To enable more people to understand how deeply rooted hunting with hounds is to the culture and history of Britain, This is Hunting UK wishes to impart as much knowledge as we can. Together, we can discover more truths to enrich each other and in such manner, also appreciate the wonder of knowing all the right questions to ask.
As far as Britain is concerned, when the Romans left, much of the land has been farmed on a communal basis. Each parish decided how parcels of arable land were to be divided fairly between each family and how much stock could be grazed on common grazing lands. This applied as well to the fuel and pannage that could be gleaned from the wild wood.
Every man took for granted the right to protect his food supply from wild creatures, be they mice in his granary, wasps in his orchard or otters attacking the carp in his fish ponds. Any wild game was the property of the local nobility and could only be taken by him or with his permission. The first time laws were introduced to try to curtail the rights of the common man to hunt was after the Danish conquest when King Canute introduced an early version of the Forrest Laws.
After the Norman regime, these laws were expanded and became increasingly restrictive until King John was forced to back off and put his seal to the Magna Carta. From then on, with a short lapse during Oliver Cromwell’s reign, it has always been the right of a subject of the crown to go hunting on his own land and give leave for others to do likewise.
Royalty has always had a close association with hunting, throughout our history. William Rufus died in mysterious circumstances while hunting in the New Forest, Charles I spent the day before the Battle of Naseby hunting near Daventry. Elizabeth I kept a pack of beagles, as did Prince Albert and Queen Alexander had packs of basset hounds at Sandringham. Princes of Wales have been enthusiastic supporters of fox hunting for generations, becoming regular Meltonians.
Fox hunting’s popularity grew even more with the Enclosure Acts. The countryside was transformed into interconnected areas of small fields enclosed by thorn hedges. This became the gateway for an increasing number of affluent gentry who could access the ‘shires’ easily by use of the railway network. Leicestershire, with its gently rolling landscape, made ideal hunting country and soon everybody wanted to be in Melton Mowbray or Market Harborough for the season. This created plenty of employment opportunities for the locals back then.
The Meynellian style of fox hunting soon spread to the rest of the country as local squires replicated the sport of High Leicestershire. Exceptions have to be made, however, for hunting in areas such as the Lake District, Pennines and much of Wales where hounds were still used primarily to protect sheep from foxes. Not all people wanted the cut and thrust of the modern era, so packs of harriers and beagles still flourished.
Hunters following on foot need to use all their field savvy and knowledge of the landscape to keep in touch. Watching teamwork at play between the hunter and his pack is an incomparable experience.
The best way to learn about hunting with hounds is to go on an adventure with us. At This is Hunting UK, we have some activities of such sort scheduled to unfold in the coming months. We invite you to join us!