W3C The Wild Dog of Ennerdale HOUNDS





Wild Dog of Ennerdale
The Wild Dog of Ennerdale


By J. W. Nicholas

The worrying of sheep by dogs, including trail hounds and the very rare rogue foxhound brings to mind the story of the worst killer of all, the Wild Dog of Ennerdale which, in five months, accounted for over 300 sheep and lambs before he was cornered and shot.

It was in the summer of 1810 that this smooth-haired dog of a tawny mouse-colour, with dark streaks in tiger fashion over his coat, started his murderous career. He weighed eight stones, but was strongly built and as fleet as a trail hound, possessing the stamina of a fell foxhound.

His first appearance in the district was on May 10, 1810, when he was seen by a Mr. Mossop, of Thornholme, between Ennnerdale and Calderbridge. Worrying started soon afterwards, and from then on until September 12 he was not known to have fed on anything but the flesh of sheep and lambs.

Seven or eight sheep were frequently found destroyed in one night, and the killer was once seen to run down a fine ram at early dawn and, without killing it, tear out and swallow lumps of flesh from the hindquarters, the victim meantime having no power to resist but only strength to crawl forward on his forelegs.

He was often chased by the shepherds and their cur dogs and it was no uncommon sight to, see a score or two of men running at the top speed in the wake of hounds which had hastily been brought from their summer walks.

“T’ GIRT DOG" was, however as cunning as a fox, being exceeding cautious and knowledgeable in his choice of a place to lie up and, like a fox, was fond of settling in a look-out place from which he could see all that was going on in the valley below.

Various ruses were employed in the hope of luring him from his lair, but not even the attractions of a dog of the opposite sex induced him to relax his caution. The bait of a dead sheep was offered in vain but there was no need for him to touch carrion when there were live sheep available. Poison was tried but soon abandoned on account of the risk to other dogs.

The whole countryside was unsettled through "t'girt dog's" ravages. Hay grass went uncut; cows at times of warning went un-milked and horses unfed; children hardly dared go to school; women were exhausted by the toil of looking after work their husbands and male servants were obliged to neglect.

A reign of terror lay over the neighbourhood. One peculiarity was noted about the canine gone wild. He was never known to emit a bark or howl. And his sight and hearing were so acute that it was very seldom anyone came on him unawares.

Once William Jackson, of Swinside, was leaving his farm with his loaded gun when he saw the dog only thirty yards away. But when he pulled the trigger his un-trusty flint gun missed fire, and away sped the fugitive.

Proprietor of a brewery at Whitehaven, and of a sheep farm of some 3,000 acres in Ennerdale, John Russell offered ale to the watchers and £10 for the capture of the dog dead or alive. Other flockmasters subscribed £12 for refreshments and free "whittle-gate" to all who professed to be hunters.

FINALLY, with enthusiasm aroused over a wide area 200 men and a number of hounds were spread over Kinniside Fell on a July morning to search for the ravager, who was aroused on a part of the fell known as Hopehead. A great hunt followed over the heights overlooking Ennerdale and Wasdale, and on to Stockdale Moor and a cornfield at Priorscale, near Calderbridge.

Beaters surrounded the cornfield. Their efforts were in vain as the dog had stolen away and was finally lost, after a long chase through the Calder valley and on to Seascale and Drigg. This was only one of several unsuccessful hunts.

On another occasion the dog was driven from Kinniside to Lamplugh and Dean and across the river Marron to Little Clifton, near Workington. On another occasion he took pursuers to Seaton, near Workington. More runs ended at the Fitz Mill at Cockermouth, and twenty miles away at Irton. Yet another led by way of Dent Hill and Egremont towards St. Bees. "T' girt dog,” appeared to have the proverbial nine lives of a cat, and the dales people began to despair of ever ridding the countryside of it, concluding that the loss of sheep was not so serious as the waste of ripe crops. Due to the time spent in attempting to catch the animal. It was agreed that the campaign should be postponed until the harvest was in.

A chance incident overruled this determination. On September 12, Jonathan Patrickson saw "t' girt dog" go into a cornfield. An alarm was raised, every-body turned out, numerous parties were formed, the dog headed off this way and that until he became exhausted, and was shot by John Steel as he was being chivvied in Eskett Woods, near Rowrah. John Steel received his £10 reward and the congratulations of all the companies around him. The carcase was carried in triumph to the inn at Ennerdale Bridge, where the celebrations lasted until the small hours of the morrow.

