By Peter Neville-Hadley
Meridian Writers’ Group
England—One of the last surviving sites of the ancient sport of deer
coursing, Lodge Park, about 25 kilometres east of Cheltenham, has itself to be
hunted down. Despite maps and instructions, my approach on winding lanes was
unintentionally cautious and circuitous, but I finally caught sight of the
property down a long, straight and very narrow road, marking the edge of the
grand Sherborne Estate it had once served.
The compact, two-storey
hunting lodge of 1634, constructed from the warm yellow stone of the region and
now prettily dappled with lichens, was described as “built at the great Cost
and Charges of a noble true hearted Gentleman, more for the pleasure of his
worthy Friends, then his owne profit.”
This was one John “Crump”
Dutton, who was given permission by Oliver Cromwell to take bucks and roes from
nearby Wychwood Forest to fill the park he had constructed on a swathe of
otherwise useless wasteland.
The grounds and lodge are
today owned by the conservation charity the National Trust, but “Crump” Dutton
was also public-spirited in his day and he made the facility available to his
countrymen — or at least to those rich enough to indulge in such
“It is agreed upon that
the keeper shall put up his Deer at a days warning for any Gentleman to run his
Dogs paying his Fees which is half a Crown a Dog and twelve pence to the
Slipper for a breathing Course.”
Coursing is hunting by
sight rather than smell, and the principle entertainment of deer-coursing was
to race a pair of dogs against each other for gambling purposes, not to obtain
something for the pot. A “breathing Course” left the deer alive. Half a crown
in those days would be more than $25 today, a very handsome sum of money for
The “Slipper” was the man
who held the dogs in a special double collar allowing them to be released at
the same time. The winner was the one closest to the deer at the time it leapt
a small ditch opposite the lodge, before leaping to safety across a second
ditch too wide for the dogs to manage.
Deer-coursing gets a
revival each October when modern deer-hounds are let slip in a recreation of
the ancient sport, but in pursuit of a mechanical lure in what is described as
“the Formula One of 1634.” Dogs are brought in from as far away as Switzerland,
and many participants dress in 17th-century costume.
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