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The Mart

“They’d hunt owt”  - my father

The polecat used to be called foul mart because of its strong smell as opposed to the pine martin, which was known as sweet mart.

The marts were some of the many animals and birds named in Henry VIII Vermin Act of 1532 that ordered a bounty to be paid by parishes for the corpse of animals and birds prescribed under the Act.

Persecution of the foul mart was more consistent throughout the country than for many other animals and birds named in the Act. It was so successful that by the end of the 1800s gamekeepers and fur trappers had almost obliterated them, save for a small population in central Wales.

The tendency of foul marts to attack and kill poultry and lambs did little to endear themselves to farmers and poultry keepers.

References to foul mart hunting in Lakeland are rare but it certainly was practiced, as apparently was hunting of sweet marts. The legacy is still alive to this day in the name Mart Crag and Mart Crag Moor.

A Grand Foulmart Hunt

This hunt seems to have been across the hills between Windermere and the Esthwaite area.

Long before the appointed time (ten o’clock at night) lots of humans and hounds appeared and a large fire was lit. The hounds threw off above Colthouse and soon a merry cry proclaimed that game was stirring and over the fells the hounds flew, the hunters following as fast as they could, over ice and rocks………. Regardless of every difficulty, for the wilder the danger the sweeter the chase. They scaled the Scale where the hunters looked down upon Windermere… From hence they ran through the Sawrey valleys, where the hounds made a turn and ran to a place called the Old Intack, where the Foulmart holed and the hunters did not wish to destroy the creature which had afforded this ‘glorious chase’. It was left undisturbed and as the morning was far advanced each took his way home to dream over again the pleasures of the night.

Westmorland Gazette February 1845

In 1848 the Ulverston Advertiser carried a story concerning the killing of a mart on the Coniston Fells, it was claimed this animal was responsible for the deaths of 150 sheep and lambs in the preceding two years. Those responsible for the demise of the mart received £5 from the local farmers, a considerable sum in those days.

The following gives some insight into the techniques used in hunting marts.

As I said before, foxes were hard to find, but sweet marts numerous, and often resorted to when a fox could not be found. They made grand little hunts, when found in not too rough ground, but directly they got to the rocks hounds were unable to follow them, and were in danger of getting killed. They can climb a rock face as easily as a squirrel climbs a tree. Rather curiously some hounds would not run them and others were just as keen. They were hard to bolt with terriers when under ground, so a fire was made at the hole mouth and directly the smoke got to them, they bolted right away. They have been known to come through the fire. I have known them found up a tree. Once near Wallow Crag in Naddle Forrest, when fox hunting we found one, and made a good little run.

Westmorland Gazette 26th March 1910

Apparently the last mart was killed in Lakeland in 1916; this may not necessarily be true as the following piece written in 1934 show

Badgers Still Existent – The record of our fell fox hunting packs week by week often contain items of natural history. The latest point out of the ordinary was the announcement that the Coniston pack, whilst hunting in Kentmere, accounted for a badger in Rainsbarrow, near the head of the valley. According to hunting reported the badger still exists in Lakeland, though it is nearly 25 years since it went the rounds of the daily Press that the last one had been killed in Westmorland. How the statement gained currency I imagine was because someone had written to a paper drawing attention to the locality where the last badger (meaning the most recent one) had been accounted for. Similarly it was in 1916 that the last mart or martin was reported to have been killed. This season has demonstrated that they still roam the countryside. Ravens have long been deemed extinct, yet in one of the latest of the multitudinous books on Lakeland I read that they seem to be fairly common, which I do not suppose any dweller in these parts will for a moment credit.

The following was written in 1948 ...

A Sweet Martin

Last week whilst hunting in the Ulpha woods the Eskdale and Ennerdale foxhounds are reported to have roused a sweet mart, which went to ground at Kinmont and escaped. These are of course very rare in Cumberland as elsewhere in the country, and it is stated this one was the first encountered by the Eskdale Pack for 25 years.

Many years ago, there were quite a number of foul and sweet marts in the Ullswater district, and the late Joe Bowman, huntsman, used to hunt them in his younger days. The late Anthony Chapman, grandfather of the present huntsman of the Coniston pack also used to hunt them, in the Grasmere and Rydal district. Marts used to be hunted at nights, and on a fine moonlight night one can imagine Lakeland provided a romantic setting for such a sport. It is stated to be 1916 when the last mart was killed in the Patterdale district.

Beautiful Animal

As students of natural history are aware the sweet mart, or marten, like the pine marten used to be a fairly common inhabitant of this country.

A member of the inustela genus that includes stoats, weasels polecats (or foul marts) it varies from these half cousins inasmuch as it does not throw off an offensive odour for defensive purposes. It was at one time regarded as the most beautiful of our wild animals, with its rich brown furry coat, its white throat and bushy tail. Foul mart is the old name for polecat, another name for the wild squirrel. Sweet mart is the name used for what was known as the common marten. These animals are said to feed on smaller wild animals, such as rats and mice, but also attack birds and devour eggs.

Today marts are very rare in Lakeland and perhaps may not exist at all. I certainly have never seen one and don’t know of anyone who has.

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