Frank Houghton Brown explains the story of this understated celebrity who was the Duke of Beaufort’s huntsman for 14 seasons
“The best of nature’s gentlemen,” Will Dale hunted hounds for 33 seasons, the final 12 of which were at the Duke of Beaufort’s in an era when hounds met six days a week.
The quaint little church of St Arild’s at Oldbury-on-the-Hill can only be accessed through a farmyard or across fields of the Beaufort country, and is the perfect resting place for a throng of huntsmen. Among them are Philip Payne, who hunted the Beaufort hounds for 27 seasons, and Will Long, who did so for 41. Bertha, Long’s favourite hunter, is buried nearby in “Bertha’s field”.
But perhaps the most famous of all the hunt staff to grace this hallowed graveyard is Will Dale, the Duke of Beaufort’s huntsman for 14 seasons.
Dale lived during a golden age of hunting. He was appointed whipper-in to the Burton in 1871 under Will Channing as huntsman. The larger-than-life character Henry Chaplin had just ceded the mastership of the Burton to Mr Foljambe so that he could concentrate on hunting his home country of the Blankney next door.
Dale took over as huntsman after two seasons, a post he held for a further seven years until Mr Foljambe sold his pack. In his first year carrying the horn, Mr Foljambe wrote about his protégé, “Few possess such a combination of qualities that go to make one of the best of nature’s gentlemen.” Master and huntsman exchanged letters for the rest of Dale’s life.
Dale went as huntsman to Lord Yarborough in 1880 for 16 seasons and then on to Badminton, where he ended his career in 1910 after 33 seasons in the driver’s seat.
It was a physically taxing profession in those days, with long hacks to the meets and with each pack hunting at least four days a week. The Beaufort hounds hunted six days a week, with three packs of hounds, and they occasionally hunted a seventh day, with two packs going out to different ends of the country on the same day.
Will Dale hunted two packs on four days of the week and he whipped-in to his master, the ninth Duke of Beaufort, on the others. By the time of his retirement, Dale was strapped up every morning before hunting owing to a series of bad falls.
He was a bit of a celebrity in an understated way. Punch magazine published a sketch of Dale, drawn by Armour. An excitable person was shown telling him when he was whipping-in to the Duke, “I’ve just seen five foxes cross this ride.” Dale replies slightly facetiously, “Maybe Sir, but the main body is on in front!”
On one occasion, he was drawing a boggy osier bed on his feet. At the precise moment when a fox was holloa’d away, his boots became stuck. Unable to extricate them, he completed the whole hunt riding in his stockings with no boots.
The Duke was discussing a neighbouring huntsman, Charles Travis of the Cotswold.
“He is the nicest man I know,” said the Duke, “except for Will Dale.”
Will’s memory was held in high regard at Badminton. When the 10th Duke was interviewing for a kennel-huntsman, he decided upon employing Eric Ockwell. Thinking that Eric was not a suitable name, the Duke said to him after offering him the job, “We have had some good Wills here at Badminton. I think we will call you Will.”
Ref: Horse & Hound; 26 November 2020
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