and hospital.
The secretary was asked what amount of money had been got, and said that he had heard there was about £30 collected. It was decided that the committee would be glad if those who have any money subscribe towards the kennel fund will kindly send it to the secretary of the foxhounds or let him know as early as possible the amount they have in hand before the next meeting, as something will have to be done, as time is drawing near for the hunting season.
The next meeting was set for Monday next, July 28th, at seven o’clock at the King of Prussia. The new secretary, Mr. J. NICHOLSON, and committee wish all those who are on the committee will attend, and have the subject considered, and decide what is to be done. It is urgent that all those interested should press forward with the matter instead of delaying it nearer the commencement of the season. The new secretary would like to hear from all members of the committee and who are interested in the provision of the new kennels, and anyone wishing to give towards the fund will greatly oblige the committee by communicating with the secretary without loss of time.
Occasionally an entry was difficult to believe!
Carlisle Patriot 01 June 1844
The late Earl of THANET was in the habit of removing every year, with his hunters and hounds, from Hothfield, near Ashford, in Kent, to another seat he had in Westmorland. A short time previous to one of these removals a fox had been run to earth near Hothfield, and upon being dug out he proved to be so extraordinary large and a fine one that Lord THANET directed it to be conveyed to Westmorland. In the course of the next season a fox was run to earth again at Hothfield, and upon being dug out the huntsmen, whippers-in, and the earth-stoppers, all declared that it was the same fox which had been taken into Westmorland, as it had an unusually large white blaze on its forehead.
Lord THANET was exceedingly energetic in his expressions of disbelief of his people, but they persisted in their assertions; and having ear-marked the fox, he was again taken into Westmorland, and turned loose in the neighbourhood of Appleby Castle.
In hunting the next season at Hothfield a fox was killed at that place, which proved to be the one in question, and which had thus twice found its way from Westmorland to Kent. By what instinct or exertions of its faculties the animal was enabled to do this (the distance from one place to the other being above 320 miles,) it is not easy to form an idea. Its well known cunning would, one might suppose, be of little avail in such an emergency, except in enabling it to procure food.
Moving on, the newspapers recorded sad incidents of the time.
Westmorland Gazette 17th August 2005
THE funeral of one of the best-known names from the Lakeland hunting scene drew so many people that they were not all able to fit into the Methodist Chapel at Sedbergh.
Around 350 people turned out to pay their respects to John Nicholson, the retired huntsman with the Lunesdale Foxhounds, who has died aged 81.
His sister-in-law, Vera Hawes, who gave an address, along with Mr. Nicholson's friend, John Stott, said that there were so many present that a large number of people had to stand outside.
The cortège, which included eight huntsmen, had been taken right through Sedbergh, and a hunting horn was blown as the coffin was lowered. A little girl had brought along a hound that Mr Nicholson had seen before he died.
Mr Nicholson was born into a Lakeland farming family at Lowgill in 1924, and moved to Grove Farm, Ambleside, which was a sheep farm, when he was five-years-old.
He had a love of hounds and hunting from
a very early age and played truant from school to spend time with the
nearby Coniston Foxhounds.
In 1950, when he was 25, he was earning £4 a week.
The Lunesdale Fox-hounds covered the biggest range of any hunt, and Mr. Nicholson could walk 100 to 200 miles a week, and catch 80 foxes in a year. The area was so vast that the work could take him from home for weeks at a time.
Mr. Nicholson would get up at 6am to clean out and feed his 50 hounds. He knew every hound by its cry, and if one was making a disturbance in the kennels, he could tell which animal it was. The hunt later moved kennels to Cautley.
He was made huntsman in 1962 and married
Rita Lowthian in 1968. The couple had a daughter, Helen, and they had
retired to Sedbergh.
"He judged at shows all over the
place and he would have been at Lowther, no doubt, this week judging terriers
Although retired since 1990, he was still active.
Mrs. Hawes said that Mr. Nicholson had not believed in breaking the law over the hunting ban, but he had spoken about hunting being the most humane way to deal with foxes.
As well as his wife and daughter, he is also survived by sisters Dora and Hilda, and a brother, Christopher, Mrs Hawes, and her husband, Stephen.
In the years leading up to the imposition of the Hunting Ban in 2005 the papers changed their coverage, events surrounding the hunts continued but there was much less in the way of coverage of actual hunts and the posting of notification of meet times and locations, It was never openly admitted but it was probably due a fear of the “anti hunt lobby” than any other reason. The lakes had changed quite dramatically over the preceding twenty years as more people retired or moved to the area and their views concerning hunting in many cases were divergent to that of the locals. Occasionally newspapers continued their coverage of hunting; this is one of the last pre ban.
