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Deer Coursing in Parks
Baily's magazine of sports and pastimes ,1879


Amongst those sports that have almost died out from our midst, such as wild-deer hunting, falconry, and so forth, is deer-coursing in parks, and although it was in great favour with our ancestors, it is only heard of occasionally in the present day; as where the deer are still kept up, the rifle is oftener used than the rough hounds for their capture. Nevertheless, where the park is a large one, to give scope for the efforts of dog and deer, a great deal of very fine sport might still be seen in coursing, or running, deer. There are few, we presume, who are not conversant with descriptions of deer-coursing in the Highlands of Scotland, which has been so graphically written by more than one author on the sports of the North, so that we seem to see Buskar and Bran racing from the slips, and are able to follow every phase of the course until the stag is pulled down, or, having reached some rock or lake, turns on his assailants and holds them at bay, in those glorious altitudes with which Landseer has rendered us familiar. That is the perfection of the sport, which only the strong and active, who are able to bear the fatigue of deerstalking, have any chance to see, for no horseman could follow across the ground where this desperate race for life takes place. These courses may be seen now, in a few instances, in as great oerfection as in the days of which Ossian sung; and, moreover, the same noble race of hounds, which was so nearly extinct a few years ago that deerstalkers had recourse to various crosses to supply their place, are again become far more common, and we believe can be found in many kennels of pure lineage.

The deerhound is, no doubt, a descendant of the old Irish wolfhound, which the best authorities consider identical with the Highland deerhound, and which probably was (perhaps we should not say numerous) but pretty fairly distributed over the British Isles, and used for coursing deer and wolves, where wolves remained. When these pests of the fold became extinct, it is probable that deerhounds were bred smaller than when they might be called on to pursue either kind of game. Mr. G. Graham, no doubt the highest authority on the breed, thinks that even now, from the remaining stock, it would be possible to breed them up to the original size again, and surely the experiment would be worth trying. It has often struck us that fine sport may be had in France with some of these big deerhounds, in wolfcoursing, where the wolf breaks from one covert to another, and it is almost useless to follow him with slow hounds unless he is wounded, as at a certain pace he can go on for ever. This sort of chase is in vogue now in Russia, and was, we shall presently show, resorted to in deerhunting by our ancestors. Deerstalkers can, however, scarcely be expected to participate in the movement for increasing the size of these hounds, as it is well known that a smaller dog not only escapes the antlers of the deer better when 'set up,' but, as may well be conceived, does himself less injury amongst the rocks and crags he has to traverse in the Highlands, where, so long as there is sufficient power to hold a deer when caught, the less weight the less chance of injury there is. Stonehenge considers them to be 'identical with the rough Scotch greyhound, 'but being kept for a particular purpose, they differ in their mode of 'running from those dogs. No one can say, looking at the two 'breeds, which is the greyhound and which is the deerhound; but 'the moment they are slipped at hare or deer, a remarkable difference 'in the style of going is apparent, which detects the courser of the 'hare from the deer. They are equally fast; but the deerhound 'gallops with his head in the air,'and his body, raised off the ground, 'ready for a spring at the throat or the ear, or even the thigh of his 'prey; while the greyhound, with his head close to the ground, lies 'down ventre d terre, and he is also prepared to pick up his prey, 'not pull it down. This difference is so remarkable that I am * assured by Mr. A. Graham, the greatest authority on the subject 'of rough greyhounds, that in their ordinary play you may at once 'detect the two varieties, though in kennel it would be utterly 'impossible.' If they are of the same breed, we think there is little doubt but the rough greyhound used for hare was descended from the deerhound, and not the deerhound descended from the greyhound, as in early days coursing the deer was in much greater repute than the hare. The following are the dimensions of Buskar,

