In the early nineteenth century the Keswick Hounds were a trencher-fed pack maintained by local farmers for the purpose of hunting mountain foxes. They were hunted by Joshua Fearon, who became known as a 'terrible hunter'.
In 1826 Mr Crozier senior put the hounds in his own kennels at Gate Ghyll, Threlkeld and hunted them at his own expense, retaining the services of Joshua Fearon as huntsman. They were called 'Mr Crozier's Hounds' or 'The Threlkeld Hounds'.
Mr John Crozier was born in 1822 and was eighteen years old in 1840 when his father handed over to him the Mastership of the hounds, an office which he shared with Joshua Fearon for the first three years. In 1843 he purchased The Riddings estate in Threlkeld and transferred the pack, where it remained until 1945 when new accommodation was built close to the original kennels at Gate Ghyll. Mr Crozier became sole owner and Master, employing 'Laal' Isaac Todhunter as huntsman. For thirty years he maintained the hunt at his own expense.
Squire Crozier was a friend of The Druid, who included this passage in his book Saddle and Sirloin 1870:
Old John Peel was for many years the hunting hero of Cumberland; and Cumbrians, who never met before, have grasped each other's hands, and joyfully claimed county kindred in the Indian bungalow or the log-hut of the backwoods, when one of them being called on for a song, struck up ----- " D'ye ken John Peel with his coat so grey?"
He seems to have come into this world only to send foxes out of it, and liked plenty of elbowroom for his sport. Briton was a very favourite hound; and when old John died, and his pack was broken up, young John sent the little black-and-tan to Mr. Crozier, of the Riddings, near Keswick. This gentleman hunted the Blencathra pack while old John was still in the flesh, and the hounds joined drags two or three times on the mountains. Saddleback, which is just behind his home, and " the dark brow of the lofty Helvellyn," which fills up the distance as you look from his snuggery window, and flanks the vale of St. John, are, along with Skiddaw, his three great hunting grounds. Still, he is at times all over the lake country, and goes right away into Lancashire. A few years since, when he had been master for more than a quarter of a century, the Cumberland and Westmoreland men gave him a very handsome testimonial. It was a silver tureen, with a mounted huntsman and hounds on the cover, and round the stem some hounds among the fern running into a fox and a hare. The handle of the punch-ladle — for punch, not hare-soup, was its more peculiar destiny — was the brush of a Skiddaw fox. Poor little Isaac, the huntsman, was not forgotten; and he received ten guineas and a “new rig out" of scarlet and green. Two old men, Joshua Fearon and John Wilkinson, each aged 78, who had been, as the Scottish shepherds phrase it, " at a deal of banes-breaking" (i.e., breaking-up a fox) ever since childhood, attended the presentation; but the senior was John Hodgson, a Nimrod of 84, from near the " ruined towers of Threlkeld Hall," in whose parish hounds have been now kept for more than one hundred years consecutively.
Mr. Crozier supports the village custom well, and has quite the goodwill of the Lake District. He says that, whether he is benighted or hungry, or feels weak with fatigue on the mountains, he never lacks a welcome from farmer or cottager. The farmers' wives and daughters “walk" the puppies, while the fathers and brothers hunt with him; and Wordsworth tells of the love of the lakers for a hunt. As in Devonshire —
“What cared they
For shepherding or tillage?
To nobler sports did Simon rouse
The sleepers of the village."
The Blencathra pack has been in Mr. Crozier's hands for eight-and-twenty years, and he brings up four or five couple annually. He drafts about two couple each season, and since the railway ran so near him, he loses two couple on an average. Ten couple form his regular pack. Soon after he commenced hunting, he had a hound named Butler, which is still spoken of as the crack of the district, for carrying a cold scent down a road. Many of the hounds are kept by the neighbouring farmers; and when Mr. Crozier went into his yard, and wound his horn for the hunt, the unfailing Butler was the first to come cantering up, Threlkeld way, waving his stern with delight at the prospect of another day's fun on the fell. Clasher, Blueman, Briton, Ruffler, Tilter, and Brewer were all good hounds: the last-named would generally lead in his day; and white Rally, Ruby, Fairy, Young Fairy, and Cruel supported the honour of their sex.
