W3C The Trials & Tribulations of the Mastership GARN YAM


The letters M.F.H. (Master of Foxhounds) added to one's name command a certain amount of respect to the follower of the fell packs.

My family never had the income to even consider the post let alone “do it”, we just observed from the sideline, were critical of some and in admiration of others. No one has really taken the time to put their experience of the post down on paper, save one guy from, I think, the Melbreak, who was interviewed by a local history group. It is an interesting piece of writing; in it he speaks of access problems, fund raising and mention of the “antis”, a fact of life towards the end of the legal days of hunting but unknown to Crozier for example.

With this in mind I’d like to write a few lines about the mastership, which show what could go wrong. It is tongue in cheek, as I’m grateful to every M.F.H., Master of Harriers and Master of Otter Hounds for giving me by their efforts (and cash) a day out.

*  *  *

As the rain hammers against the window my mind goes back to a morning over 40 years ago and a young man who had his first job, a few quid in his pocket and was a bit mouthy. The hunt had been going on for quite some time and the tiring fox had sought refuge in a borran, high in the fell head above the “mist line” on that morning. Standing on the path running up the valley floor we had heard the “plaintiff” cry of “fetch a bar” carried down to us from somewhere in the mist. In those days there was no C.B radio (thank god!) and things were, well, just different.

Some willing soul had set off into the mist carrying tools and I followed him, it was a steep climb up, mainly grass, wet and slippery following heavy rain and there was no path. I remember the climb well, the ache in my calves, the gasping for breath and shirt open to the waist in order to try to keep cool, my shirt stuck to my back soaked with perspiration.

Finally I reached the “dig site”, rocks and boulders were strewn about, piles of earth amassed and seemed to be growing by the minute. Shall we say, there was considerable evidence of recent excavation. My eye tracked up the fell side to the hounds, which, as was the case in those days, been taken well back.

Leaning on my stick to catch my breath, I looked at the entrance to the borran from which protruded a pair of feet, after a while the feet became a body and Mr. Bruce the Master, stood upright. He looked at me. “Bloody hell,” I said, “did you get planning permission for this lot?” Now Mr. Bruce had had a difficult morning and at the best of times did not suffer fools gladly especially mouthy teenagers. He said two words only, the dreaded “go home” and with that he returned to the excavation. I slunk down the fell side, contoured round the fell to avoid anyone on the path below and headed home, and the bollocking I received from my father only added to my discomfort.

The following two accounts show how difficult the life of Master could be.


On Friday week the hearts of the numerous Nimrodians of Ambleside, Grasmere, and Langdale etc were elated by the prospect of a badger hunt. One of these now rare animals had come into the possession of Mr. J. R. Pedder, of Ambleside , and it was arranged to set it at liberty for the sake of an hour or two’s sport, with a view of testing the quality of Mr. J. F. Green’s otter hounds in this line of hunting. Accordingly, about four o’ clock in the morning of Friday, some parties appointed took the badger, which was said to be a small one – only weighing some 16 or 18 lbs – up by the west side of Rydal Lake, or rather on the edge of Loughrigg Fell. They had a dog with them at the time, with the intention of scaring Mr. Badger on starting, in order to put some mettle into his heels, but the result was contrary wise, for an opportunity afforded of entering a strong borran, not two hundred yards from the starting point, and of this the badger quickly took advantage, thus selecting a place of security at the very outset. Between nine and ten o’ clock Mr. Green with his huntsman, dogs, and a goodly number of “aides” reached the place, and the dogs were put on the track, but it seemed that this was a species of game to the scent of which they were total strangers, and they had evidentially no intention of following it. As a matter of course the borran, which it situated at the base of a huge overhanging rock, called Skelvie Crag, was at once resorted to, and the whereabouts of the “Varmint” were soon made intelligible by the attendant terriers. A number of sturdy foxhunters, of the true mountain strain, who were present, set to work with a will to remove some of the surrounding stones, in order to make access to the improvised lair of the badger more easy for the dogs; but this was a work of immense difficulty, the numerous huge boulders of which the stronghold is composed being wedged with numberless intermediaries.

