Archibald Hamilton.

The red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 online

. (page 20 of 22)
Online LibraryArchibald HamiltonThe red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 → online text (page 20 of 22)
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days, solely owing to the impossibility of singling
out the hunted stag. On several occasions upwards
of a hundred stags, or at least deer with horns,
have been counted on the commons between
Cloutsham and Culbone Stables when hounds have
run across after a hind. The winter is the time to
see the stags, and no one who has not been hind-
hunting pretty frequently can form the least idea of
the numbers of deer in the country.

All sorts of estimates have been made from time
to time of the number of deer, but it is extremely
difficulty to judge. In the old days, as we have
seen, the quota of fat stags for the Royal larder
demanded from Exmoor was twenty. Now, taking
the ordinary calculation on a Scotch forest that
one-eighth of the herd is the utmost that ought to be
killed, this would point to there having been on the
forest and in the purlieus at least three hundred and
twenty deer, since male and female calves are born
in about equal numbers. We find subsequently that
a hundred deer was the number reserved in a lease
of the forest, but in the time of Sir Thomas Acland
the number was estimated at three hundred, and at
two hundred when Lord Fortescue took over the
hounds in 181 2. Considering the number of deer
reported as killed and the waste from poaching and
other causes, these numbers were probably not far
wrong, though somewhat in excess of the actual fact.
When Mr. Bisset took the hounds in 1855 the


number was supposed to have dwindled to about
sixty, and this was probably not far from correct.
Since then it had steadily increased.

Numerous and unavailing efforts were made from
time to time to arrive at something like a census, but
there is very little to go upon, and the estimates were
largely dependent on the preconceived ideas of the
person making them, as to whether too many or too
few deer were being killed. One ingenious calculator
assured Lord Ebrington that the actual number of
deer was one hundred and eighty-three. Judging
from the fact that he killed from eighty to a hundred
deer most years, and the herd during his Mastership,
though increasing, was only doing so slowly, there must
have been somewhere about five hundred deer in the
country. How rapidly they increased and multiplied
can be judged from the fact that it was not until the
four packs were accounting for over two hundred and
fifty deer a year that any substantial diminution in
the herd was apparent. There must, therefore, have
been, about 1902, somewhere about fifteen hundred
deer in the country. This may seem incredible to
some who have only been out staghunting, but, being
based on the actual returns of deer brought to hand,
is, the writer ventures to think, no exaggeration.

Such was the problem to which Mr. Sanders had
to address himself, and he did so with vigour and
success in spite of a certain amount of well-meant
criticism as to the number of deer being killed.
Secure in the unanimous support of the committee,


the landowners, and the farmers, he went steadily on
his way, and year by year showed better and better
sport to an ever-increasing field. In 1897 ^^•
Sanders began hunting the hounds one day a week
himself during staghunting as well as hindhunting,
and many excellent gallops were enjoyed. It had
for some time been apparent that Anthony's health
was failing, and in 1901 , at the end of staghunting, he
surrendered the horn and retired to a farm at Exford,
receiving a handsome donation from his many friends.
He did not long survive his retirement.

Anthony was succeeded by Sidney Tucker, and Fred
Barber, who had graduated as second horseman,
became whip, but his health not proving equal to the
hardships of hindhunting, he gave way in favour of
Ernest Bawden, who comes of a sporting family at
Hawkridge, and must have been staghunting as long
as he can remember.

Mr. Sanders now determined to hunt four days a
week regularly, and separated the hounds into two
packs — the big dog pack, 25^ inches in height, which
he hunted himself two days a week, and the mixed
pack, which Sidney hunted two days a week. Four
days a week throughout the season was now the
order of the day, and wonderfully well the arrangement
has worked.

At the General Election of 1900 Mr. Sanders
contested East Bristol, and in 1905 fought the
Bridgwater Division of Somerset, being defeated by
only fourteen votes. The calls on his time thus


brought on obliged him to ask for help, and Mr.
Morland Greig kindly consented to act as Deputy
Master during his absence on political business.
During the twelve years Mr. Sanders has been
Master the fields have enormously increased, and
the management of them has become increasingly
difficult, since all are desperately keen to see
everything, and a large proportion are visitors who
are new to the game. The increase of the number
of hunting days to four a week had a little effect in
mitigating the crowd, since few people come out on
all the four days, but at some of the popular meets,
such as Hawkcombe Head, Alderman's Barrow, and
Larkbarrow four hundred horses is a common number.
A crowd of this size, however orderly and well
intentioned, naturally needs some looking after and
guidance, and on days when the Master is hunting
hounds Lord Fortescue, the Chairman of the
Committee, and, since the death of Sir Frederick
Knight, the owner of Exmoor and Brendon, or
Mr. Morland Greig, the Deputy Master, dons the
pink coat and acts as Field Master.

