W3C Brait & Spider HOUNDS

Hauling Spider from the borran

In late January 1934, the Coniston foxhounds were hunting in Great Langdale, Ernie Parker (huntsman) released his hounds which got onto the line of a fox. In an effort to escape its pursuers the fox went to ground in a borran between Pavey Ark (2288 feet) and Sergeant Man (2414 feet). Opinion differs on the name of the borran, to reporters of the time it was nameless but to others it is known as “Cat Luggs”, Whatever the name, in the days that followed the site became famous even in the National papers. Using newspaper reports of the time this is the story of “Spider” and his friends.

Entombed Five Days on Pavey Ark
Blasting Rocks to Release Terriers 20 Feet Underground.

Three terriers belonging to the Coniston foxhounds have been entombed for over five days in a tremendous pile of rocks near Pavey Ark precipice in the Langdales. A gang of men have worked for three days, using dynamite to blast away huge pieces of rock, but despite their efforts to release the terriers, they were still entombed when rescue operations ceased at nightfall yesterday (Thursday). When they left the place last night the men could hear the terriers whining about 20 feet underground.

Pile of Boulders

The hounds ran a fox into the borran on Saturday afternoon, and curiously enough the earth is so little used that its formidable character was not known to the hunters. It is formed of huge rocks which have piled up at the bottom of a scree bed, and the terriers entered at short intervals, could be hear at grips with the fox at a distance that both amazed and frightened the hunters. Ernie Parker (huntsman) remained at the place until darkness fell, when the terriers were left.

On Monday a rescue party, comprising of Messrs B. Black, L. Langhorn, R. Stobbart and R. and J. Birkett, climbed to the borran armed with tools and charges of dynamite. They found that the terriers had descended a perpendicular crevice and were unable to get out without assistance. Blasting operations were carried out, but there was the ever-present danger that a big fall would imprison the terriers permanently. The men worked all day on Monday and Wednesday but hopes of success yesterday (Thursday) were not fulfilled. Many tons of rock had been moved and it is hoped that a rescue will be effected today (Friday).

Westmorland Gazette 27th January 1934

The next edition of the paper carried the story of the conclusion.

Pavey Ark Epic of Entombed Terrier’s Rescue
70 Tons of Rock Removed

Two remaining Dogs Presumed to have Perished
Quarryman’s Venture Underground with Lighted Candle

Rescue attempts lasting nine days failed to save two of three terriers entombed in a strong borran near Pavey Ark precipice in the Langdales, and work was abandoned on Monday on the assumption that they had perished. One terrier – Spider, belonging to Mr. G. Grundy, Rydal - was recovered on Saturday afternoon after having been entombed for seven days, and later in the afternoon the others could be heard barking following the explosions caused by dynamiting. On Sunday, however no sound was heard and fears that the dogs had perished overnight were strengthened as the day progressed.

The two which still lie with the carcase of the fox they worried in the almost impregnable stronghold on the fell side between Pavey Ark and Sergent Man, 2000 feet above sea level were named Set and Floss. The former belonged to Mr. W. Parker, Langdale, and the two-year-old Floss was owned by Mr. J. Bewley, a Grasmere forester employed by Manchester Corporation at Thirlmere. Spider has now fully recovered from the effects of his imprisonment and for the ordeal of being in close proximity to over 20 blasting charges which reverberated through the valley and expedited the removal of over 70 tons of rock.

Heard At Grips with the Fox

The first episode of this Lakeland drama occurred a week last Saturday, when the Coniston foxhounds, after meeting at Great Langdale, pursued Reynard into this nameless borran. Followers were soon at the place with terriers, and unaware of the formidable character of the earth, sent Spider, Set and Floss to ground. In a short time they were heard to be at grips with the fox at a distance which both amazed and frightened those assembled at the place. The “sly un” refused to bolt and after waiting from two o’clock until dusk the hunters left the borran. Some of them returned on Sunday, when it was evident that the terriers had followed Reynard down a deep cleft in a huge outcrop of rock and were unable to return.