A hound of the old breed, the property of Captain McNeil, of Colonsay: height, 28 inches; girth, 32 inches; running weight, 85 lbs.; of a black muzzled red or fawn colour. Some of the ancient size would appear to be regained, for Idstone, in his book of ' The Dog,' published in 1872, speaks of them as follows: 'A dog of * good proportions should stand 30 inches at the shoulder-blades, 'and girth 34 inches. His forearm should be 81/2 inches, and his 'weight 100 lbs. or more,' and says that at a show in London, in 1863,over forty were exhibited. Scroope resorted to mongrels, because in his day he could not get the true breed. Idstone also says, 'Sir George Gore had a dog 34 inches in height.' This is nearly up to the ideal standard of the wolfhound, in fact larger than the average Captain G. A. Graham allows them. Whether known as wolfhound, deerhound, or greyhound, he is a noble dog, and a very old verse, when translated, thus describes him:—

'An eye of sloe, an ear not low,
With horse's breast, with depth of chest,
With breadth of loin, and curve in groin,
And nape set far behind the head;
Such were the dogs that Fingal bred.'

He was very popular with the nobility, and considered a valuable present, as in the old romance of * Sir Eglamore' a princess tells the Knight she will give him a greyhound :—

'Sir, yf you be on huntinge found,
I shall gyve you a good greyhounde,
That is dun as a doo;
For as I am trewe gentylwoman,
There was never deer that he at ran,
That myght yscape him fro'.'

Thus we see that deer-coursing was a favourite sport in those early days, and a good dog so much prized as to be considered an acceptable present amongst those of high rank. This perhaps may tend to show that he was a good greyhound hunting ' at force,' or in the open, as we know from old records and illuminated manuscripts that ladies so pursued the sport, as also did the gentlemen, for does not Robert Greene, in his ' Honourable History of Friar 'Bacon and Friar Bungay,' make Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, say—

'Why looks my lord so like a troubled sky,
When heavens bryght shine is shadowed with a fog?
Alate we ran the deer, and through the launds,
Stripped with our nags the lofty frolic bucks,
That scudded 'fore the teazers like the wind;
Ne'er was the deer of Merry Freshingfield
So lustily pulled down by jolly mates,
Nor shared the farmers such fat venison,
So frankly dealt this hundred years before;'

Nor have

'I seen my lord more frolic in the chase,
And now changed to a melancholy dump.'

Sir Walter Scott, who was a sportsman, also introduces deer greyhounds in 'Queenlo Hall,' which are slipped at the stag as he breaks covert, after having been unharboured by what in the present day would be termed the 'tufters.' On occasions, however, when the exertion of following the deer, chased 'at force,' was to be avoided —in the case of ladies who were, perchance, not equal to a burst across country, and the park was too large, with, perhaps, no convenient ' paddock' (which term will be explained later on) at hand —the game was either inclosed with nets after the old, old custom, and then, being roused, driven either within reach of their arrows, or coursed past them with greyhounds; and here we get the first intimation of deer-coursing in parks, as opposed to running deer down in the open, as is still done in Scotland even with a 'cold hart,' as one not previously wounded is termed.

These grand 'battles,' rather than chases, perhaps we should call them, were attended with much pomp and ceremony, especially when instituted for the delectation of royalty. Thus we find in the l Squire 'of Low Degree'—a poem not so old as the 'Sir Eglamore,' but supposed to be more ancient than the works of Chaucer—the King of Hungary says to his daughter—

'To-morrow ye shall on hunting fere,
And ride, my daughter, in a chare;
It shall be covered with velvet red,
And cloth of fine gold all about your head;
Your pomelles shall be inlaid with gold,
Your chains enamelled many a fold.'

Grand as was to be the chare, chariot, or whatever the conveyance may be called, equally so were the steeds destined to draw it:—

'Jennettes of Spain that ben so white,
Trapped to the ground with velvet bright.'
Then she was to be so placed that he could say—

'Hert and hind shall come to your fyst
As well as that she shall have

'A lese of greyhounds with her to strake.'

The horn-blowing and such matters we pass by without much loss, as they little concern our purpose.