Throughout the time Mr. Sanders has been Master
sport has been consistently good, and has year by
year continued to improve. Three points especially
call for note. The Master has spared no trouble or
expense in improving the pack, and his efforts have
been crowned with success. In this he has been
assisted by the careful kennel management of Sidney
Tucker, w'ho turns them out looking as they should


do. It is no easy task to bring out those big, heavy
hounds looking bright and fit and hvely through such
a spell of tropical weather as we had in igo6.

The pace of the pack has notably improved in the
last few years ; they run better together and with
less inclination to string. Running better together,
they strike one as being rather more eager to fling
their tongues, this being specially so in the mixed
pack, where the presence of a few bitches has
increased the music perceptibly.

The most noticeable improvement effected by
Mr. Sanders has been in the obviating of those long
weary waits during tufting which so frequently had
to be endured in days gone by. This is due, in a
great measure, to the able harbouring of Fred Goss,
but is also attributable to the general quickening up
of the whole of the proceedings which has been
brought about by the Master, as much by example
as by precept.

The good runs witnessed in the past twelve years
are too numerous to be recited here, the two best
being those from Hawkridge to Glenthorne in 1899
with a stag, and from Chapman's Barrows to Dunster
with a hind, both given in detail elsewhere. Other
noteworthy runs were from Hele Bridge to Honor
Oak with a hind ; from Yard Down to Silcombe, a
race all the way ; from Yearnor Moor to Fylcdon ;
from the Warren to Woolhanger, and back to
Bromham ; from Haddon to Emmet's Grange; from
Hadden to Bradleigh, by Cruwys Morchard ; from



Great Wood on the Quantocks to the chffs by
Quantocks Head, along the cHffs to Lilstock, and
then twelve miles across the enclosed vale by
Fairfield, Stringston, and Brymore to Durleigh, near
Bridgwater. Many others as good as these will be
fresh in the minds of those who have hunted
regularly during these happy years.

Which, it may be asked, were the best seasons ?
Probably 1899, 1903 a very wet year, and 1906 a
very dry one.

In 1903 we had a succession of brilliant gallops
over the open moor, hounds on one occasion running
clean away from everyone and killing their deer by
themselves ; the sport in the winter with the hinds
was also above the average. Good as many seasons
have been, none can compare with that of 1906,
which is noticeable for many reasons. The pack
was never in better condition ; they had thoroughly
recovered from the effect of the sickness from which
they suffered in 1904 and the early part of 1905, and
they found the stags worthy of their efforts. In
some years, for no apparent reason, stags are weak
and cannot run; this was so noticeably in 1904, when
they could not stand up before the pack even in its
then condition ; in 1906, on the contrary, not a single
weak stag was met with — one or two were so over-
burdened with age and good living that they fell
comparatively easy victims, and two were lame, but
all the rest stood up before hounds with quite
unusual strength, and this whether they w^ere young


or old, whether the weather was broiling hot or wet
and stormy, and whether there was a scent or whether
there was not.

There was little or no scent when Mr. Sanders
hunted a young stag with most exemplary patience
throughout a blazing hot day — 88 degrees in the
shade — from Dunkery and killed him after six hours
at Oare Ford ; there was a first-rate scent when he
ran a heavy four on top deer from Lillescombe to
Emmet's Grange, and back to Cornham. All the
notions we had previously acquired as to scent and
as to the run of the deer were thrown to the winds.
Deer faced the open moor with a boldness they had
not shown for years. Wheddon Cross and Dunkery
Hill Gate are not favourite meets, yet drawing
Bincombe we had three first-class runs, one to Scob
Hill, one to Rowbarrow Farm, near Clat worthy, on
the far side of the Brendon Hills, and the third by
Alderman's Barrow to Oare Ford and the Parks at
Porlock. Two Haddon deer went to Tarr Steps,
one to Couple Ham, and one to Bradleigh, Cruwys
Morchard. We hunted two Bray Valley deer; one
went to Sandiway, Cuzzicombe, Molland, and Bish
Mill, the other right over the moor to Porlock village.
Four deer from Yearnor Moor and Cloutsham crossed
the Barle at Driver, one before Mr. Stanley's merry