Consequently it was decided that rescue work would have to be carried out and a party was organised by Mr. Braithwaite Black, a well known Ambleside hunter and breeder of terriers. He got together a number of unemployed quarrymen from the Ambleside and Langdale neighbourhoods, and, with the exception of Tuesday, they worked every day for a week. Among the workers may be mentioned: Messrs R. Atkinson, A. Pearce, L. Langhorn and E. Stobbart (all of Ambleside), T. Harrison (Loughrigg) R. and J. Birkett, H. Mounsey and H. Dover (Langdale) and T. Faulkener (Ambleside). Operations were begun at the left hand corner on the low side of the outcrop at the place where the terriers entered, but this was soon abandoned and a fresh entrance opened out on the topside. It was then discovered that at some time a shaft nearly 15 feet deep had been worked out and partially filled in with stone. There were also drill holes showing that blasting had been carried out. Mr. Black supervised the operations and under his direction a considerable amount of dynamiting was done.

Terrier Went Back

After four day’s work it was found that a downward sloping crevice branched off the vertical shaft, being formed by a narrow space under a huge slap hundreds of tons in weight. All this time the terriers could be heard whining and whimpering each time the dynamite pills shattered the silence of the fells, and on Friday afternoon Mr. Black, candle in hand, crawled into the downward sloping fissure over 20ft underground. With colleagues holding his feet he called to the terriers, and to his delight, saw the muzzle of Spider emerging from the gloom. Probably through being in a weak and dazed condition Spider did not evince any great anxiety to be rescued, and Mr. Black had the mortification to see the terrier disappear once more into the darkness. Undeterred by this disappointment, the men resumed work with their varied assortment of tools – picks, crowbars, spades, garden rakes and hoes - enlarging the hole as far as possible. Before they left the place on Friday night the workers pushed pieces of meat down the ginnel, but it is not known if they reached the terriers. On Saturday morning the persevering dalesman made the steep climb from Dungeon Ghyll - a walk occupying well over an hour – in the confident hope that the seventh day would be the last.

Underground With Lighted Candle

For five hours they worked on the underground crevice until no more loose material could be removed, the walls and roof of the narrow aperture being formed of tremendous slabs of rock on which it would have been unsafe to use dynamite. At 1.30 Mr. Black again disappeared into the bowels of the earth armed with a lighted candle and the head of a cod fish attached to a piece of cord. Brackens had been strewn on the ground, and Mr. Black, lying full length, wriggled downwards until he was over 25 feet below the mouth of the shaft. Despite the confined space, he manged to throw the fish head down the slope, meanwhile shouting the names of the terriers. Suddenly, as on the previous day, the brown muzzle of Spider appeared and approached the fish head. With bated breath Mr. Black coaxed the dog and after he had gently jerked on the cord and made the bait move a few inches Spider took hold! The watchers further back were unaware of the drama taking place inside, for all they could see of Mr. Black were the soles of his boots. At a word from him they drew him out by the feet and to the delight of all Spider also appeared, her teeth firmly gripping the cod’s head. Thus their week’s work had not been in vain.

Heartened by this success Mr. Black tried again, but although the two had been heard only a few minutes before and were known to be alive, they could not be persuaded to show themselves.

Apart from momentary blindness through being brought into the light of day after a week’s imprisonment in the blackness of the borran, Spider appeared little the worse for her experience. She was not thin or wasted, and it is likely she had had a feed of the fox. After being taken down to Dungeon Ghyll farm she satisfied her thirst with a drink of milk, curled up by the fire and fell asleep, perhaps to dream of underground encounters with Reynard. Next day she was quite brisk, but was satisfied to remain by the fireside.

100 Fell Walkers and Climbers

Mr. Black and his colleagues decided, during Saturday afternoon, that they could not make any more progress in the shaft, and in view of the knowledge, he had gained they started to work into the centre of the outcrop on the bottom side. As the fissure from which Spider appeared ran in this direction it was hoped that a passage could be broken into it from below. Therefore Sunday morning saw the adoption of a fresh line of attack, and in one respect the work was much easier. In the previous excavation the shaft was vertical and the deeper they went the further they had to carry the stone removed. On Sunday they worked on the sloping fellside and as soon as a rock was dislodged it required little effort to start it rolling downhill. Operations again started at 8.30 a.m., and the band of workers was larger than ever, while during the day nearly 100 fell walkers and climbers visited the scene.