To come to a later account, we find from Strutt's • Sports and 'Pastimes of the English People ' that—

'When the King should think proper to hunt the hart in the 'parks or forests, either with bows or greyhounds, the master of the game, and the park-keeper, or the forester, being made acquainted 'with his pleasure, was to see that everything was provided necessary 'for the purpose. It was the duty of the sheriff of the county wherein 'the hunting was to be performed to furnish the stabling for the 'King's horses, and carts to take away the dead game. The hunters and officers under the forester, with their assistants, were com'manded to erect a sufficient number of temporary buildings (called '" tristes" or "trestes " in the MS., and might be temporary stages) for the reception of the royal family and their train ; and, if I understand my author clearly, these buildings were directed to be covered with green boughs, to answer the double purpose of shading the company and the hounds from the heat of the sun, and to protect them from any inconveniency in case of foul weather. Early in the morning, upon the day appointed for the sport, the master of the games, with the officers appointed by him, was to see that the greyhounds were properly placed, and the person nominated to blow the horn, whose office was to watch what kind of game was turned out, and, by the manner of winding his horn, signify the same to the company that they might be prepared for its reception upon quitting the cover. Proper persons were then to be appointed at different parts of the enclosure, to keep the populace at due distance. The yeoman of the King's bow, and the grooms of his tutored greyhounds had charge to secure the King's standing, and prevent any noise being made to disturb the game before the arrival of his Majesty. When the royal family and the nobility were conducted to the places appointed for their reception, the master of the game or his lieutenant, sounded three long mutes or blasts with the horn, for the uncoupling of the hart hounds. The game was then driven from the cover, and turned by the huntsman and the hounds so as to pass by the stands belonging to the king and queen, and such of the nobility as were permitted to have a share in the pastime; who might either shoot at them with their bows or pursue them with their greyhounds at their pleasure. We are then informed that the game which the king, the queen, or the prince or princesses slew with their own bows or particularly commanded to be let run, was not liable to any claim by the huntsman or their attendants; but of all the rest that was killed they had certain parts assigned them by the master of the game, according to the ancient custom. This arrangement was for a royal hunting, but similar arrangements were made on like occasions for the sport of great barons and dignified clergy. Their tenants sometimes held lands of them by the service of finding men to enclose the grounds, and drive the deer to the stands whenever it pleased their lords to hunt.

' In this we have a very decided forerunner of the battue as practised on the continent for all kinds of game up to the present day, and the deerdriving, which has been the means of assembling the disaffected clans against the lowland power in our own northern regions over and over again, as well as the modern deerdrive, instituted on more legitimate principles. Good Queen Bess was rather inclined towards this kind of sport, when not in the humour to mount her horse and see a stag fairly pulled down in the open, and would both watch the coursing of deer in ' a launde' having' fair law' with greyhounds, or do them to death, with quarrel, or arrow discharged by her own royal hands in a paddock. Like the Waterloo Cup in the present day (although probably by no means to such heavy amounts), deer-coursing was made the means of laying wagers; and in order that these might be the better and more easily decided, an improvement was sought on the old method of lying in wait for the game in the ' Iaunds,' or driving them into a space enclosed with nets, and a 'paddock,' as it was called, was the result. This was almost as elaborate an affair as a racecourse, and somewhat reminds us of Newmarket Heath in old days, with its betting-posts, stands, and rubbing-houses, different courses, and so forth, many of which now live only in the memory of old habitats^ as they have long since given place to modern requirements. This was the fashion of a deer paddock, as described in Daniel's 'Rural Sports,' and the manner of coursing therein :—

In ancient times, three several animals were coursed with greyhounds—the deer, the fox, and the hare. The two former are not practised at present, but the coursing of deer formerly was a recreation held in high esteem, and was divided into two sorts—the paddock, and the forest or purlieu. For the paddock coursing, besides the greyhounds, which never exceeded two, and for the most part of one brace, there was the teazer or mongrel greyhound, whose business it was to drive the deer forward before the real greyhounds were slipped. The paddock was a piece of ground generally taken out of a park, and fenced with pales, or a wall; it was a mile in length, and about a quarter of a mile in breadth, but the farther end was always to be broader than that which the dogs started from, the better to accommodate the company in seeing which dog won the match. At the hither end was the dog-house (to enclose the dogs which were to run the course), which was attended by the men, one of whom stood at the door to slip the dogs, the other a little without to let loose the teazer, to drive away the deer. The pens for the deer intended to be coursed were on one side, with a keeper or two to turn them out; on the other side at some distance, stood the spectators. Along the whole course were placed posts: the first, which was next the dog-house and pens, was the law-post, and was distant from them one hundred and sixty yards; the second was a quarter of a mile; the third, the half mile; the fourth the pinching-post; and the fifth marked distance in lieu of the post was the ditch, which was a place made so as to receive the deer, and keep them from being further pursued by the dogs. Near to this place were the seats for the judges, who were chosen to decide the wager.