A Dunster deer, carrying a curious head, four on
top on one side and an upright on the other, beat us
by Upton. Twice Mr. Stanley ran over the same

Y 2


country, once from Luxborough to Bampton Down,
once from Elworthy to Duvale, both noteworthy
runs. From Bradley Ham, close to Withypool,
hounds ran over Winsford Hill down to Castle
Bridge, down the valley to Marsh Bridge, back
up the Bade and Danes Brook to Anstey Common,
Lyshwell, Clogs Down, Humbers Ball, Worth Hill,
and down to Bradley Ham, where they killed a few
yards from where the deer had been lying when they
found him.

Almost every stag found anywhere on the forest
side crossed Badgworthy Water, and certainly in
no season for many years past did we spend so
much time between Alderman's Barrow and Sadler's
Stone as in 1906. We seemed assured of sport
every time hounds went out, and certainly Mr.
Sanders' last season will live long in the memories
oi all those who saw it.



Who list by me to learn Assembly for to make
For Keyser, King, or Comely Queen, for Lord or Lady's sake,
Or where or in what sort it should prepared be,

Marke well my wordes and thank me then, for thanks I crave in fee.


CloutSHAM Is the meet which is most intimately-
associated in the minds of most of us with stag-
hunting, for here, year after year, we gather in the
second week of August for the " opening meet,'' or
" solemn assembly" as it would have been called in
old days. So perfectly suited is Cloutsham for a
big meet that it would be hard to think that George
Gascoigne had not Cloutsham in his mind when he
penned his rhymes, printed with " The Noble Art of
Venerie" in 1584, did one not know that they are
but a bad metrical version of the words of Edward,
Duke of York, translated from Gaston de Foix.
Here at Cloutsham we have the " gladsome green,"
the " stately trees," the " chrystalle running streams,"
and the cool breezes described by the poet. Here is
yearly held the opening meet which, true to ancient
custom, begins with a big picnic. Being in the middle
of the holiday season, the seaside towns are full of


tourists who help to swell the throng, so that,
although there may be several hundred horsemen
and horsewomen present, their numbers are far
exceeded by those who come on foot and in carriages ;
the latter, when drawn up in rows, fill up a large part
of the field. In fact, every wheeled vehicle within
twenty miles seems to meet there, or get broken
down on the way. The roads from Minehead and
Exford are filled with a continuous stream of carriages,
and a right weary journey they have before they
reach SirThomas Acland's picturesque old farmhouse,
which stands almost hidden by the fine old timber
trees surrounding it. Standing in the meet field
it is hard to realise that this is very high ground, so
completely do the surrounding hills overtop it ; yet
the Ordnance map proves that Cloutsham is a
thousand feet above the sea, which lies sparkling in
the distance ; and the heated stream of foot people
who have elected to climb from the valley below by
the steep path which comes up over the nose of the
Ball would be quite willing to believe that another
hundred might be added to that.

One gets a glimpse of the vale of Porlock, with its
cornfields ripe for harvest ; admires the blaze of
colour, purple heather, and golden gorse above the
olive green of the ilex wood on the slope of
Bossington Beacon ; but the main interest lies in
the dark green combes in the foreground and on
either hand, for they are the great stronghold of the


" Good Heavens, you are not going to try to draw
that ! " was the exclamation of an up-country
sportsman who had not grasped the mysteries of
harbouring and tufting, and, indeed, the task looks
well-nigh hopeless, for the thick covert extends
literally for miles. Yet it is drawn by tufters when a
stag has been properly harboured, and with success,
and stags are forced to face the open and fly for
their lives over the moor when there is a good scent ;
when there is none the huntsman's task is sometimes
almost a hopeless one.

