W3C Best Left Alone   FOXES


“Best left alone,” the email said after the 'Hutton Roofer' piece in March 2012, and there were a couple more like it. Since its inception in 2008 this site has recorded exciting hunts, rescues of trapped terriers and crag fast hounds, but it was not all like that. With the morality of the 21st century it is easy to 'sit in judgement' on those who have gone before, and cannot answer back. Personally I find the following affair distasteful but I only record material available to all, and the only reason The Coniston feature is because I use the local newspaper archives; no doubt all the hunts have their own stories to tell.

“You could tell it would end up in court”

(attributed to my great grandfather and passed down the family)

As was shown in a previous posting 'bag foxes' were occasionally hunted by the fell packs, usually the venue for the meet being a public house desperate to increase trade with all day drinking and a meal at the end of the 'hunt'.

As a lad I was told about this sorry affair.

CONISTON FOX HOUNDS The kennels of this pack have been removed from Sawrey to Satterthwaite, and there will be an additional run each week during the season. Mr. George Penny succeeds Mr. J. R. Bridson as master; William Dickinson succeeds J. Hilton as huntsman; and Mr. Joseph Penny acts as first whip and John Richardson as second.

Lakes Chronicle November 10th 1877

J. R. Bridson had resigned the mastership at the end of the 1875 season and since then Billy Dickinson and other followers had run the hunt as a scratch pack. It was only now that a new master was found in Mr. Penny and the hunt was once more on a formal footing, but his tenure was not too last.

FOX HUNT AT BOWNESS Tuesday, being New Year's Day, was kept in Bowness and Windermere as a general holiday. The Coniston foxhounds met at Bowness, and a "trapped" fox was let off on the Kendal road near Lindeth. An immense number of people turned out in anticipation of a good run, Brantfell being the favoured spot selected from which to witness the sport. This part of the district can scarcely be considered a good foxhunting country, yet among those present were several "mounted Nimrods” who, like John Gilpin, were prepared to "dash through thick and thin". But their pluck and horsemanship were not put to the test, poor Reynard evidently not under standing the part he was expected to play. After two or three futile attempts to get him to run, a "friendly hand" assisted him into a drain near Low House, from which he was extracted, after much difficulty and killed among a crowd of from 150 to 200 persons.

Westmorland Gazette January 5th 1878

This hunt was an unpleasant affair, and earned the condemnation of many, including local men who followed the hunt. A report was published in the Kendal Mercury, which led directly to a court case for cruelty. The proceedings of the case are reported below; it is unclear how much the hunt officials were involved, and how much of the worst excesses fell on others. One thing is certain, the Coniston never again chased a “bag fox” and soon after, Mr Penny’s tenure as Master came to an end but how much this sorry affair had to do with it is long forgotten.

FOX HUNT! – POOR REYNARD. During the last week an announcement in the shape of a poster appeared, and stated that on New Years Day, the Coniston foxhounds would hunt a bag fox near Bowness. The day arrived and the hounds, huntsmen and hunters appeared, the fox was let loose but refused to run. Poor reynard it appeared, had been raised by hand from a cub, and as might be expected was minus his natural instinct. The poor beast was so tame that it refused to be hunted and after being caught and re caught several times by some small boys, its duty duly enforced upon it by means of sundry kicks, was at last induced to take to a drain for cover. From thence it was dragged forth and dispatched by the other beasts, four legged and two legged combined. The proceedings throughout were of a disgraceful character, and the cowardly treatment to which the poor dumb animal was subjected, stamps the persons concerned as little deserving the title of “Sportsmen”.

Kendal Mercury from the Ulverston Advertiser 10th January 1878

This little affair caused strong feeling among the followers in the pubs and workplaces in the area. I’m given to understand the view was ”I don’t know why they did it (hunting a bag fox) the fell was 'wick' (full) of wild yan’s”. The affair caused the threat of withdrawal of subscription and some actually went to hunt with the Ullswater. It went to court.

Before Mr. G. H. Puckle, Mr. J. R. Bridson, Mr. J. Thompson and Mr. J. Cropper.

The case arose out of a foxhunt, held near Bowness on New Year’s Day, in which cruelty was alleged, to have been committed by the defendants, Richard Lowis, Joshua Robinson, Wm. Eyers, Edward Reed, Thos Jackson, Jos Airey, Wm Dickinson, - Richardson, John Edmondson and Henry Moon, all from Bowness and the neighbourhood. The charges were brought by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals. Mr. Morton Smith, of London, barrister, conducted the prosecution, and Mr. Geo Gatey appeared for five of the defendants. All of the defendants pleaded not guilty.

The Chairman intimated that the magistrates intended to proceed on the supposition that everything done in the ordinary custom of fox hunting was perfectly legal.

Mr. Gatey intimates took the objection that a fox was not a domestic animal within the meaning of the Act.

Mr. H. Smith said that a bench of magistrates had convicted in a case where the animal was what is called a “bagged” fox, which had been confined for only a fortnight, whereas this one had been confined in an empty cottage for six weeks. It did not know how to run, and in every way had lost its wild nature. A London magistrate had held that a chaffinch, which was confined for only four days, came within the meaning of the Act. If the Bench sustained the objection that would be the end of the case. The Act of 17 and 18 Vic, relates to “any animal, whether quadruped or not”. He contended that a fox did not come within he meaning of the Act, and illustrated the meaning of the word “domesticated” by quotations from Johnson, Webster and others. After some little consultation, the Bench said they considered that in some cases a fox might be considered a domestic animal. They, therefore, disallowed the objection.