Cumberland and Westmorland Herald
12th February 2005
FROM The meet at the kennels of the Ullswater pack kennels the hounds drew all around the valley but failed to rouse a fox even though there were touches of drag all day, writes TRIMBUSH.
Alf Edmondson once again made all welcome at Walloway Farm, where a huge turnout enjoyed his hospitality before the hounds moved off to draw Little Mell Fell. A fox was soon on the move but this quickly came to nothing.
In the warm sunshine which prevailed scenting was virtually non-existent and the hounds struggled all day until James Johnson halloed a fox by his garden. They initially ran the heel line but were righted and held on to Little Mell Fell at Lowthwaite, where they worked up to their fox in the whins.
Putting him away, they ran to Thackthwaite
Ghyll, climbed out for the top and then dropped down into Lowthwaite Ghyll,
where they again worked up to their fox. After some close quarter hunting
they killed in the old building — a fine performance in atrocious
This hunt then headed out through Gillespie Ghyll to High Street, where Steve Wooff found the hounds coming to Gavel Crag with a very patchy hunt. They marked in Gavel Crag and then bolted this fox, which might well have been the one they had first moved.
They hunted around Lingmell to Nan Bield and in for Smallwater and Piot Crag. They eventually marked in Blea Crag, where this fox was given best.
Robert McCosh hosted the very popular meet at Dalemain, from where the hounds were vanned to Row Head and loosed on to Heughscar.
A fox was soon under pressure in the whins and it was hunted hard to Scroggs Wood and then out by Winder Hall and High Winder to Black Barn Wood. It was there Singwell '97 marked and this fox was accounted for.
They found again in the Whitbystead whins, ran through Potlands and then headed out over the fields to Helton Head. They marked in this area and this fox was also accounted for.
The next day was a bye day and this was put in at Millriggs Farm, Kentmere, where the HP Plantation held a fox which took the hounds by t, and the hunCroft Head and Diatomite Wood to Kentmere Hall, where the scent failed.
As they were being brought back they struck the line of another fox by the diatomite works and this fox was hunted back up the water to Kentmere Hall, Ivan Scar and Raven Crag.
They crossed the road on to Rook Howe, but sheep foiled the line and so they were blown up at Hall Wood. They regained the line and hunted slowly over the river to Longhouse Farm.
They went on to Millriggs Ghyll, where they turned out for Longhouse Plantation, feathering all the way. Sticking to their task well, they appeared at the top of the plantation still on the line, but were quickly taken to a view by Lindsay Cowen at the top of the trees.
The hounds burst away over Rasp Howe for Green Quarter, where they marked. A fresh fox bolted and was caught fox was also killed soon after.
Post ban, hunting continued in a different guise, the newspapers continued to report events.
Times and Star 2nd Jan 2009
HUNDREDS of people turned out for the annual Blencathra and Melbreak hunts that took place on Boxing Day.
Members of the Blencathra Foxhounds walked
from Keswick’s Market Square to the cottage hospital to let the
patients and staffs meet the huntsmen and hounds before heading out on
to the slopes of Skiddaw.
Robert Hilton-Fell, hunt secretary of Blencathra Foxhounds, said: “The day went very well. It is hard to say how many people turned out but we were pleased with the numbers.
“It was such lovely day weather wise and we had a lot of people out enjoying the day, supporting the event and watching the hounds work.”
The Melbreak hunt also saw numbers up on previous years.
John Vickers, 75, hunt master, said:
“It was our biggest crowd for some time and more than we normally
get for these types of hunts.
“We were pleased with how many people turned up and I think everybody enjoyed the day.”
Hunting is closely allayed with farming. Tourists and foxes have been a bane to the fell farmer, the foxes for centuries and tourists, since tourism was developed.” Not strictly hunting related the following piece never the less illustrates a problem still with us today.
Whitehaven Gazette - Thurs, May
The part of Great Gable where the damage was committed is rented by Mr. John WILSON, of Row Head Farm, and the sheep were also his property. It is a great pity that no clue can be obtained to the offenders, but it may result in other tourists having some of their privileges curtailed.
While the dales people are always glad to see people come to enjoy themselves, it is surely a dastardly action on the part of certain tourists to inflict on their hosts such cruel and unnecessary loss.
The press has written of the fell packs for almost two hundred years, charting their history, highs and lows concerning their fortunes and giving brief snapshots of events and people now long gone and in many cases forgotten.
Through the page they briefly come to light again and our knowledge of them is the better for it.