The Formation of the Wensleydale Foxhounds by Maurice Bell

Amazingly, the history of the Wensleydale Foxhounds has never been accurately recorded. In an interview with Maurice, at his home in Gayle, Hawes, in January 2012, he described how, why and when the pack were formed. He also talked frankly about many aspects of his life in the hunting world, right up to the present day.

The article is in Maurice’s words and recorded as spoken.
Lyn Harber

The interview was first published in Lyn Harber’s book Try Back Lads, Try Back – Volume 2, 2012.

“I applied for the Lunesdale whip job, at the end of the 1970-1971 season when John Dixon left; Barry (Todhunter) got the job. I was hunting with the Lunesdale at least two days a week at the time, I said I was interested and was told that if I want it, job’s yours, but they said “they would have to advertise it.”

I was on Lunesdale Executive Committee at the time, there was one member from each area, I was chosen from this area, a tremendous, big area. We were making the most money. There was a meeting at Kendal; I went and five had put in for it: me, Ken Dard, Colin Fischer, Barry, and a lad from Lake District. The meeting started and I was asked to go downstairs and buy a drink for the lads who had put in for the whip’s job. I went downstairs and Barry’s mother introduced Barry to me as the new whip. I said it hadn’t been discussed yet, but she said “Oh yes, Barry’s got it!” The other lads said it was a waste of time us coming if Barry had got it, so anyway, I went back upstairs and I said “you’ve made a bit of a fool of me, I go downstairs to get a drink and I’ve been introduced to new whipper-in.” Quite a lot of folk, Ted Drake, and a butcher from Kendal, Crayson they called him amongst them, said “no, no, we don’t agree with that, it will have to be put up your hands and be counted.” Harold Watson was Chairman, a retired policeman, and he said it would have to be done by secret ballot, and of course Barry won, it was obvious he was going to win. I wasn’t bothered about not getting job, I was annoyed about the way they did it, and six or seven folk said they were going to resign. I said I’ll still hunt with you, but as far as making funds, I’m finished. I came back home and folk said, why don’t we, with all the ground up here, form our own pack?

Maurice Bell, 1995

Maurice Bell, 1995

We held a meeting at the Board Hotel, Hawes, and there was myself, Frank Buck, Lawrie Dent, John Hardiston, Pop Bainbridge, Mike Godson, John Thompson and Ted Drake. Everybody was in favour, especially farmers. When Lunesdale came, the farmers had to go for them to Sedbergh, then put them up, then after hunting take them back again as they didn’t have their own transport. It seemed a better idea really, and that’s how we started, in the May of 1971.

I agreed I would kennel them at Snazesholme, and then we moved to Hawes. I agreed to hunt them and kennel the hounds, and there was a lot of ‘HOO- HA!’ in the paper about me; being foreman in Tarmac Construction in Brough, “Out of work labourer, New Master of Hounds” and the like! It didn’t bother me one bit, made me more determined. We had a lot of hassle from Lunesdale supporters, they were going around saying I couldn’t do it, and were going around trying to turn folk against us, but it worked in our favour really, and that’s how it started. We had all this stuff in the papers, but do you know, when I got recognised, there was nothing written!

25th Anniversary Opening Meet, at the Kennels, Sunday, 3rd October, 1995

25th Anniversary Opening Meet, at the Kennels
Sunday, 3rd October, 1995

Left to right:
Chris Wood, Robert Dent (W.F.H. Whip.), D. Mallet (North Lonsdale Whip.),
Jimmy Mallet (North Lonsdale Huntsman), Eddie Braithwaite (Lunesdale FH Chairman), Maurice Bell, (Master WFH), Gus Atkinson (Farndale), Barry Todhunter (Blencathra FH Huntsman), L. Dent (WFH Chairman),
Will Pinkney (Blencathra Whip.), Bill Braithwaite (WFH Whip.).

The first two hounds I got were two black trail hounds, Butcher and Spanker, they would run anything, pheasant, rabbit, rat or fox. Then I got four hounds from Scotland, from the Lockaber and Sunart Pack, a gun pack, from Mark Foster. He used to live at Horton-in, Ribblesdale, and was their Huntsman. We had them because they would hunt deer, but we didn’t have any deer in our area then. He said he shouldn’t have given them to me as I wasn’t recognised, but neither were they! It was a real queer situation. I then got a letter from their Master, I think he was called Captain Daly, saying that as I wasn’t recognised, he would have to ask for these hounds back. He also said that John Dixon from the Lunesdale would come to pick them up. I agreed but replied, “if you send him three hundred quid to give me for looking after these hounds for six months you can gladly have them back.” I never heard any more! They were bloody good hounds. They helped us.