Mr. Smith then proceeded to state the particulars of the case on behalf of the prosecution. A Mr. Phillipson, a farmer of Lyth, had three foxes in November last. An innkeeper named Reed went to Lowis, the landlord of the Stag’s Head Hotel, Bowness, and asked if he wanted a fox, as he was offered one for 30s. Lowis afterwards bought the fox, and kept it until New Years Day, when it was let out to be hunted, the Coniston foxhounds having been got for the purpose. The doomed beast was put in a cart, taken to a place near Lindeth, and let off.

What follows he would state in the words of Robinson, one of the defendants. Robinson told Carter, one of the Inspectors of the Society, who was sent down to make enquiries, in consequence of some letters that had appeared in the papers, that “on being let off the fox ran a short distance and came back again. It was then caught and let off again, when it ran round, and had a piece of fog?? in its mouth. I told Lowis it was no good and would not run, the fox had never been accustomed to run, having been captured when a cub. It had never seen a green field in its life. At last when completely beaten, it passed into a drain, and a crowd came up, and these “sportsmen” got a bush, tied it to a pole, and passed it into the drain, but could not get the fox out. They then put in a terrier, and finally they opened the drain, in order to get out the fox. At last the wretched animal was ousted from his refuge, the dog having fast hold of him, when they were torn apart, and the fox was thrown to the dogs. Fox hunting, when followed, as it should be was a noble sport, but he never heard of a fox once caught and taken from the dogs being started again. This fox never got a chance, it was unable to run, and if these people had any sense of humanity they would not have started it again after seeing that it could not jump over a three-foot wall.

One of the witnesses said that when taken from the drain "it was more like a dishcloth than anything else." That, surely, was not fox hunting.

Mr. Gatey asked that the evidence should be taken separately against each defendant, in order that the others might be called as witnesses.

Mr. Smith was afraid that the Bench could not take that course, as this was joint information.

After some fencing between Mr. Smith and Mr. Gatey, the Bench decided to take the cases together, when Mr. Gatey asked that the evidence should be taken in full.

Christopher Reed was then sworn as a witness, and detailed the facts as to how the fox came into Lewis's possession. It was a dog fox, weighed seventeen pounds, and was as fine a one as witness had ever seen. Mr. Phillipson, of Lyth, captured three cubs in April, and it and a female fox were kept together in a large building where they could put a dozen calves. It and the female appeared very wild. They were not chained or fastened up, and when witness went to take the dog fox, the vixen ran wildly up on the wall place at the side of the building. The fox was put in a hamper and brought to Bowness. Witness told Lewis that he had never seen a wilder fox in his life.

Leonard Fitzjames, a young lad, said he saw the fox a week before Christmas, in a cottage near the Stag's Head Hotel. He touched it on the back, it was not a "pat", but a slight touch. By Mr. Gatey: Never saw a fox in his life before, and would not have known that it was one if he had not been told.

Thomas Harrison, butcher, said he saw the fox on the morning of the hunt. He put it in his cart to take it up to Lindeth in order to give it a good start. It was very wild and they had some trouble to catch it, because they were afraid of it’s biting them.

Thomas Hewitson, shoemaker, said he was present at the foxhunt. He saw Eyres carrying the fox in his arms. It was quite quiet. He held it by the back of the neck. It made no noise nor struggled. When started the second time it ran slowly, and tried to jump a wall, but could not.

Richard Lishman had seen the fox in the empty cottage at the back of the Nag's Hotel about a week before the hunt. It was then chained up. On the day of the hunt witness caught it after it had been let off a second time, and it tried to bite him.

A Police constable testified to having seen the defendant present when the fox was in a drain. He was also present when Robinson made his statement to Inspector Carter.

William Carter, an inspector of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, deposed that he had been sent down to make enquiries into the case. He repeated statements made by the men Robinson and Lowis, and in cross-examination admitted that he did not tell them that what they said would be used in evidence against them. Lowis told him that he did not know but that the fox was a wild fox until after the hunt.

The Chairman said it was quite dear from the evidence that the fox in question was not a domestic animal. The whole affair was very disgraceful and much to be regretted, but the facts of the case did not warrant the Bench in considering the fox a domestic animal, though they thought in certain cases a fox might be considered a domestic animal.

Mr. Smith asked for a case, as the Society wished to arrive at some decision. They were placed in an awkward position by one Bench member deciding one way and another.

The Bench dismissed the charges and refused to grant a case to a Superior Court.

The courtroom was densely crowded during the hearing, and some applause was manifested at the decision.

Ulverston Advertiser February 7th 1878

This then was an end to an unpleasant incident. That there was no mention of Billy Dickinson in the report perhaps minimises the hunt's actual involvement in the procuring of the animal. It certainly helped that Mr. Bridson, the ex-master and Mr. Cropper, a supporter, were on the Bench.

With thanks to Neil Salisbury


Raymond Carr English Fox Hunting: A History Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1976
J. N. P. Watson Book of Foxhunting Batsford 1977
R. LongriggHistory of Foxhunting McMillan 1975
N. Salisbury In the Steps of Mighty Men Ryelands 2008

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