Outdoor sports like foxhunting, coursing, and shooting were popular pastimes of the 19th century country gentleman. As such, the care and maintenance of one’s hunting dogs was always a subject ripe for debate and discussion. What was the best feed to give a foxhound? How did one treat an outbreak of worms? And, most importantly, what was the ideal design and construction of a kennel? Sporting books and articles of the era give varying answers to these questions. Some of them fall in line with our knowledge of dogs today. Some of them are outright medieval. Either way, a bit of research reveals that, though his quarters may at times have been magnificent, the 19th century sporting dog was no pampered pet.
In the early 19th century, the Duke of Richmond had one of the finest kennels in England, the building of which was designed by architect James Wyatt and rumored to have cost £10,000. The Duke of Bedford’s kennel at Woburn Abbey was equally luxurious, containing such amenities as flues running along the walls to preserve the temperature in the winter and a fountain in the middle of the yard at which the dogs could drink. But a 19th century gentleman did not require the wealth of a duke in order to have a pack of hounds and a kennel in which to house them. Some kennels could be built for as little as a few hundred pounds.
The Field Book, written in 1833, describes a kennel as:
“…the place where hounds are kept, upon the judicious construction of which, their health, safety, and preservation, are known greatly to depend.”
Some gentlemen come into possession of a kennel already built, but those that contemplate new construction are advised by The Field Book to take “a previous survey of the most approved plans.” Amongst these are, naturally, the Duke of Richmond’s kennel at Goodwood, the Duke of Bedford’s at Woburn Abbey, and Sir William Rowley’s at Tendring Hall. These three kennels are held out as examples of construction where health and convenience were the primary considerations.
At Goodwood, the dog kennel was built of flint and “finished at all angles by a light grey brick” comparable to Lymington white stock. It stood alone, away from all other buildings, “in such part of the park as to form a grand and striking object from the principal rooms of the mansion.” The Field Book describes the exact measurements and construction of the kennel as follows:
“The distribution of the building is into five compartments: two of them thirty-six feet by fifteen, and three more thirty by fifteen; these are called kennels, to which are annexed two feeding rooms, twenty-eight by fifteen. In each of these ore openings at top, for the admission of external air when necessary, and stoves to qualify the air when too cold…Round the whole building is a pavement five feet wide; airing yards, places for breeding, and other conveniences, making a part of each wing. — To constitute a uniformity of elegance, neatness, and perfection, the huntsman and whipper-in have each a parlour, kitchen, and sleeping-room, appropriated to their own particular purpose.”
At Woburn Abbey, the kennel was 405 feet in length with a “boiling house” in the center, adjoining feeding rooms, and a granary located behind it. In addition, the kennels included apartments enough for two kennel-keepers and “two long lodging rooms for the hunting hounds.” Adjoined to these were “seven hospitals for sick and lame hounds, with yards to each.” The Field Book goes on to describe:
“On the left are divisions for litter, straw, &c; eleven apartments for bitches and puppies, with yards to each; eleven ditto for bitches in pup, with yards also: and a large division for bitches at heat… Behind the whole is a large airing-ground, flesh-house, and all requisite conveniences.”
In Sporting Architecture, George Tattersall lays out the desired attributes of a kennel. Not only must it be convenient and “approachable in its interior at all points with the greatest facility” without interfering with or disturbing the hounds, but it must be:
“…healthy and cleanly in the arrangement of its ventilation, draining, lodging, feeding, and exercise; and economical in the locality of the meal. It should be also ornamental as a building, and moreover, without sacrificing one room, flesh-yard, coal-house, and straw-chambers, single comfort to either stinginess or appearance, a specimen of Sporting Architecture chaste in its design, and economical in the expense attending its production.”
Dampness and its negative effect on the health of one’s dogs was a primary concern. To this end, the lodging rooms for the hounds at Goodwood were fitted with stoves. For new, and more economical, construction, Tattersall recommends windows to aid in ventilation and states that the floors should be “laid with flags, or paved with the best malm bricks.” The joints of this flooring should ideally be constructed so that the water will drain away from the walls and towards a gutter located in the center of the room. The benches for the hounds to sleep upon should be placed away from the walls and made of either cast iron or wood. These benches should also be constructed low to the ground since:
“…tired hounds will prefer sleeping on the bricks, to the trouble of climbing up, if they are too high, and empty themselves on the beds, instead of jumping off when stiff and tired after work.”