It was during the morning that the dalesmen realised that, for the first time in eight days, there was no sound from the borran. Shouts and even blasting failed to bring a whine or sound of any description, and as the day wore on it was agreed that all hope had gone and that the terriers were dead. The work did not suffer through these fears, however, and more rock was removed than on any previous day, through the better facilities. One huge slab weighing several tons required the combined efforts of seven or eight men to send it toppling down the mountainside towards Stickle Tarn. During the afternoon a small aperture was made, following two blasting charges, and through this there emanated a stench that proved the proximity of fox and terriers to this point. No way could be broken in, however, owing to the size of the rocks, and as no sound was heard, even from this obviously nearer point, the workers turned sadly homewards as a full moon mounted the sky and shed a ghostly light into the chimneys and gullies of Pavey Ark. Several of the men returned to the place on Monday, but, through no fault of theirs, they had failed in heir mission of mercy. The same eloquent silence enveloped the borran, and it was a silent party that shouldered spades, bars and drills and skirted Stickle Tar on the path down to Dungeon Ghyll.

“Brait” Black’s Sacrifice

The hero of the story which still further proves the length to which Westmorland dalesmen will go for the sake of the dogs which play such a large part in their lives is Mr. Black, or “Brait” as he is known wherever sporting Lakelanders foregather. Apart from sacrificing a whole week’s work, he threw himself into the task of rescuing the terriers with a spirit that would pass the comprehension of people from the cities. The others displayed no less enthusiasm and their efforts deserved a better reward than the recovery of only one of the three terriers.

In intervals between his labours on Sunday Mr. Black told a Gazette representative that when the three terriers were together they would keep each other warm. In his opinion Set and Floss had moved after Spider was recovered on Saturday, and as he could hear water trickling at the bottom of the fissure he concluded that they had got into a wet place and starved during the night. He also gave an interesting explanation of the drill marks found in the mouth of the fissure on the top side. Mr. Harry Mounsey, a Langdale shepherd, had followed the fells for 12 years and never known of the borran, but during last week old residents had recalled that 70 years ago two terriers were imprisoned in the same place. One, belonging to Parson Coward, a sporting vicar of Langdale, was recovered after being entombed for eight days, but the other perished underground. “The late Anthony Chapman was concerned in that incident,” added Mr. Black, “but it is remarkable that there should be a recurrence after such a period of 70 years. Hounds will have hunted foxes on these fells during every one of those 70 years and yet no one can recall a fox having gone to ground in this earth. It is a tremendously strong place, and even if Set and Floss are still alive it might take a long time and involve a great deal more work to get to the place where they are lying. I should think that the carcase of the fox was between Spider and the other two. Spider would be on the high side and so was able to respond to my calls and crawl up the ginnel towards me. The other two would be unable to follow her.”

Spider is seven years old, and had so far recovered on Monday that she “took a walk” up to the borran with workers. Set and Floss were younger terriers, each being about two years old.

Westmorland Gazette 3rd February 1934

Brait Black became something of a local if not national hero. I intended to write a piece about him, how he gave up a week's work and risked his job in the time of depression, walking for a good 90 minutes uphill with his friends to even reach the site, battling the weather. I’m pretty certain none of the trapped terriers belonged to him either, but the following “editorial” from the Westmorland Gazette is far more eloquent than I could hope to be. You will forgive me if I admit to being proud of him - he was my Great Uncle.

Sadly I have been unable (so far) to locate any material relating to the previous entombment mentioned in the text.

As far as I am able to ascertain the borran never held a hunted fox again since that day in February 1934 until the abolition of hunting in 2005. Had it done so, it is a safe bet no terrier would have entered.

Near Pavey Ark

The courageous and self sacrificing efforts that were made all last week to rescue three terriers from a crevice in the Langdales, as first reported in the Gazette, constitute one of those pieces of news which appeal so strongly to the imagination that though insignificant compared with dull but epoch making events happening every day they invariably attract wide attention. The story which our representative who first brought in the news has written for this issue is probably the most circumstantial account of the long struggle that has or will appear, anywhere.

