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Notable Hunting Parsons

In the West country the hunting parson has made his mark, and stamped his name indelibly on the annals of the chase. Staghunting on Exmoor has always had supporters, but none more enthusiastic than the “gentlemen of the cloth.” In the “good old days’- the clerical division, evidently a numerous contingent, appeared at the covert side dressed in sober black; but each several divine had a white flannel. jacket strapped on to his saddle, which he exchanged for the black one when the pack was laid on “And so,” said a chronicler of those days, “the reverend gentlemen rode the chase, changing their coats when it was over that they might give offence to no man.’

John Boyse (or Boyce)

One John Boyse (or Boyce), rector of Hawkridge and Withypool, two of the wildest moorland parishes of “Red Deer Land, was a clear lover of the sport or stag-hunting, and kept a journal, or hunting diary, which today is of enhanced value, in that it placed on record the activities of the last true Staghounds seen in England the “old pack,” as it was called, was sold to go abroad in 1825, since which date foxhounds have been used with the wild red deer). From this journal written by Dr. Collyns, of Dulverton, the reader is given an account of the sport between the years 1780 and 1825. A portrait of John Boyse appeared in a painting of a stag at bay. We are told that Boyse was a light weight and a good horseman, who knew his way better than anyone over the great tracts of moss covered bog, which in those days existed to a far greater extent than now on certain parts of the moor, together with trappy drainage gutters which are the bane of an August stag-hunter on a pulling horse. Moreover, Boyse was thoroughly familiar with the deer and often led runs, so that his name frequently appears as one of the few at the end of some extraordinary chase. “Boyse was the only one with them”  is a frequent entry. “Stag-hunter Boyse” as he was called, used to give out the meets of the stag­hounds for the ensuing week at the end of Sunday service, but history does not relate why a gipsy girl pelted him with plums in the pulpit the day before the Hawkridge meet.

Rev. John Froude

Another stag-hunting parson was the Rev. John Froude, of Know­stone, who kept a pack of hounds Froude flourished from 1819 onwards. Russell says of his hounds : “They were something out of the common, bred from the old staghounds light in their colour and sharp as needles with plenty of tongue and would drive like furies. I have never seen a better pack in all my long life.
Froude’s principle was “Kill it when you can; you may never see it again!’ And so he once shot a hare sitting near a farmhouse, where he was to meet on the following day with his hounds. He hunted three days week, and shot on two, and spent the other two days, writing lengthy apologies to those whom he had offended by his rough and rash speech on the other five days or from the pulpit. Russell stated that you could hear his view holloa for miles, his hounds absolutely flew to him when they heard it. He was a sore thorn in the side of Phillpotts, the Bishop of Exeter, but. usually got the best of him. But after dinner one day the Bishop got back a bit of his own. “I am told, my lord, that you object to my hunting,” said Froude, assuming an air of in­jured innocence. “Dear me no! who could have told you so? ” Replied the Bishop. “What I object to is that you should consider ever doing anything else.”

Rev. Joseph Jekyll

Yet another incumbent. of Hawkridge was a stag-hunter – the Rev. Joseph Jekyll. He was a fine horseman and said to be a hard rider across any country, he was related to the eminent judge of the same name.
Canon Kingsley, too, was not only an honour to the Church, but also a sportsman in the best sense of the word, whether with a rod in his hand or a hunting crop.

Rev. John Russell “Par­son Jack,”

Next up there is the Rev. John Russell, “Par­son Jack,” as he was affectionately styled, who, among: other things, gave his name to a strain of working terriers, with so great a reputation that now every Tom, Dick, or Harry with a terrier to sell calls it a ‘Parson Jack”!
In stag-hunting history Russell formed the link between the old times and the new, for he saw his first stag killed in 1814 under the Mastership of the first Earl Fortescue, and some three score years and ten later he was in at the death for the last time under his great- grandson, the present Earl. From Russell comes the oral tradition of recording what have been called the best days of stag-hunting between 1780 and 1880. Russell’s father was the rector of Iddes­leigh, and kept. small pack of hounds. Russell, whilst a boy at Blundell’s School, Tiverton, together with a chum, Bob Bovey, kept a scratch pack of 4 and a half couple.

It is not unusual in a West country church to hear the stag-hunter’s (Psalm 42 King James Bible)  text given out, “As the hart panteth (desired) after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” On one occasion a hunting curate from Porlock preached upon it, and on the other the Bishop of the diocese took it, for his hymn. In the Blackmore Vale, in Yorkshire, in Northamptonshirc and elsewhere you will find the hunting parson.

The Newmarket and ‘Thurlow, the Cattistock, the Coniston fox­hounds are or have been, mastered by parsons, while many are or have been at the head or harrier packs, another is a Master of a pack of old Southern hounds (Rev Milne and his Badlesmere Harriers), another whips into foxhounds and yet another is a painstaking whipper-in to otterhound packs.
Much must necessarily depend on a parson’s position and surroundings. ln some country districts the parson meets his flock in the hunting-field, and there and thereby gains their confidence; in others his spiritual and parochial duties occupy all his time. But, it would br a great shame if we were to lose from the field the familiar faces of some of the members of the clergy, who enjoy he sport of the country, and whose pres­ence is always welcomed at the covertside.”

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