Back in the early seventies when you could walk out of one job into another I started working at the local Tile and Brick works where quite a few of us local lads set foot on the first rungs of the employment ladder.The work was hard but within walking distance and paid a decent wage back then,enough to get me my first Lambretta SX 200,with the back rest, the mirrors and all the rest of the gear to go with the Mod squad,and over the next few years the scooters would be our transport and open up a whole new world for us lads living in the sticks.That scooter had many a time carried me and my little lurcher a little further afield from our local hunting ground in the pursuit of a bit of game,he would sit patiently on the floor panels as we headed off into the sunrise,I dread to think what the outcome would be now with the local constabulary,although he could be a little bit of a nuisance when you tried to apply the back foot break which was down where he sat.(the dog not the copper)That machine even though rather unreliable would fetch a pretty packet today.
The brick works, as I say, were within walking distance and it contained one hell of a deep quarry where all the marl and clay was excavated to produce the bricks and tiles which were shaped and fired in the big kilns on the plant site.I spent many hours working down in the quarry,and in the winter it was a very bleak place to be ,cold and wet out in the elements with just a small tin shed to sit and eat your snapping in,it was fitted out with a 45 gallon oil drum with holes in the bottom and this was our converted log fire,eat your heart out Health and Safety.I had the job of making sure the giant crusher that broke up the hard stuff was kept free and the 200 metre conveyor belt that carried the marl up to the factory was never at a stand still or if it did you would have your B**** chewed off as the gaffer used to say,But the plus side to the quarry was the amount of game that it attracted around its perimeters,and even down in the quarry where foxes frequently visited during the night shift,with rabbits and hares in abundance on the top fields over looking the place. There was plenty of gorse and thick grass that was grazed occasionally by a few bullocks from the nearby farm,but it was always free of stock during the winter,probably more to do with the state of the fencing surrounding the quarry. Many a time we would have to get stock from the bottom of the quarry,and on one occasion we had to get a young bullock out of the reservoir that had formed over time right at the bottom of the quarry. We would always take our air rifles with us on the back shifts and spend many an hour stalking and trying to bag a bit of game for the pot,even the old supervisor was up for a fresh rabbit. That quarry now 50 years on is still producing the raw products for the Tile and Brick industry, having been taken over by Marley some years back,while the surronding land has now been gobbled up by expansion of the Quarry, which is now one huge crater on the landscape.But during my stint there in 1970, lamping was now the BIG deal ,and we tried and tested no end of weired and not so wonderful examples of home made lamps, and thats where the old scooter batteries came in usefull,but what a carry on with the acid in those batteries destroying any clothing it came into contact with.,believe you me ,the modern technology of today is priceless.On many occassions I had taken my little lurcher Skip with me to work on the night shift during the winter months,he would settle down by the old oil drum fire on an old sack and wait for me to get the chance to take him out with the lamp. along the top fields. Little Skip wasn,t the quickest of dogs that I have ever owned when you look back and although he had caught one hare single handed he did struggle on them ,but he was certainly a real faithfull lad and would always try to please, always giving it his best shot ,and a cracking little lamping and moocher dog. He was what you would call a Grewy type ,only 22 inches at the most, with a smooth fawn coat, I can remember one night in particular,during my midnight break when I thought the little fellow had ended up coursing in the sky. It was a right cold windy night and the snow was very wet sticking to you and making my eyes sting as I patrolled the Quarry conveyor belt making sure production kept going (think of the bonus lads??) ,Snapping time arrived, with the sound of the Hooter, and that meant time to get the lamp despite the weather,so I slung the battery over my shoulder in the home made pouch ,coupled the lamp up and set off. We set off following the well worn tracks the digger had made as it had spiralled it’s way down to the quarry floor over the years of working.Bloody hell it was hard work treking up the sides of the quarry and I was 3 feet taller when I reached the top,due to the amount of clay that had stuck to my boots,but it was always worth it for the chance of a run or two, before the Hooter sounded again for work to start again.
At the top I spent time trying to clean my boots off and catching my breath before flicking the lamp on hoping to see a mass of ruby eyes peering at me through what was now horrible sleet.The first flick and I felt the little fellow give a little tug on the make shift slip as he clocked a rabbit slowly heading to the gorse cover at the edge of the quarry,so I knocked the lamp off and headed around the edge of the rough field, away from the quarry with the wind and sleet really making life difficult,We had reached a gap in the hedge where the cattle had trampled through it and I flicked the lamp on again but there was a flooded area in front of us and I picked it’s reflection up with the lamp,then slowly moved It away from the flood and picked up a rabbit some 30 yards away and it went straight in too a squat. Skip had intently followed the beam around but had not clocked it as it was low in the thick grass, but knew he was about to see some action as I gave him a little “Hiss” and gave the lamp a little wobble with the beam on the squatter, the little lad needed no further encouragement and set off down the beam, but just as he reached the rabbit it decided it was time to scarper, but it never made 2 yards as the little fellow nailed it without any fuss,he gave it a bit of a rag as it squealed, which he aways did with the first catch, but he was soon heading back to me with his tail and head in the air, proud as punch.With the first one in the bag and the weather still like something from the North pole, we set off again across the rough and now very white field, giving the lamp the odd flick but nothing showed for a short while. We finally reached the hedge line which was the boundary fence to the quarry land owners, so it was time to start making our way back. I was now going to walk down the middle of the field heading to the far end of the quarry, towards the far distance lights of the M6 that had cut through and scared the Staffordshire landscape a few years earlier. It was a real pain as it had ruined some of the best hare coursing land for miles around,and had already taking the life of a mates Saluki x lurcher, as it followed a hare onto the hard shoulder and beyond,god only knows what sort of carnage would occur with the volume of traffic and the speeds they reach, and the poor lad went and retreived his dog off the tarmac.
