W3C The Taylor Family  FOXES

Tommy Dobson with his pet fox.

Tommy Dobson, Eskdale and Ennerdale, with pet fox. THERE IS NO SUGGESTION THAT THIS FOX WAS SOLD FOR HUNTING. It was not uncommon to have foxes as pets.

I must be honest and admit that to me the fox traps which appear on this site are an enigma. I have no idea when, by whom or why they were built and frankly do not for several reasons believe ‘the plank’ story, but I have no idea with what or anything to replace it. I have visited all the traps which appear on this site and the ‘reconstructed’ one is so high it would be verging on impossible to get anything inside it out.

That fell foxes were caught and transported south to be hunted by the ‘pony trekkers’ or mounted packs is an indisputable fact although for obvious reasons not well documented or discussed; however it happened and rightly or wrongly is a part of the history of the fell pack. What follows is unusual in as much as it is a brief insight into the practice.

The Taylor family came from the Duke of Rutland’s Longshaw Estate in Derbyshire to live near old Shap Wells in 1906 when Abraham took up duties as a keeper for the Fifth Earl of Lonsdale – The Yellow Earl.

His daughter Marion was interviewed in 1990 aged 84, what follows are some of her memories.

“There was a Major Wilson in Derbyshire who had a private pack of hounds, he would write to dad early in the New Year and say can you get me some cubs, they had to be big enough to look after themselves about the size of a terrier. Dad would get some about that size and arrange to have them sent down, and then Major Wilson would turn them out. Dad used to feed them well the night before and there would be a drink for them and then they were put into these very strong crates and labelled as ‘live puppies – with care’. I do hope no one popped their fingers through, they could snap – little devils! In those days there were plenty of trains, so we could put them on a train at Shap and they would be in Sheffield by dinnertime, where the Major would meet them. I understand from my brother Stanley who lived in Leicestershire that the foxes ran about the fields like dogs but were slow. The hounds there where they hunt with horses, don’t really want to catch a fox, all they want is a gallop out and something to show. But this Major Wilson liked to get some fell foxes because they introduced a bit of fresh blood and were livelier."

Marion also had some memories of vixens and cubs, which are worthy of repeating.

“On one occasion the vixen had moved all but one of her cubs before dad went back, so he only got one cub and he put it into one of the kennels in the yard. They had divided doors; thank God it was father who went to throw a rabbit in that night, because he’d missed the slot- it was a bolt. Around the kennel there was a yard and it was lined with zinc and the top part was railings. It was right under my window, which was always open. I heard a noise so I ran to the window. I could hear the cub scraping and the mother was calling on the fell right opposite the house. I ran along to dad’s bedroom and said, “I’m sure that cub’s got out, Dad, and the vixen’s barking for it by the kennels.” So he got up, but it had gone. It had got out of the kennel and out of the yard where it was fenced off, and then across the beck through a hole that was left for water, and the mother had got it away. He let the terriers out and they were away for over an hour and he smelled them to see if they had been in contact with a fox.

"Dad had fetched that cub from the other side of Black Dub to Old Shap Wells and it was in the kennel when the mother managed to find it, so she must have followed father’s scent because it would have been carried. That’s nature for you, I’m sure that if I’d put a dog in that kennel it would not have got out of the kennel out of the yard and away. That’s the difference between wildlife and a domestic.

“During the winter months when things were quiet and there were a lot of foxes about, Dad would put traps at various places. One favourite place was in Shap Wells Wood, and he would warn all the local farmers and Mr Clark the proprietor at Shap Wells to keep their dogs out of the wood. On one occasion we had an old hen that was obviously going to die, so he killed her and used her to bait the trap at the back, he then made a wooden wigwam around, and put in three or four more traps. He was quite sure that there was no way the fox could get to the hen without getting into a trap. However next morning when he went to inspect the trap, he found that the fox had dug under the sticks of the wigwam and pulled the hen out. He followed the tracks all the way up to the top quarry (Shap Granite pink quarry) where the fox had eaten it, much to father’s disgust."

With thanks to Jean Scott-Smith.

WAFWebsite manager

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