John Holliday: Princely puppy walkers *H&H VIP*

Opinion

While naming puppies, I was searching through the pedigree books seeking inspiration. I came across a ledger of puppy walkers covering the period beginning around 1900 and I was soon distracted.

The first thing I noticed was the vast amount of hounds sent out to walk; the main reason becomes apparent when my eye fell upon a list that registered how each puppy fared. The list of disasters to befall litters seemed endless.

Surprisingly, “Run over by motorised vehicle” features more than one might imagine. “Deformed spine”, “the yellows”, which covers a number of horrid things that cause jaundice. But by far the worst was “hardpad” (distemper), which has a fatality rate of around 80%. Often whole litters did not return to kennel.

Another reason for the poor success rate might have been the estate tenants who were obliged by their tenancy agreements to walk puppies and who were often less than enthusiastic. “One volunteer is worth three pressed men”, after all.

It must have been disheartening for the hunt staff. Home remedies of “Jollup” were sent out, with an accompanying spoon to administer such that gave rise to the traditional gift for puppy walkers today.

Those hounds that made it back to Belvoir discovered it was no guarantee of a long stay; only the choicest were selected for the new entry and the remainder found themselves destined for the “draft.” This was much sought after by other packs and was not infrequently booked two years ahead. It was also a perquisite of the huntsman!

Quite a number found their final home in America, where hunting in the English style was taking off. The walkers were an eclectic bunch, spread far and wide. There cannot be many hunts whose hound walk list featured HRH the Duke of Gloucester and HRH the Prince of Wales. The first whipper-in was usually tasked with delivering the goods — two meal sacks, each containing a couple, were slung each side of a horse and off he went, sometimes many miles as there were walks deep in the fens, which in those days were very remote indeed. A day’s task to say the least. A motor did not appear at Belvoir until 1931.

Forgives but never forgets

During those peaceful days of King Edward’s reign, the good villagers of Rippingale awoke one morning to discover a new police constable (PC) had been thrust among them. Keen to do well, he was soon searching the parish for prey to appease his inspector. Being a law-abiding community, he found little use for his virgin notebook, until his attention was drawn to a collarless hound that appeared to have the run of the place.

Finding the walker, he went in with both feet and issued a summons. Naturally the walker sent a note to the Belvoir, from where the Duke sent Ben Capell, the huntsman, to sort out the matter.

At court, he was not surprised to see that the sitting magistrates were regular members of the hunting field and it took but a moment to explain that the hound was clearly marked in both ears, thereby proving identity. The case collapsed and a PC with it.

Now, it is a known fact that the long arm of the law may occasionally forgive, but it never forgets and a decade down the line Capell, by then enjoying well-earned retirement at Bottesford, was caught with an unlicensed terrier and duly paid the penalty — the princely sum of 10/-.  As the saying goes, “He who laughs last, laughs longest.”

Ref Horse & Hound; 13 June 2019