In foxhunting, hounds are counted as “couples” (two hounds) and the lodging rooms of some kennels in the 19th century could house as many as sixty or seventy couples of hounds at any given time. This does not mean that kennels had only one lodging room. In fact, sporting books advise that gentlemen keep at least two lodging rooms for their dogs so that one can occasionally be cleaned and thoroughly dried out. As you can imagine, the cleaning of kennels this size was no small feat. To this end, at Woburn Abbey, water-cocks were fitted throughout to rinse the pavement. And Goodwood was equipped with drains of “considerable depth” which helped to alleviate the smell. The waste and filth from the kennel could then be:
“…cleared off by drains to more dependent depths and dung pits, where it becomes contributor to the purposes of agriculture.”
In addition to the lodging rooms, the kennel must also have a boiling house, a feeding room, rooms for pregnant females and young dogs, and various “courts” or yards in which the dogs could exercise. These courts might include a “Great Drawing Court.” Tattersall describes this as:
“A necessary addition to a kennel, where the hounds are considered worth a visit for inspection; it enables the huntsman to draw any particular lot of hounds without disturbing the others; besides, it is a kind of passage Court to and from all parts of the kennel upon all occasions, without using the Lodging-room Courts, thereby keeping the bounds perpetually shut in.”
Hounds were not viewed as pets in the way that we view our dogs today. They were fed and watered with an eye toward their performance in the field. As Colonel John Cook explains in his 1826 book Observations on Fox-Hunting:
“It is quite certain a hound too high in condition cannot run a burst, neither can a poor half-starved one kill an afternoon Fox.”
Cook goes on to state that he prefers to see the ribs on his hounds, but that their loins should be “well filled up” and their flanks hollow. This might explain the abundance of 19th century hunting paintings in which the poor hounds’ ribs are visible and in which, to our modern eye, they look half starved. To achieve this figure, Cook states that old oatmeal is “the best food for hounds to work upon.” On occasion, old barley meal can be mixed in with the oatmeal, but this addition must be used with “as much caution as you would give beans to a horse.” Cook stresses the importance of boiling the oatmeal for at least an hour and a half, writing:
“Nothing will choke hounds so soon as meal half boiled.”
As for meat, Cook also recommends boiling. However, he warns to beware of the vendor from whom one buys their horseflesh. According to him, any disease a horse may have died from may transmit to the dogs. He also advises to be wary of contaminated ingredients, referencing a recent report where flour had been adulterated with ground up bones and Plaster of Paris.
It is of note that a distinction is made between the feed one gives their hounds during the hunting season and the feed one gives them during the summer. Cook declares:
“In the summer it is of little consequence what hounds are fed upon, provided they have wholesome food; but in the hunting season, if everything is not of the very best quality you cannot have them in condition.”
Additionally, in the summer months, Cook advises feeding the hounds their one meal of the day in the late evening. According to him, this kept them quiet during the night and was the wisest method he knew “to prevent their rioting in the kennel.”
Kenneled dogs of the 19th century were subject to all sorts of ailments. Distemper was the most common and, at its worst, was reputed to have wiped out whole packs. Another all too common complaint was “kennel-lameness.” Many canine maladies were blamed on the damp. Others were attributed to the condition of the kennels, especially to those kennels which were infested with vermin. The treatment of these conditions was sketchy at best – cruel at worst. Just as with people, sporting books and magazines of the era recommended that a gentleman “bleed and physic hounds when the hunting season is over.” As an example of the latter, Colonel Cook gives the following recipe to aid in treating distemper:
Cathartic Ext….7 ditto.
Emetic Tart….½ grain.
The ingredients were to be mixed up into three pills and administered to the sickly hound every other day. Meanwhile, ticks could be removed with a compound of ½ an ounce Mercurial Ointment and ½ an ounce of finely powdered stone brimstone mixed together into ½ a pound of hog-lard. The treatment for worms was much more severe. Colonel Cook states:
“Should your hounds be troubled with worms, powdered glass sifted through muslin is the best remedy that I know of to remove them. The dose should be as much as will lie on a shilling, and I have seen it cause the ejection of a great quantity of those destructive animals.”
Many sporting books of the era reference hounds being “flogged.” Sadly, this seems to be both a disciplinary and training method popular amongst some sportsmen of the 19th century. Colonel Cook explains the rationale behind it:
“Punishing your hounds before they know what a Fox-scent is, and flogging them in kennel, is an unnecessary severity, but it is almost impossible to break them without punishment. To some people it may appear cruel to have a young hound severely punished, but it stands to reason that one good sound flogging when he deserves it, is far better than frequently tormenting him, and is most likely to accomplish your wish, that of making him steady and handy. Still I should advise you never to have a young hound punished unless you are quite certain he deserves it.”
