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Historical Research :-

Gisburn History Society



Published by the Biographical Press in 1910


The County Palatine of Lancashire, although at present date generally looked upon as a non-hunting country, possesses, possibly, some of the oldest records in the United Kingdom, being one of the last strongholds of the wolf, bear, and deer in their primitive state. Hunting generally during the last hundred years has not been confined entirely to one form of game, but has included deer, fox, and hare, whilst badger and otter have had to fight for their existence against the same packs of hounds.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Lancashire is described as “one of the finest hunting centres extant”; and, according to Aubrey, temp. Jarnes 1, “Hunting was at its greatest height that ever was in this nation.” The chase of the deer at this period was chiefly carried out by one or two hounds of sorts, driving their quarry up to a given point, where the gun, or the archer was placed to shoot him as he passed. Fox and other game were, apparently, legitimately hunted by a regular pack, and we find mentioned of an ancestor of the present Master taking a prominent part in the year 1717-18. He was the intimate friend of Nicholas Assheton, who, together with a certain Mr Done, kept a pack of “fourteen couples of great-mouthed dogges” in the northern part of the country, which he also used in a portion of the country now hunter by Mr. Gerard's Hounds; these hounds were probably a cross between the bloodhound and the wolfhound. The sportsman kept a diary, and from it we gather that he hunted all the year round. Amongst other items appear such as; “June 24th. Tryed for a fox, found nothing, ‘Towler' lay at a rabbit, and wee stayed and wrought and took her; home to Downham and a foote race.”

“June 25th. To the foxhunting; found in the Warren, I hounded and killed a bitch fox; wee to Salthill, there we had a bowson (badger), we wrought him out and killed him.”

Racing, hunting, shooting, cardplaying, cockfighting, dice, drinking, and religion were all alike to this extraordinary individual. We find associated with him in his sporting career, or persons with whom he stayed “with his big-mouthed dogges” to hunt their district, such names as the Listers, Whitacres, Gerards, Greenacres, Dones, and others well known at the present day.

The Gerards, of Garswood, Ashton-in-Makerfield, have hunter the south-west portion of the county of Lancashire for many generations, and from time immemorial the family have owned and kept a pack. In the year 1805, Pendle Forest was, by order of the Government, practically cleared of deer, owing to the damage done to the corn crops. Many of them were, however, still roaming about the country in a wild state, and, with others that from time to time escaped from various parks and enclosures, served, as a rule, to keep staghunting without having regular recourse to the carted deer; moreover, in order to get fresh blood some few have been let out of the parks, and resumed their normal wild state.

Sir William Gerard, who was the Master of the Badsworth from 1811 to 1814, had a pack kennelled at the Old Hall, the origin of which is difficult to trace. On his death in 1826, his brother, Sir John, succeeded to the property, and took over the country; he was, in addition, Master of the Atherstone Foxhounds for the season 1830-31. Mention is made of a celebrated run from Garswood at this time, the stag been taken in the Mill Brook at Newton, before it was crossed by Stevenson's “Iron Horse.” A picture hangs now at Garswood Park depicting Sir John at a meet with his staghounds near Rainehill.

Sir John died in 1854; he left orders for all the hounds to be destroyed, which was carried out, and hence the formation of a new pack. The country was then taken over by his brother, Major Fred Gerard, who formed a pack of harriers in 1859, known as the Aspull Hunt; but contemporary with, and in addition to this, a private pack of stag and foxhounds were kept by the family. James Rigby acted as kennel-huntsman to the harriers, whilst the Hon.R.Gerald carried the horn. These hounds, which were kennelled at Aspull, were entirely of southern blood, long, and comparatively low shaped, although standing some 24 inches in height, and very musical, with deep notes. On the retirement of Major F.Gerard, who died in 1883, the Hon. William, afterwards the second Baron Gerard, took over the Mastership, and the harriers coming to Garswood, took that name. All three packs were hunted by the Hon.R.Gerard, and occupied the same kennels. The introduction of fresh blood by the purchase of the Stalybridge Harriers from East Lancashire brought disaster in the shape of dumb rabies, and twenty couples or more had to be destroyed.

In 1889, Lord Gerard handed over the pack of harriers to the present Master of the Staghounds, who, finding the strain of hunting three packs too much, transferred them to a Committee. The pack then reverted again to their old name, the Aspull, and Mr.Cross became Master, with kennels at Whittle-le-Woods, near Chorley. Mr Gerald kennelled his hounds at his residence, Blacklehurst, near Garswood, and hunted the country from the Mersey in the south to the Ribble in the north. On succeeding, through the death of his uncle, to the Wrightington Estates, about 1895, he built new kennels there, with stabling and huntsman's house, and planted numerous excellent coverts on the estate; he has continued to show a steady improvement of sport, both with fox and deer, the former being ever on the increase, and the latter, apparently, showing but little sign of diminishing - they are practically all of the black fallow variety, and perfectly wild, affording excellent sport.

One of their best runs was on February 23rd. 1900 (Ash Wednesday); the hounds found a buck in Shevington; took a line through Wrightington, Parbold, Euxton, on to Worden, and was killed in front of the Hall after a run of 2 hours and 20 minutes.

The country is for the most part fine and open, and on one side free from railways and other hindrances. The going is sound generally, but inclined to be heavy, although occasionally “Mosses” make it treacherous to the stranger to the country.