Whilst the work progressed fresh arrivals came from various quarters, thus helping to form a scene highly picturesque and interesting. The numbers present exceeded 150, and the towering rock of Skelvie would have formed an excellent subject for an artist, whilst genial sunshine on the hill–side valley lent enchantment to the whole. Among those present were, Mr. J. F. Green, Grasmere, Captain Pedder, Ambleside, Dr. Harmon, Ambleside, Mr. M. Kennedy and Mr. Laidlow, Ambleside, Mr. Parker, Grasmere, Mr. Dunn, Ecclerigg, Mrs and Miss Cloudsdale, Bowness, Mrs. Parker, Miss Fleming, Miss Green, etc.

The willing labourers above worked unceasingly, while the terriers beneath could be heard keeping up their continuous yelping, apparently far in the bowels of the earth, though they were no way inclined to test their strength with the formidable opponent which they found in possession. After near three hours labour a tolerable opening had been effected between the massive boulders, and some of the men who penetrated a short distance inwards averred they had a glimpse of the badger, and that he had taken up such a secure position that it would be next to impossible to dislodge him, or to allow the dogs to attack without a considerable amount of time and labour. The general opinion however, was that the quality of the dogs present was not of the kind to undertake the encounter under such circumstances, and it was, therefore, proposed to leave him in his place of security for some future day. Shortly after noon the hounds were taken down to the shore of Rydal Lake, in order to try for an otter. On rounding the marsh at the top of the lake, some of the dogs proclaimed that game had been astir, but it appeared to have been so long ago that they were unable to keep on the trail so, after trying up the river and by the shores of Grasmere Lake without finding, the hunt was abandoned for the day.

26th April 1879

No doubt Mr. Green was not best pleased and probably “had a few words”.

Otter hunting in the South Lakes was a popular pastime in the late 19th century; fields of 1000 followers were recorded at some meets, especially on a Bank Holiday. This gave rise to various “problems”. Below is an attempt by E. H. Wilson to deal with some of them, by placing an advertisement in the local paper.

Kendal Otter Hounds – E. H. Wilson, Esq. Master of the pack, forwards for publication a request that persons hunting with the above hounds in the coming season, will keep their home dogs at home, as in former years great damage, inconvenience and annoyance has been caused by dogs not belonging to the pack. Also that they will be good enough to keep behind the huntsman and hounds, so as not “foil” the ground that has not been hunted over. It is also desirable that the crowd should stand clear of the “drains mouth” or “hold” when the terriers are in with the otter, and there should be as little noise as possible, avoiding all hallooing and shouting when the otter is “bolted.” If the above requests are not complied with the hunt will be immediately stopped and the hounds sent to their kennels.

By 1889 things were little better from the point of view of the M.O.H as the following extract from a newspaper report of the times shows.

The fact is, however, that on a Friday the company is the least in point of numbers, anybody who is dependent on work is generally engaged on this day of the week, and consequently there is an absence of the rabble which often accompany the hounds.

25th May 1889

During the hunt a rather unpleasant episode arose between the Master and the Rev. A. Faithful, vicar of Hornby, who met the hounds mounted at Aughton, and after attempting to take a fence and breaking it, the latter coming over his horse’s head, returned through the gate, and after making repeated attempts to master his steed was very properly stopped by Mr. Bromley from doing further damage, and after a spirited altercation expressed himself as going to return, and turning his horse’s head made off towards Caton. But the parson did not keep his word. He returned and after unsuccessfully trying his fiery steed at the fence was compelled to come through the gate, which latter he had been asked to do, but he stubbornly refused, causing delay to all concerned, through the Master having to leave the river bank. It appears that Mr. Bromley is responsible for damage done by persons following the hounds, hence the more serious nature of the offence, to say nothing of the discourteous conduct of one in Mr. Faithfull’s position, after an unsuccessful attempt to show off.

Lancaster Gazette 30th August 1893

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