It is a vivid narrative which helps us to feel the efforts of these men of the mountains as a drama of some tenseness, in an awe inspiring setting. And it is a story despite the pathos of the death from which two of the dogs could not be delivered, that makes far pleasanter reading than the news our papers contain too often. The grimness of death is never so irradiated as when it calls out the finer human qualities in works of amelioration. Stories of heroism, such for instance as that associated with the Hawkshead fire this week, happily without any loss of life, are always welcome. Much of what appears in newspapers, even such a paper as this, which tries to provide for its limited field a really balanced picture of community life, shows human nature in an evil light. The stories of pluck and grit are the good deeds in a naughty world. Yet in some ways the events of last week near Pavey Ark cast an even more revealing light on human nature than the normal stories of heroism. They show a concern that did not begrudge the most extreme exertion so long as there was any hope of success, for the sake of lives that too often are dismissed as of little account. The lives at stake were not human but they were lives and the lives of creatures that had cooperated with men and given them friendship. The feeling, hardly articulate but surely present, that in return no effort was too much to save them from dire extremity, is at least in the direction of that ancient insight that saw “not one sparrow fall to the ground without your Father”.

Westmorland Gazette Editorial 3rd February 1934

Following his “exploits” a ballard was composed about Brait, whilst it is entertaining, Wordsworth it isn’t!

The Ballad of Braithwaite Black

In a northern clime, in snow and rime,
And radiant sunny weather,
Reynard did race o’er Langdale Chase,
Through bracken-fern and heather.

The hounds behind, they sniffed the wind,
Closer they were drawing near,
And the fox as she sped, though still ahead,
Felt an ever-growing fear;
For those dogs in full cry, did terrify
Her ears with their louder bark, -
So she swerved to the left, and slipped down a cleft
In the rocks of Pavey Ark!

The men of the chase came up at a race,
With “Set” and “Floss” and “ Spider,”
And from a master’s hand, those terriers had command,
To go in and out drive her.
At once, all three dogs there,
Plunged down into her lair,
And found themselves beside her,-
When echoing through the rocks.
The huntsmen heard the shocks
Of their battle with the fox, -
Heaven’s! What a fight there was when they had spied her!

Those terriers did their duty -
Every one of them, my lads, a little beauty!
But in that trying hour,
They had no more the power
To climb aloft the perpendicular,
To regain the borran’s inlet - now afar,
Than you have strength to reach the midnight star.
Forgetfulness of danger, with no regard for self,
Had brought them to a wet abysmal shelf.
From which they could not rise,
Indeed it was to them a terrible surprise.

Now up above there stood a hunter, Braithwaite Black.
No resource, that could be got, did he lack,
He mourned his little friends trapped below,
For them his loving heart, it never ceased to glow,
He was strong and true and brave,-
So them he vowed to save!

He hailed a gang of friendly quarrymen,
To blast a larger entrance to the den,
The shots of dynamite
Put the terriers in a fright,
Til they whimpered, whined and wept,-
Great their fears,
For that tremendous thunder swept
Close to their ears.

Then from a shaft, in four days made,
Black crawled, head–first, and unafraid.
Into a sloping crevice underground,
Which his keen quarrymen had found.
And with a shining candle in his hand,
To illuminate the darkness of that land,
He descended five and twenty feet,
With a pocket full of choice and varied meat.

Then he dangled further down into the deep,
As he lay upon that wet and muddy steep,
A cod’s head on a rope, with a hope,
Although ‘twas now the seventh day and late.
Oh yea who hear, now cheer! - for “Spider” took the bait!
And was hauled up to his strong rejoicing arms,
Saved from a week, in hell, of wild alarms,
Not thin and wasted in that place of dead,
For he upon that cunning fox had fed;-
But deeper sown in dungeon gloom.
Good “Floss” and “Set” had met their doom.

Brave dalesmen of the Lakeland Fells,
A kind heart in your being dwells,
You love your dogs who give you aid,
Who follow you, and have obeyed,-
And we, from this true tale, have kenn’d
You’ll risk your lives for canine friend

K.Knight Hallowes.
”Turn How” Grasmere

Westmorland Gazette 24 March 1934

With thanks to Doreen Westmorland and Michael Nicholson for their help, also Tom and Jean.

  WAFWebsite manager

Unless stated otherwise all images and text on this site are copyright of the owner and may not be reproduced without permission.
Site created 20.04.08  © Cumbrian Lad 2008-2017. All rights reserved. Email me