'As soon as the greyhounds that were to run the match were led into the dog-house, they were delivered to the keepers, who, by the articles of coursing, were to see them fairly slipped, for which purpose there was round each dog's neck, a falling collar which slipped through rings. The owners of the dogs drew lots which dog should have the wall, that there should be no disadvantage. The dog-house door was then shut, and the keeper turned out the deer. After the deer had gone about twenty yards, the person that held the teazer loosed him, to force the deer forward, and when the deer was got to the law post, the dogs were let out from the dog house, and slipped. If the deer swerved before he got to the 'pinching-post, so that his head was judged to be nearer the dog house than the ditch, it was deemed no match, and was to be run again three days after; but if there was no such swerve, and the 'deer ran straight until he went beyond the pinching-post, then that dog that was nearest the deer (should he swerve) gained the contest; if no swerve happened, then that dog which leaped the 'ditch first was the victor. If any disputes arose, they were referred 'to the articles of the course, and determined by the judges.'

The account of coursing in forests and purlieus does not differ from what we have before said on the subject. Slow hounds drove out the game, when the greyhounds were either held or slipped, as it was a • warrantable deer or not.' If slipped at too great a distance, or he was otherwise deemed an overmatch, it was allowable to waylay and course him with another brace. In coursing upon the lawn, the keeper lodged a deer, and then, with a fair knowledge of venerie, the course was reduced almost to a certainty.