The Field Book gives precise instructions for how these floggings are to be carried out:
“In flogging a hound for a fault, the whipper-in should use his voice at the same time; this teaches him to know for what he is beaten; and Mr. Daniel suggests the propriety of introducing a live hare into the kennel, and to flog the dogs soundly whenever they attempt to approach her.”
All discipline did not occur in the kennel. In the field, the dogs could be punished as well. This was a situation fraught with danger. The Field Book advises that a “sensible whipper-in” should wait for an opportunity to single out a hound for punishment and then “hit him hard and rate him well.” Otherwise, the whipper-in might hit a dog he did not intend to hit and, in riding full gallop to administer the beating, might ride over the rest of the dogs and “put the whole pack into confusion.”
Special Instructions for Greyhounds
In Tattersall’s book, Greyhounds are given a section all their own. He recommends that no more than four Greyhounds ever be kept together in one compartment. He also strongly advises that throughout the winter, they be kept as warm as possible since:
“…warmth of some kind is indispensable to their being kept in good condition, or even in health.”
This warmth is of such importance, that Tattersall advises that, ideally, a Greyhound kennel should be “heated artificially, and as regularly as if it were a conservatory (either by hot-water or a stove).” If this is not entirely possible, he has another recommendation. The Greyhounds might be kept in compartments adjacent to loose-boxes in which horses were kept. In this way, the heat from the horses would keep the temperature “just what it ought to be” for the Greyhounds’ comfort.
When feeding, no more than four Greyhounds should be fed at once. And in summer, the Greyhounds may be let out into the yards, but again, no more than four in the yards at any given time. Tattersall also insists that in the summer, Greyhounds should be taken out every day and walked by a man on foot so that they can “run and play about.”
I will refrain from editorializing on today’s topic except to say that it is a subject of interest to me only as a student of 19th century history and writer of historical romance. I do ride, but not to the hounds and I have no plans to build a kennel for my pack of dogs. However, earlier this year when attempting to set a scene in one of my stories at the kennels adjoining the hero’s country estate, I found that there was not any easily accessible information about how kennels would function and look in that era. My subsequent research into 19th century texts was illuminating. Obviously, I have included only the minimum. You can find much more in the cited works below. I hope that, whether you are a historian, scholar, writer, or dog lover, you will find these facts as helpful as I did.
A Few USEFUL Terms:
BERNER: The man who feeds the hounds. He is outranked by both the Master of Hounds and the Whipper-In.
COURT: An enclosed area or yard where the dogs can run.
COVERT: A shelter or hiding place in the woods where a fox might be found.
DRAW: To search for a fox in a covert.
MASTER OF HOUNDS: The person who leads and is responsible for the foxhunt and to whom all the rest of the members of the hunt are subordinate.
TALLY-HO: Shouted to make known the presence of a fox.
WHIPPER-IN: A hunstman’s assistant who keeps the hounds from straying by driving them back with a whip into the main body of the pack.
Thus concludes another of my Friday features on Animals in Literature and History. While I do not personally approve of foxhunting, it is a necessary component of many a historical novel and, as in all historical writing, accuracy is key. For that reason only, if you would like to learn more about Foxhounds and the formal rules of foxhunting, or if you would like to learn a bit about Greyhound coursing, I encourage you to use the following links as resources:
Master of Foxhounds Association (United Kingdom)
The Greyhound Studbook and National Coursing Club (United Kingdom)
Meanwhile, the weather is growing colder and animal rescue groups can use donations of blankets and towels, as well as the usual monetary donations. I urge you to contact your local animal shelter or rescue society for more information on how you can help. The following links may provide a starting point:
Header photo: Foxhunting: Encouraging Hounds by John Frederick Herring, 1839.
This article originally appeared on MiMiMatthews.comMatthews.com and is reprinted here with permission.
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Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. Her articles on nineteenth-century history have been published on various academic and history sites, including the Victorian Web and the Journal of Victorian Culture. When not writing historical non-fiction, Mimi authors exquisitely proper historical romance novels. Her latest Victorian romance The Matrimonial Advertisement can be ordered at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. To learn more, please visit www.MimiMatthews.com.