Cloutsham Ball, behind which, in a fold of the
ground, stands the old farmhouse, is the apex of a
tableland forming the space between the two arms
of the letter Y. The stem, which debouches on the
Porlock Vale, and the left arm are the Horner, the
combe on the right is the Eastwater, and the
junction is Eastwater Foot. On the right, as one
looks down the valley, is the great ridge of Dunkery,
which sweeps up in a huge expanse of purple heather
broken by the narrow combes, Aldercombe and
Hollowcombe, to a height of over seventeen hundred
feet. On the left is the rounder summit of Lee Hill^
separating Horner from Hawkcombe. Behind the
moor rises in fold after fold of heather to the high
ground by Alderman's Barrow, and behind that again
the wide waste expanse of Exmoor. It is over this
line that all want the stag to go.

While the crowd is assembling one may take a look
at the old farmhouse. It stands on steeply sloping


ground looking across the deep Eastwater Combe,
and over the towering oaks in its bottom to the
purple side of Dunkery. The entrance is by a
curious thatched gateway into the Court of Curtilage ;
on the right or north side, are the stables ; the west
end is filled by cattle byres, part of the south by a
low wall, while the farmhouse and a cottage fill up
the rest of the east end, and form a little court of
their own. Almost all the windows face inwards, as
do the doors, except two modern doors in the stable,
and the whole place is very snug and warm, well
protected against the storms of winter. In ancient
times it had need, doubtless, of other protection, for
it was a lawless district, and records show that
bloodshed took place even in the peaceful and lovely
Horner Valley. Cloutsham was a place of some
importance ; its owners were men of substance and
position, for history tells that Richard of Cloutsham
was called to Westminster as a juror, about 1250,
on a lawsuit as to lands at Dulverton ; he was also
surety for his neighbour at Stoke Pero, in a suit with
the all-powerful Reginald de Mohun, of Dunster,
As one of the regarders of the forest he was very
active, not only in presenting the men of Withypool
and Hawkridge — it is wonderful how their hands were
against every man, and every man's hand against
them — for wastes, assarts, and other offences against
the vert, but he also attached John Scrutenger, of
Cloutsham, probably one of his villeins, for killing a
hind at Whitsuntide.


In 1325 John of Cloutsham held a quarter of a
knight's fee there of Wilham Martyn, who held of
John of Luccombe.

As one stands under the big trees watching
Sidney Tucker kennelling his pack and drawing
out his tufters, one can hardly help calling to mind
that the selfsame thing has been done in the same
way, at the same spot, for hundreds of years.
Boots and breeches may have altered, coats may be
better cut, the horn may be straight and not curved,
saddles neater and lighter, hounds may be cleaner
limbed and faster (horses probably have changed but
' little), but the sport is the same, and in all its
essentials has changed not at all. The harbourer,
as of old, has done his work and harboured his deer,
he and the huntsman go forth into the depths of
Horner to rouse him and get him away, and it is
ours to gallop at a discreet and sober interval behind
the hounds as they fly forward over the bleak hills
of Somerset.

What crowds of good sportsmen have stood beside
the sunk fence which bounds the meet field. Sir
Thomas his Honour, the lord of the soil, who hunted
the country in so princely a manner in the century
before last; Parson Boyse, of Withypool. to whose
hunting diary the present generation are indebted
for the accounts of so many famous runs. Stag-
hunter Boyse was an authority sans appelle in all
matters relating to staghunting, and a brilliant
horseman ; his parish luckily did not require, as it


certainly did not receive, much of his attention, but
the few old people to whom he is a tradition of iheir
youth speak of him as of a kindly disposition, though
possessing a somewhat erratic temper. Local
tradition is full of tales of Boyse ; all are to his
credit as a staghunter, though some are not much
to his credit as a parson. He was secretary to the
hounds, and one ceremony^ he never omitted was
to give out the meets for the ensuing week after the
second lesson. He lived in a hard, rough time,
in a peculiarly hard, rough place, and did his duty
according to his lights. Peace be to his ashes.

Of a slightly later date were Parson Frowde, of
Knowstone, the tales about whom go far to filling
several books already, and Parson Jones, of
Countisbury ; the latter was a great patron of
wrestling, and the straw hat and silver spoons, the
prizes at the commg wrestling match, w'ere always
hung for inspection in his church the Sunday
previous to a contest. It was reported of him that
on the first Sunday in the staghunting season, after
the congregation had sung with enthusiasm " As
pants the hart " he preached an eloquent sermon
from the text " Lo, we heard of the same at
Ephratha, and found it in the wood."