This sport is seen in the present day nowhere in greater perfection than at Eridge Castle, Kent, the seat of the Marquis of Abergavenny, who has a very fine kennel of deerhounds; and lucky may those think themselves who have the honour of an invitation to witness one of our most ancient sports. There are so many requirements for its pursuit, that it falls to the lot of few men to be able, as the Marquis is, to show their friends such a sight. First, a large park is absolutely necessary—that at Eridge Castle is 2000 acres, and of a particularly wild, forest-like description, with heathy hills, scrubby underwood, fern, gorse, and trees of many descriptions, yew, beech, etc, in fact, such now it was in the days of the Saxons, in its uninclosed state; and, to make it a perfect paradise for deer, no less than seven lakes: secondly, to see it in perfection, a herd of red deer is necessary, as, although the fallow bucks can and are coursed, they form a far less noble quarry than the red deer, and show less exciting courses; and, lastly, a kennel of deer greyhounds must be kept, and these are very expensive dogs; so it will be manifest that deer-coursing is a sport only to be indulged in by men of wealth and position. There is perhaps less excitement than in the Highlands, but here as horses can be used many enjoy the sport who would have no chance to see it there, and the pleasure of a good gallop on the grass is added. As it will be seen, also, a really good horseman, well mounted, is wanted. We believe the Marquis usually invites a party of friends and neighbours to see the sport when he wishes deer taken, and these having lunched at the Castle, proceed to join the keepers, all dressed in Lincoln green, who have the hounds in leashes. The deer having been found, the park keeper selects the stag which is to be taken, and then he, with those horsemen who care for such work, proceed to 'ride him out from the 'herd.' This is by no means an easy task, as he appears to know that his safety lies in keeping with his companions, and at the pace red deer can go, nothing but the best of horses and the most skilful horsemanship could accomplish the feat, though an incident that Scroope quotes in his work on deerstalking quite puts it into the shade, and sounds rather like the tales of Munchausen. As it is from the 'Antiquarian Repertory,' perhaps we may give it some credence. It runs thus: - In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, John Selwyn, 'under-keeper at the park at Oatlands, in Surrey, was extremely 'famous for his strength, agility, and skill in horsemanship; speci'mens of which he exhibited before the Queen at a grand staghunt 'at that Park; where attending, as was the duty of his office, he, in 'the heat of the chase, suddenly leaped from his horse upon the back 'of the stag (both running at the same time at their utmost speed), 'and not only kept his seat gracefully, in spite of every effort of the 'affrighted beast, but drawing his sword, with it guided him towards 'the queen, and coming near her presence, plunged it in his throat, 'so that the animal fell dead at her feet. This was thought sufficiently wonderful to be chronicled on his monument, which is still to be seen in the chancel of the church of Walton-upon-Thames, 'in the county of Surrey. He is there represented on an engraved 'brass plate, sitting on the back of a deer at full gallop, and at the 'same time stabbing him in the neck with his sword. Perhaps it is as true as a great deal that is put on monuments. Gilbert White, in his ' Natural History of Selborne,' describes the scene of the yeoman prickers separating stags from the herd, when the deer were removed from Walmer Forest to Windsor in the last century, and says: 'I saw myself one of the yeoman prickers single out a stag from 'the herd, and must confess that it was the most curious feat of 'activity I ever beheld.' Thus it will be seen that to single a stag from the herd is no play game, while even to approach them within a couple of hundred yards is no easy matter, as they are quickly away in the wooded portions of the park, and the pace must be made very strong indeed to head them unless some of the party can make a lucky nick. However, determined riding accomplishes the feat, and after a time a stag or hind, as the case may be, is singled and ridden out from his companions. In the meantime, one or more keepers on horseback have followed the operation with hounds in slips, for these noble dogs are trained (at any rate some of them) to gallop by the side of a horse and keep well away from him, and as soon as the deer is driven from the herd he is slipped, and they go across the green sward at the pace of racehorses. In the Highlands, the deer, if possible, chooses an oblique course down hill, as going in that form is his forte, but, of course, in park coursing, he cannot get such advantages as in his native heather; hence one good dog is often a match for him. When the deer is to be taken uninjured, as is generally the case, it is absolutely necessary to ride well up to the dog, and at the pace it is no easy matter, as although it may appear nothing to gallop over plain turf, there are soft places, rabbit-holes, etc., which at times cause the most awful falls, and nothing is so dangerous as when a horse from any accident rolls over in the gallop; nothing that happens at the worst fences can for a moment be compared to it. Then the stag, in selecting his course, in nowise considers the convenience of the horsemen, and where he goes those who would see it must follow; thus they dash at headlong speed, up and down steep hills, through watercourses, under low boughs of trees, between thickets, and through such places, generally, as require great nicety of hand and eye, as well as nerve, on the part of the horseman to avoid coming to grief. When there is a chance another hound is often slipped, if necessary. The chases are of very unequal length, some being much longer than others. When run up the hounds are whipped off, and the deer secured generally uninjured, such is the command obtained over the hounds, and so boldly are they ridden to. Occasionally the deer ' soils' in a pond or pool of water, and there stands at bay, righting desperately with hoof and antler. Then a boat and rope are brought into requisition, and the hounds being restrained, by its aid he is secured. It would not be practicable, however, to secure them in this way unless they were thoroughly blown by the pace, for a stag at all fresh is a desperate enemy to encounter, and they occasionally turn on the hounds when old and savage before they are much distressed; those with the Devon and Somerset staghounds, that soil quickly and while they are fresh, often take a very long time to kill, as unless the hounds should pull them down, no one dares go into them while they are fresh. But the pace a greyhound presses a deer quickly blows him if he runs and is at all heavy, and when blown he is not so dangerous as when fresh. The hinds run longer than the stags, as they do in hunting, and often give very long chases before they are taken. When one deer is captured another is ridden out from the herd, and so the sport goes on until the requisite number is captured, or horses and hounds have had enough.

It is a sport worthy of kings to see a grand old hart, his antlers well laid back, going at speed across the green sward, with a brace of these noble hounds in full chase, and striving to catch their game by her throat or hock, which they seldom do until it is beaten, and one that once seen will never be forgotten. We should say that the sport takes place in May and November when deer are taken to be put into the deer-house and fatted for killing, or occasionally one is caught for a present. Sometimes when a brace of dogs are slipped they divide on different deer, and two hunts may be seen at once. The hinds, as a rule, show the most sport and run farthest.

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