The dog is still a legendary figure in the Ennerdale district. No dog turned “rogue” has exceeded his achievements and cunning.

The carcass was paraded about the area and when weighed it tipped the scale at 8 imperial stones (51 kg).When all the locals had seen it, it was sent to Keswick museum and stuffed then put on display Unfortunately, a past curator who complained that, by the 1950’s, the stuffed exhibit was getting very raggy and moth-eaten, decided that as it was “nowt but a girt cur dog” it should be thrown out. No one knows what happened to it after that.

What was it?

It is now commonly believed that the Girt Dog of Ennerdale was, in fact, a thylacine (otherwise known as the Tasmanian Tiger or Tasmanian Wolf.) Travelling circuses and menageries of the time were known to contain what were described as “Tiger Wolves” – a description that fits the thylacine perfectly. As import laws and animal control were so relaxed in the early part of the nineteenth century, an escape from one of these itinerant shows is easy to imagine.

These creatures, a native of Tasmania in Australasia, were also known to prefer the softer organs of its kills and also had a fondness for drinking blood. And of course, the thylacine also had the distinctive dark stripes, running from its shoulders down to its tail. Growing up to nine feet (almost 3 metres) in length, a thylacine running around the fells could certainly be described as a “Girt Dog.”

Officially, the last known thylacine died in captivity in 1936, although even to this day there are reported sightings of these creatures in the Tasmanian and Australian wilderness.

Of course there had to be a song! We've just had news from the composer and can at last give him credit. Here's his recent email to us dated 7 October 2015:

I am Raymond Green of Kirkham. I wrote the song, which you have reproduced on your website, The Girt Dog of Ennerdale, a little over three years ago for a bet, when I heard the improbable tale from a descendant of Mr. Steele. The World Premier of the song was sung by me at The Screes Pub, Nether Wasdale, at the annual singing contest on the evening of the Wasdale Show. A video of me singing this is on You Tube! I have no objection to the song being reproduced, provided I am given credit for it, so could you please attribute the song to Raymond Green on your website. The song is sung to the tune of Do you Ken John Peel, but despite its originality and provenance, still didn't win me the cup! I will be singing it again this weekend in the Screes.

The Girt Dog of Ennerdale

In 1810 the circus came to town
And a cage with a sign and a warning.

It was big it was strong, it was eight feet long
It could leap it could bound, it could outrun any hound
It had stripes and a tail and it gave out such a wail
And you’d find dead sheep in the morning.

Inside the metal cage, incandescent with rage
There paced a noble beast on meat which it did feast
He viewed the distant hills with a primeval thrill
And he longed to be there in the morning.


In the circus lived a lad, you wouldn’t call him bad
But he had a wild streak and, as he gave the beast his meat
He saw the cage unlocked and gave the bolt a knock
And the dog bounded out in the gloaming.


From Tasmania it came where hunting was its game
It had to kill for its dinner, it always was the winner
The sheep had no chance when the beast began to dance
And the hunt it was on in the morning.


In Ennerdale Bridge, if you look upon the ridge
When the moon was in the sky you would see it passing by
And you’d know where it had been when you heard the lambs scream
And you’d see all the blood in the morning.


The hounds went up the fell but the beast sent them to hell
The men from the farms they took up all their arms
The squire gave a reward to any would-be hard
To kill the beast with a gun in the morning.


In the valley lived a man, he was built like Desperate Dan
He worked on a farm and was strong in the arm
And he heard of the reward and he always kept his word
And swore that he would kill it in the morning.


John Steel took out his gun and walked out in the sun
To the forest he would go where the beast was lying low
He would use up all his skill to bring home a kill
And claim his reward in the morning.


As the beast broke cover some men cried for their mother
As the beast began to bound John Steel stood his ground
He lifted up his gun as the beast began its run
And a shot rang out in the morning.


With a scream and a roar the beast hit the valley floor
As the ball found its mark and struck it in the heart
John Steel kept his word and claimed his reward
With a view to a kill in the morning.


  WAFWebsite manager

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