It is not many years since " As pants the hart"
w^as sung at the beginning of the season at nearly
every church in the district, and the writer perfectly
well remembers being at Stoke Pero Church one
Sunday afternoon when Mr. Basset, then Master


of the hounds rode over. The clergyman gave
out " Abide with me," and a wheezy harmonium
struck up the tune, but they did not have the Master
of the staghounds there to church every Sunday,
and the congregation were not to be denied. One
adventurous voice began " As pants the hart," the
rest joined in, and the curate and the harmonium
were utterly left.

The Rev. Jack Russell was a sportsman of a
different sort from Parson Frowde and Parson
Boyse. Their equal in every sport in the field, he
was immeasurably their superior as a man and a
clergyman. When he was promoted to a good
living, only a few years before he died, the Bishop of
Exeter was remonstrated with for admitting to
preferment a man who had kept a pack of hounds
for forty years, in defiance of his ecclesiastical
superior. The Bishop's retort was, " If all the parishes
in my diocese were as well worked as Mr. Russell's,
I should not have all the anxiety I now have."

Where Parson Jack Russell was there was sure to
be gathered together a group of the best sportsmen in
the hunt — such men as the late Earls of Portsmouth
and Fortescue ; Sir Frederick Knight, the owner of
Exmoor ; Colonel Henry Sanford, one of the hardest
men of his day; Mr. Whyte Melville, Mr. Granville
Somerset, Mr. Froude Bellevv, Mr. Sam Warren,
Mr. Joshua Clark, Mr. John Joyce, and many others
who have now gone from the scenes they loved so
well ; and though they might stand about and talk


and tell stories, often in the broadest dialect of Devon,
their eyes and ears were thoroughly open to what was
going on in the combe below. These were not the
men to " get left " when hounds went away.

The General, as Mr. Bisset was commonly called,
was not often seen in the meet field ; his usual post
of observation was on Horner Hill, near where the
summer-house now stands. He hated a crowd round
him, and was not long in letting them know it.

Deer are curious creatures, and there are tastes
and fashions among them as among human beings.
For many years almost all heavy stags lay in the
thick oak scrub in Yealscombe, that is to say,
in a depression on the left, or Lee Hill side, of the
main valley, just below where the streams join ; there
is a desperately trying path up it on to Lee Hill,
which is a sore trial to a blown horse. In those days
•we had, as a rule, a long wait ere the stag was roused
and forced to fly. Then the fashionable quarter was
in the combe below Stoke Pero ; now, of late years,
the deer are mostly found, as they used to be a
hundred years ago, in the furze bushes at Sweet
Tree, or in the little combes on the side of Dunkery.
When a stag is harboured here, riders, taking post in
the field above the farm, can readily see across the
combe all that goes on, and have not, as a rule, long
to wait before they hear the welcome sound of the
horn as the Master or huntsman comes back for the

Hounds meet a great many times in the season,


both for the stag and hind, at Cloutsham, and perhaps
this somewhat dulls the appreciation of it as a really
sporting meet. Yet it is second to none in the
country ; indeed, the recorded good runs from
Cloutsham are considerably in excess of those from
any other meet, but as hounds go there very often,
there must necessarily be a corresponding number of
bad and indifferent days, and certainly a bad day at
Cloutsham is very bad indeed, worse than almost
anywhere else. When deer hang about the coverts
all day one is sorely tempted to leave Cloutsham
Ball, and plunge into the deep combes to see what
hounds are doing. It is not until a stranger has done
this, and found out for himself how impossible it is
to see and hear, and how easy it is in those dense
woodlands to lose all touch of hounds, and until he
has ridden a stout horse to a standstill in a vain
attempt to find them, that he begins to appreciate
at its full value the quickness and local knowledge of
the hunt servants, and the condition of their horses.
" When in doubt in Horner, get up on to Cloutsham
Ball as quick as you can," is a maxim of universal
acceptation ; from there, and from there only, one
commands the whole range of coverts.

Some of the greatest runs in the old days took place
from Cloutsham. One of the earliest recorded took
place on September 8th, 1786, when a very old stag,
known as the old Badgworthy stag, was found in
Hollowcombe on the side of Dunkery, and led the
field away on the line so often followed by deer in


recent years to Badgworthy and Exehead, thence to
Prayway and Simonsbath, passing Cornham, and over
Filedon Ridge to Longwood below Yard Down.
Here he was fresh found and was killed below the

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Online LibraryArchibald HamiltonThe red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 → online text (page 20 of 22)