There are few, if any, parts of England (with the exception of Exmoor) where staghounds are bred to draw their quarry; consequently a hound bred somewhat for pace and racing powers is aimed for rather than one to carry a line and work it out himself in a cold country. The general impression is that, as a rule, the hound that hunts the carted deer is much more in the need of the huntsman at a check than the average foxhound. In Lancashire, where the deer have been outliers for many generations, and are perfectly wild, other conditions assert themselves, and the hounds must develop fresh points. To this end the present Master, Mr Gerard, has devoted his attention. To obtain music in his pack he has largely introduced the rough-coated Welsh hound with good results; for a mute hound to him is useless. This blood has produced a rough hackle and stern, and the crosses with such blood as the Milton, Grafton, Cheshire, and Mr.Ormrod's have not only produced quality, speed, and drive, but good scenting powers, which are absolute requisite; for hounds drawing their coverts for their quarry, not racing “on sight” from start to finish, have to work and work up the line, and once more, owing to the variety of country, carry it on over cold patches practically without aid. The dog hounds stand some 25 to 25½ inches, are of massive frame, usually good in their ribs and loins for their size, with great bone, and standing wonderfully straight; they have plenty of heart and lung room, and, on the whole, good shoulders and necks. Thus we have, of the dog hounds, Postman, by Sampson (a hound of Welsh cross who left his mark and hunting qualities in the kennel) out of Paragon, a fine upstanding hound of good substance, some 25½ inches, with rough hackle and stern, plenty of heart and lung room and power generally, good bone, and well let down, and, for his size, nicely coupled up; he is steady and persevering in his work. His musical powers are shown in throat development, which at first sight appears short, but is not so in reality. A hound of peculiar temperament, he would run to “kill” at any price; he carries a truly “hound head,” and has, generally speaking a nice turn of quality. He has been used for stud at home with great success.

Dolphin was put to Mr.Ormrod's Wowski, and obtained the litter including Woldsman and two others entered in that pack, as stated in the history of the Ribblesdale Buckhounds. Prattle, by Grafton President, out of their Winkle, although not quite so big as Postman is a grand type - thick set, massive bone, standing well, with nice shoulders, quarters, loins, and ribs, exceptionally well let down; he carries himself well, and combines both power and quality.
Another of excellent type, Sailor, is perhaps less well coupled than Prattle, but shows great power and stands well, with plenty of scope and heart and lung room. Rallywood is practically a whole-coloured tan of a somewhat different type, full of quality, with a very prettily turned fore-end, and as good in his woek as his quality suggests.

Of the bitches, Cloudy, by Pugilist-Countess, has exceptional bone and substance; indeed, many is the dog pack that would be envious of her characteristic strength. With excellent loin, well sprung ribs, and a nice turn of quality, she is one of the best- working and musical hounds in the pack, whilst her line is always safe. Of perhaps not quite as much substance, but showing quality and very reliable, is Capable. Bluebell is, perhaps, not quite as well coupled, and, comparatively speaking, slightly slack in the loin, with a little more daylight, but reliable to a degree. The comparative points of the pack, taking 10 as a maximum, are :- Necks and shoulders, 6; ribs and loins, 9; feet and bone, 10; quality, 7; drive, 8; music, 10; staying, 10.

Tom Rane, the kennel-huntsman, is an able assistant, whilst Mr.Gerald-Dicconson himself gives his energies to the development of his pack, and to the advancement of sport to those who follow them. He is admirably supported by the latter, who afford facility by preserving it in every way possible.

The pack being a private one, the fields are not large, but what they lack in size they make up in enthusiasm, and amongst the boldest riders are certainly included some of the ladies; first and foremost is Miss Gerald-Dicconson, the Master's daughter, a fine horse-woman, and always to the fore no matter what the country.

THE HON ROBERT JOSEPH GERARD-DICCONSON, second son of the first Lord Gerard, has hunted his hounds for twenty-six years without a break. Born on August 8th, 1857, he began hunting almost as soon as he was big enough to sit in the saddle. His earliest years were spent at his father's place, Garswood. Encouraged by his relations, he went out at every opportunity, an when he went to study with a tutor in Sussex was already an experienced rider to hounds. He kept harriers at Worthing, at the same time following the Crawley and Horsham and the Southdown; but during his winter vacations, when he returned to Garswood, he followed the Cheshire Hounds, and in 1878-79 the Marquess of Zetland's, and later the Cheshire again until the year 1880, when he started his own pack at Wrightington Hall.

Some years ago, whilst negotiating a difficult brook, Mr.Gerard had a nasty fall. Both horse and rider came down heavily, and whilst scrambling up the bank he was badly kicked in the face; fortunately, however, no traces of the accident now remain.

As a huntsman Mr.Gerard is hard to beat across a country. He has owned many excellent horses; one of his favourites Is a big brown Irish mare, Bridget, over 16 hands, whom he bought from Mr.John Watson, the well known Master of the Meath, as a four year old; he has hunted her for twelve seasons. Other good horses are Patch, a bay mare, formally the property of the Master of the Badsworth; Becky Sharp, a thoroughbred bay mare; and Commodore.

Mr Gerard has also hunted the wild boar in the French mountains, and his versatility in most other branches of sport is well known. In 1888 he married Eleanor, second daughter of the late Mr.W.J.Murray, of Rosemount, and in 1896 assumed by Royal Licence the additional name of Dicconson. His town house is 12 Stratton Street, W.