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The Mardale Shepherds' Meet

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Using material written at the time and original photographs, this book tells the story of the Mardale Hunt and the annual Shepherds' Meet that for centuries took place in the now flooded Mardale valley.

A detailed and well researched glimpse of the characters, the customs, the social life, the hunts and hound trails that took place before the valley became a reservoir in the 1930s. The annual Mardale Shepherds’ Meet is probably the best known of all the ‘meets’ of the Lakeland Fell Packs, yet there does not appear to have been a book written about it before. "Older than the memory of man", it carries on, albeit at a different venue, to this day. This book sets out to put the hunt and its impact on the small valley and the occupants into some kind of perspective.

First published may 2013 asThe Mardale Hunt - A History[/em]. Words: 43219 (approximate).

REVIEWS
Though it makes extensive use of contemporary meet reports the book is more than just a historical review of a hunt as it provides the reader regardless of their knowledge or association with the Lake District with a degree of context of the place that hunting hunt staff followers and hounds have within a rural community. In addition it is a book that illustrates the effect that man and commercial interests can impose upon an area as unspoiled and natural as the Lakes.

The original Mardale meets are said to have been held on High Street where in addition to the first purpose of identifying and claiming stray sheep, there was horse racing along the route of the Roman road, wrestling, and other sports. At some time long ago the meets were transferred to the Dun Bull Inn, a hotel that became the unofficial \"base\" for the hunting with the Ullswater Foxhounds which accompanied the meet, and the evening\\'s sing song which followed. Mardale was certainly famous for its autumnal shepherds’ meet. Stray sheep were brought from the surrounding fells to be restored to their rightful owners. They were, and still are to this day, identified by their ear and wool markings, each farm having a distinct code.

Most of the information regarding specific hunts in the book concern the Ullswater, and its popularity and a huge proportion of its success came from its long time huntsman Joe Bowman. From the number of songs that were sung to recall his exploits it is clear that he and his hounds was held in great reverence by the farmers and shepherds in the area and it is this area in particular where Ron Blacks efforts are to be congratulated as he uses extensive contemporary reports, anecdotes and local folk song to tell the tales of Mardale. The book is full of interesting and unusual events and give a mere glimpse of the sort of people that live and work in an area as challenging as the Lakes and the natural affection they have for it but perhaps a few examples will encourage a prospective reader to investigate this work further.
The first takes place in November 1927 where over seven hundred people attended the meet, participating in the hunt with the Ullswater Foxhounds, watching the stray sheep being brought down from the fells, taking part in clay pigeon shooting and joining in the festivities of the evening. On that occasion there were many nostalgic tales of earlier meets, recalling times at the Dun Bull when the festivities continued on from Friday evening such as when an unnamed man walked over the pass from Kentmere to play the piano at each shepherds meet. He wore a fancy waistcoat with pockets. After two days of playing the piano, he ran out of the money he’d earned for his efforts, so on the third morning he set off to walk home again. When he reached the top of the Nan Bield pass, he sat down to have a smoke, feeling in his waistcoat pocket for tobacco, he found half a sovereign, so he returned to the Dun Bull for another two days.
On another afternoon a hunt came racing down the fellside above the village school, the teacher (Miss Simpson) and all the children abandoned the classroom and rushed outside to follow the hounds, missing two lessons. Miss Simpson later was heard to say “we put it down to a natural history lesson.” The last meet was held in 1935.

It will make interesting reading for both hunting enthusiasts and social historians.
Peter Brook, 2012

This is the fourth edition of this little book with a limited print run and when I read the Foreword, Introduction and Memories that it begins with, I knew that I would enjoy it. Ron has a feel for his subject and an ability to set down on paper his empathy with the people of the Lakes featured in the many reports and snippets which feature in this book. It makes for good reading and those who have been enjoying Ron’s recent contributions to various magazines or have followed him on his website will know exactly what to expect.

The foreword ends with this footnote, from Trudie Greenhow:
“They were such plain and simple folk with no evil in them, they would be so naïve and innocent in their own little valley and annihilated by the folk from the big city who robbed them of their peace, tranquillity and innocence.”

Ron’s story tells us of the period in the history of the Ullswater Foxhounds when the famous huntsman, Joe Bowman hunted for 41 seasons and carries on to the last of the original Mardale meets at the Dun Bull, in late November 1936 when the valley was flooded to form a reservoir for Manchester and the old hostelry, together with the houses and church disappeared beneath the waters.

The Mardale Hunt Shepherd meets continued for many years as we know but, to those who knew the old days, for all the success and popularity of the later meets, it was never the same. An era had ended and with the Second World War just a few years away, the character of the area and the people would under go a massive change.