The pack meet between eight and nine o'clock in the winter; but from February to May, which is the regular fell season, they cast off at daylight or soon after. Up to Christmas they hunt hares in the vales; but if they do strike the line of a fox, they never refuse to give him a run for his life. Foxes are often found on Carrock, The Dodd, Castlerigg Fell, Wallow Crag near Derwent Lake, the Armboth Moor, and Naddle Rocks, Barfe, as well as Braithwaite and the Newland Fells, and in Brundholme Wood occasionally.
The best runs and the largest number of kills are on Skiddaw. Carrock is a great hunting ground; but its foxes are very hard to kill, as there are so many strong bields or rock earths. Of late years Castlerigg and Wallow Crag have been surer finds than of yore. The foxes are generally dug out when it is practicable, as the farmers have been made anxious about their lambs; but there are many places whence they cannot be dislodged, unless the terriers are up before they have had time to get their wind again. On an average, ten brace are killed in the season. The field varies from half-a-dozen to two score of pedestrians, according to the population of the district. Horsemen seldom venture, as the bogs and fells would be too much for them. Twelve years ago these hounds ran a fox from Skiddaw, and next morning they were discovered asleep near Coniston Crag. He was found about two P.M., and after two or three rings he went away by Millbeck and Applethwaite, past Crosthwaite Church and Portinscale, to Sir John Woodford's cover, from which he stole along Catbells, through all the rocky ground in Borrowdale, then away to Black Hill in Ulpha, where he went to earth about midnight. Some of the shepherds in the Vale heard the pack marking him at the earth, but before they got there he had bolted towards Broughton-in-Furness. From point to point, the run was thirty-five miles, and it would be quite safe to add twelve or fifteen more for the rings and the up-hill and down-dale journeys. It was through the most rugged part of the lake district, and no one ever knew whether the fox, like Sir Roger de Coverley, " made a good end of it" in the huntsman's sense of the word. Runs of from three to four hours are not unfrequent, and as the fox, with the open fells before him, is very loath to leave the one on which he was bred, he runs in circles like a hare. They are of all sorts and sizes, and nearly all shades of colour, and in pretty settled weather the scent is as good, if not better, on the mountains than anywhere else. Tongue is very desirable, and Mr. Crozier's strain of harrier blood enables him to keep his basses and tenors in perfection.
The Saddleback, or more properly the Blencathra range, has no cover for a fox except the rocks, a little ling, and a few juniper bushes among the heather. The base of Skiddaw, including the Dodd and the Barfe, is best covered with larch and whins. The Castlerigg, Borrowdale, and Armboth Fells have good covers of oak and hazel, but the fox prefers keeping to the rocks rather than the woods, and they generally drag up to him rather than chase him. Calm and rather damp weather suits scent best on the high fells, and it will often hold on the hills when it will not do so in the valleys, and vice versa; but scent is such a delicate and difficult problem, that many think that it varies very much with the bodily health of the game.
Joshua Fearon was the old huntsman, and the one under whom Mr. Crozier graduated, and he still lives hearty and well at eighty. He had a capital voice and good hound language, and knew every move of his game, from a fox to a water rat. Isaac Todhunter, or “Lal Isaac," succeeded him, and hunted the pack for just a quarter of a century. He had “a good deal of Josh's science off," and was always clad in a Lincoln green coat, scarlet waistcoat, and corduroy breeches. The poor little fellow died after a few days' illness of bronchitis in November, and John Porter reigns in his stead. Besides Mr. Marshall's, the Mell Break, the Cockermouth beagles, and the Bowness, and Mr. J. Hartley of Moresby's harriers also hunt the lake district. Trail hunts are hardly so much practised as they were. Twenty or thirty years ago, the prizes ranged from 5/ and a pair of couples to 5/. The distance was from five to twelve miles, and Threlkeld Hall Rattler and Stark's Towler, Parker's Rattler and Wilson's Gambler (both Caldbeck dogs), Gilkerson's of Carlisle and Roger's of Preston, were the leading winners.
Click here to read a longer account concerning Hunting in the time of Squire Crozier
The present Kennels at Gate Ghyll