At the end of the field by the hedge,there was a little bit of shelter, more so for Skip than me as he stood himself between the hedge and my legs, as I decided to flick the beam on and check over the hedge.I slowly scanned the field and as I did, there no more than 15 yards to my left sat 2 big winter hares. They both sat up as the beam lit them up, without a care in the world while the nearest one shook his front paws trying to free the sticking snow, while the little fellow tried pull himself through the hedge,as he too had clocked them at the end of the beam. I quickly knocked the beam off and tightened my grip on his make shift slip, hardly being able to feel my frozen fingers, even back then when young and foolish I was never one for running hares on the lamp, I loved the 1 V 1 coursing in the day light and still do,the ultimate test in my eyes for a Lurcher, especially on our land where obstacles are plenty. With the lamp now off we started to make our way back down the field with the conditions slightly better and the visibility improved as there was now no snow reflecting the light back off the beam. I flicked the beam on again and saw a couple of rabbits heading away from us at a distance and although the little fellow was keen to go I held on to him, pretty sure we would get a better chance before we reached back to the quarry.And how right I was as the next time I flicked the old lamp on, there was another set of ruby eyes tucked into the snowy grass but the rabbit stood out like a sore thumb in the snow, and as we got closer it began too tighten up making itself as small as possible, but not small enough as Skip let me know he had seen it with his little tug on the slip again. No need to gee him on this time as he was homed in on his target and just wanted the slip to be released, I was convinced it would sit tight and thought we would walk right on to it, but you never can tell with rabbits and after 3 of 4 more steps it exploded to life,sending the settled snow of its back into the night air, and was looking for sanctuary at a fair rate of knots. I felt the slip run through my fingers and even though they were freezing I still felt the heat off the slip as the little lad broke free in hot pursuit.Skip got too it and put a good first turn in,turning the rabbit back towards me, now heading straight down the beam, while he manged to get another turn in just a few yards short of me and they were now heading straight back from where they had just come from,only this time Skip was right on its bob and putting it under real pressure.
Although his next strike saw him sking well past the target and finding things difficult on the surface.The good thing was that the rabbit still had plenty of ground to cover before reaching the safety of the gorse that held the burrows,and this gave Skip the chance to get back in the contest. This time after one more jink he managed to get a grip on the rabbits rear end and skidded to a halt still hanging onto his prey,and after a quick re-adjustment of his grip he was on his way back to me with another,and it was dispatched. So with 2 rabbits sorted it was time to get back to the work place, but we still had a little bit of field to cover before we would reach the quarry edge and after a couple of minutes I flicked the lamp on for one last time,and sure enough another was slowly making it’s way home towards the gorse The little lad clocked it straight away and without hesitation I slipped him,hoping he would get a turn in early and turn it back into the field, and although he did get a couple of tight turns in this rabbit was not for heading away from cover, it was determined to make the warren in the gorse, It did but Skip was right up close as they dissapeared into the thicket, I switched the lamp off rightly or wrongly who knows, but I thought Skip would make his way back after loosing the rabbit soon as it reached the cover,All fell silent as I waited for what seemed a long while, but was probably no time at all really, before flicking the lamp on hoping to see him mooching around the cover,but no sign. Knowing we were not doing any more work, I gave a little whistle and call while getting a little anxious as the little fellow was always back quickly with or without a catch and I had now arrived at the gorse cover with the lamp covering every inch of it, but still no sign and I gave another call for him and waited,but still nothing.
I was now having those terrible thoughts that I’m sure we have all had over the years when your best friend has dissappeared into the night or even in the day time. I kept the lamp on searching and calling him and found myself now walking along the top of the quarry hoping he hadn’t gone over the edge on the back of the rabbit. With my heart now pumping ten to the dozen and fearing the worst, with every dreadfull thought running through my head.I shone the lamp down the quarry and could see the tin hut with the fire glowing in it deep in the darkness and as I scanned the quarry back towards me and could not believe my eyes as I saw the little lad half way down on one of the tracks that led to the quarry floor. I made my way down to him as fast as I could, slipping, slidding going arse over tit but what the hell he was safe and as he made his way towards me with his tail wagging he gave me that “whats all the fuss about” look. We made our way back to the tin shed and the warmth of that oil drum glowing away and I gave him a rub down with his old potato sack and fed him the heart and liver after gutting the rabbits and a drink of tea from my flask before he settled down in front of the oil drum, the one mistake I did make however was to gut the rabbits before eating my own snapping, hygene was a little limited at the bottom of that quarry.??? Sadly Skip was taken from me a couple of years later when that horrible Parvovirus was at it’s deadliest, but what followed was the start of some wondeful times with running dogs and terriers, both working and breeding, which hopefully I can share with you through this fantastic magazine Pictured with me are the first pups I kept from the dogs I ran in the 70’s along with the pictures of both the dam and sire and the latest edition from that line some 50 years on.
Keep the Faith