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Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Three centuries of hunting foxes
Originally the sport of nobility
Fox hunting as it is recognised today, has been around for about 300 years.

In Norman England, deer and boar were hunted exclusively by the Royal Family and their guests in royal forests. Poaching the deer or other quarry of the Royal Hunt was dealt with rather severely.

fox hunting
Fox hunting moved out of the forests
The privilege to hunt the forests was gradually extended to land owners, and eventually the laws protecting the quarry species became those covering trespass and poaching, which applied on land owned by anybody.

The training of hounds specifically to hunt foxes came about after the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. As happens today in the UK, fox hunting at that time involved earths being blocked overnight to prevent the fox from running to ground.

According to Jane Ridley, author of Fox Hunting, England's oldest fox hunt is probably the Bilsdale, in the Yorkshire Dales.

It was founded by the second Duke of Buckingham, who apparantly lived openly with the Countess of Shrewsbury after killing her husband in a duel.

"Charlie" has an 18th Century Whig to thank for his nickname
Ms Ridley writes of the duke: "Exiled from the court of Charles II in the 1670s ... he died of a chill caught hunting in 1687."

By the mid 1600s, a number of private landowners had formed packs of foxhounds but stag hunting still predominated.

Later, under the Stuart kings, hunting was seen as a good, healthy noble activity, far removed from the vices and wickedness of the city.

At that time, the hunt very much resembled the royal sport of stag hunting - largely a French import - and the terms used by fox hunters even to this day probably reflect this heritage.

Ms Ridley writes: "Taiaut, the huntsman's cry when the stag had gone away, was anglicised as tally-ho.

hunt - saddleback
Modern hunt: Retains centuries-old practices
"The huntsman's Whoo-whoop at the death of the fox is borrowed from stag hunting."

Just over the channel, one of the rights of man accrued by the French Revolutionaries, was the constitutional right for any citizen to hunt.

On the other side of the Channel, stag hunting was still - with a few exceptions - the sport of nobles in the first half of the 18th Century.

In the middle of the 1700s, Whigs began to caricature the country gentry as ill-educated buffoons whose sole occupation was fox hunting. Ms Ridley says: "The Whig caricature stuck. Country gentleman equals Tory equals fox hunting equals stupid is an association of ideas which still persists.

Another aspect of this 18th Century class banter which persists is the fox hunt's name for its quarry - Charlie.

Today's hunt saboteurs are advised to acquaint themselves with the hunt's terminology for the fox - which was named after the Whig Charles James Fox - so that they can successfully infiltrate the hunt's following.

Many factors throughout the 18th Century were restricting stag hunting, and some of the stag hunts began to chase foxes.

fox and hounds
Aspects of the hunt are imprinted on British culture
Farmers outside the normal stag hunting areas were believed to have welcomed fox hunters as a method of ridding themselves of what they saw as a substantial pest. Fox hunting grew until it covered much of the UK.

Like it or loathe it, fox hunting has had a marked impact on the tradition, language and culture of the UK.

Every-day turns of phrase, such as being "in the pink", are derived from the hunt. (Pink is the way the hunt has traditionally described the colour of its red jackets.)

And traditional Christmas cards, brewery signs and pub signs featuring aspects of the hunt are as common place as hunting scenes in works of art.

The Inn Sign Society says that there are 27 pub names including the word fox - including The Snooty Fox, The Lazy Fox, The Crafty Fox and The Hungry Fox.

And that's before they start counting the Tally Hos, the Horses and Hounds - and a Whipper Inn.

Alan Rose, secretary of the Inn Sign Society
"27 pub names include the word fox"
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