Then I got four trail hounds, one from John Medcalfe in Kendal, a lemon and white bitch called Jill, (we bred from her to Eskdale and Ennerdale Trueman), one of Ron Wilson from Troutbeck, a hound called Raglan, and two from a fella from Borrowdale, in the Lake District. One was called Ruben, as good a hound as a man could wish to own. You know, I can remember those hounds like it was yesterday. That made a total of eleven. I had five the first year, eleven the second year.

It was difficult because they weren’t just good enough to breed from. The trail hounds would run live game alright, but they weren’t educated enough on hunting jobs – blowing them back, and things like that. They would run ten miles from start to finish, but if you were wanting them back, you could blow all bloody day and they’d take no notice of you.

We got in the third year to about eighteen and had some tremendous bloody good hunts, quite a lot of people said they were a long way better hounds than they thought they would be.”

Maurice then related two stories of hounds he acquired, and the problems he was still having with the established fox hunting community. I have re-worded the tales myself and deliberately left out people’s names, though they were given to me. These events took place when feelings were running high, and I feel nothing would be gained by naming names and opening old wounds. Time has been a great healer!

Maurice had one hound from the police dog pound, it had been in the pound unclaimed for two months, it’s ears weren’t tattooed, and the then Chairman, Mike Godson, persuaded Maurice to take it. The hound could hunt. Then a well known Huntsman rang and enquired about the hound, and Maurice said it was a biscuit coloured bitch. The huntsman said it was his and he would call to fetch it, but couldn’t recognise the hound when he called, and there were only three similar bitches in kennels! A hell of a row broke out between the Chairman, Mike Godson and the Huntsman, and Maurice said “Take it, I know it’s not yours, but it’s not worth the hassle.” The hound was taken and allegedly shot!

Another hound that was not wanted until it ended up in the Wensleydale kennels was walked by an old lady called Mrs Rose, from Appleby. The hound was given to Maurice by one of his friends and followers, the late Edwin Dargue, who said the huntsman that bred it doesn’t want it as it is too much of an individual. The hound, a lemon and white dog, could hunt and catch foxes. He then had a letter requesting the hound be returned to it’s original kennel as a complaint had been made from another registered pack. The hound was duly returned and given to the pack who had made the complaint, and they hunted it for three seasons.

“These are the sort of things they did. They even wrote to the cattle feed firm who was supplying us feed to try and get them to stop supplying us. It was unbelievable the things they did.

The gathering at the Kennels for the 25th Anniversary Opening Meet, 3rd October, 1995

The gathering at the Kennels for the 25th Anniversary Opening Meet, 3rd October, 1995

My biggest problem now is snares and lamping, there’s snares everywhere up here, one place over in the next valley keeps one hundred and fifty down. We used to hunt the fell ground there once a year, but we haven’t been there for three years. Paul (Whitehead) had eight hounds in snares one day, one died. Hounds getting in snares is a real problem. We’ve had problems over the years with people complaining about hounds that weren’t ours, phoning here when we hadn’t been out. I have just given back a hound to a pack that shouldn’t have been in the area. Have these people insurance? They had twenty six hounds out. One hen worrying complaint was beagles, they were three hounds short and didn’t tell anyone they were out. Paul (Whitehead, LFH) went to Tommy Moore’s on a lamb worrying call, saw the dead lamb and said it’s not fox. He went three times, then they found out this beagle had been in that area for about a month, but they wouldn’t accept responsibility. Never mind, we all have our faults!We’ve only lost four hounds in forty something years, so that’s not so bad. We really do try to get them all back. I’ve been out at midnight and all through the night sat listening and waiting.

I’ve had some good terriers over the years, I had a bitch we called Talley, as good a terrier as you’ve ever seen in your life. She was quiet with stock, quiet with people, she wasn’t a fighter, but she could find a fox anywhere, and she could handle a fox. She was my dog, my type of dog. Then there was Black Meg and Red Meg, they were both at the Lunesdale kennels, sisters. Dixon used to take them, good terriers, reliable terriers. I said to Nic (John Nicholson, Lunesdale Huntsman) which is best, and he said “one is as good as t’other, only difference is colour, one red, one black.” By God, they did some work for them.

A hunting pageant representing Fell Hounds, at the Great Yorkshire Show, Harrogate, c.1991, with Whip, Robert Dent

A hunting pageant representing Fell Hounds, at the Great Yorkshire Show, Harrogate, c.1991, with Whip, Robert Dent

I was satisfied with what I was doing, I loved hunting with Lunesdale. They were the finest pack of hounds in the North of England. I was bloody proud to be part of them, by Christ they had a good pack. Walter Parkin was on, one of the greatest men that ever walked was Walter Parkin. One day on Middleton Fell they put on a show, in front of visitors, a better day’s hunting you couldn’t have wished for. You couldn’t have asked those hounds for another inch, they were a very, very good pack of hounds. Nic was good with hounds, but useless talking to people. If anybody complained, He wasn’t in charge, he’d put blame onto somebody else. Nic had a good pack of hounds, but Walter Parkin bred most of them and Nic took over.

Continued Next Month