The Mardale meet was a true Shepherds' meet when flock masters from the surrounding area gathered stray sheep off the surrounding fells and brought them to Mardale to be penned and reunited with their rightful owners who would recognise them through the system of ear markings etc which were instantly recognisable to them. From this there developed the hunting days, clay shoot and hound trails which also took place and a great feature of the gatherings would be the evenings in the Dun Bull when songs would be sung by all who attended, songs which told of the prowess and fame of huntsman and hounds. But there were also other, more serious songs. “Tipperary” became almost a Mardale anthem and was popular at the meets even before it came to huge fame during the First World War and another adopted by the gathering was the carol “While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by night” which was always sung. Other serious items were the hymns “Abide with me” and “O God our help in ages past” which would bring a more serious tone among the usual varied collection of hunting songs, many of which have since almost died out though the most popular are still familiar to hunters to this day.

One item tells of a hunt which came tearing down the hillside by the village school. The teacher, “Miss Simpson and all the children abandoned their lessons and rushed to follow the hounds. Miss Simpson was later heard to say, “we put it down to a natural history lesson”

Another tells of Joe Bowman stranded in one of the worst storms Westmorland had even known He was over fifty years old at the time, “in the prime of life, as hard as nails and fit as a fiddle” but he was forced to leave the hardy hounds to find their own way back while he struggled through the blinding snow. “Joe took the little terriers under his arms and brought them along as best he could. So benumbed did the huntsman eventually become that he was compelled to drop one of the little animals in order to save the other and, incidentally, himself. Half frozen to death Joe and his surviving companion reached Patterdale and quickly recovered, but many a lingering thought and sigh have since been associated with that sad spot where the other tiny companion was picked up some days later.”

Joe Bowman features in many pages and was held in the highest esteem as was shown in the address when he was presented with an inscribed hunting horn after forty one seasons with the pack. In making the presentation Mr. Matt Sedgwick, a staunch supporter and hunting man who had known Bowman from the first season he took over the Ullswater, said that he considered Joe to be “not the equal of John Peel, but his superior” and he rated him as “incomparable in breeding hounds”.

Inevitably in a book such as this there are accounts of long hunts over land which will mean nothing to most readers unfamiliar with the area but it is easy to get a feel for the hardiness of the people who lived and hunted there and earned their living through daily toil. The unforgiving surroundings must have been a huge contributing factor to the strong constitutions of such people who lived in harmony with each other. Men, (and women) hounds and terriers, were forged into special attitudes and outlooks and when the valley was lost to the demands of the growing city of Manchester for water, a way of life also came to an end.

This book came about partly due to Ron’s own brush with adversity and its creation must have helped him come to terms with himself. As he says in the foreword, “it will have errors, all books do” but we can certainly overlook these and place this offering alongside other efforts in the long line of Lakeland hunting literature.

The first history of one of the Lake districts most famous hunts. Using contemporary newspaper reports and other materials. Well illustrated.
David Harcombe

Most of the information regarding specific hunts in the book concern the Ullswater, and its popularity and a huge proportion of its success came from its long time huntsman Joe Bowman. From the number of songs that were sung to recall his exploits it is clear that he and his hounds were held in great reverence by the farmers and shepherds in the area and it is this area in particular where Ron Black's efforts are to be congratulated as he uses extensive contemporary reports, anecdotes and local folk song to tell the tales of Mardale. The book is full of interesting and unusual events and give a mere glimpse of the sort of people that live and work in an area as challenging as the Lakes and the natural affection they have for it.
Bailey’s Hunting Directory

When I read the Foreword, Introduction and Memories that it begins with, I knew that I would enjoy it. Ron has a feel for his subject and an ability to set down on paper his empathy with the people of the Lakes featured in the many reports and snippets which feature in this book.

Ron’s story tells us of the period in the history of the Ullswater Foxhounds when the famous huntsman, Joe Bowman hunted for 41 seasons and carries on to the last of the original Mardale meets at the Dun Bull, in late November 1936, when the valley was flooded to form a reservoir for Manchester, and the old hostelry, together with the houses and church disappeared beneath the waters.
Earth Dog, Running Dog

This book is of wider interest than the title suggests. Yes, it's a history of the Mardale Hunt, but we also are given descriptions of Mardale before the flood, its people, their way of life, their homes and work, the school, the scholars and their success, the church and of course the pub.

The editorial tells us of the author's painstaking research and tribute should also be paid to the editor, Wendy Fraser, for her work on the glossary, giving those of us from elsewhere a translation of the Cumbrian dialect.I dislike translations in brackets, and anything which slows down the flow of good writing so I read the glossary first and hoped to remember. Grateful thanks.

The chapters are varied. Some are Ron Black's own writing, sometimes poetic, humorous, non judgemental. My favourite is about the shepherds and The Shepherds Meet. Others are extracts from various sources written near the time of the flooding of the valley. And then there are the Hunting Songs. Lots of Hunting Songs, which is why I am glad I have this book on Kindle, so that I can read one at a time, now and then.
Blodwen

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