Historically, wherever the British have gone building empires, they have taken the foxhunt, or a close approximation of the field sport, with them.
But that is not to say, of course, that fox hunting is a British innovation. Plenty of other European countries have their own long tradition of hunting foxes with hounds.
Fox hunting in Victorian England was an expensive business and the upper classes, which dominated the sport, were determined to keep it that way.
The rituals, the ceremonies and the rigid etiquette of the hunt was not from time immemorial, but a conscious effort to make it exclusive and to keep out not only the "submerged masses" but the newly enriched industrial middle classes who wanted a share of the action, who desperately wanted to rub shoulders with the "county" people and be accepted as their equals.
A vain pursuit. the quintessential "fox hunting man" wanted no truck with those, who they considered, had oil under their fingernails.
Class still plays a subversive role in British society: then it was all-powerful.
But the hunting fraternity was faced with a dilemma. The new rich would bring money, big money, into the sport and gradually they were allowed to join the hunts. There was also a good deal of humor to be had at the expense of the new rich, who, it seemed, hardly knew one end of a horse from the other.
Why was hunting so expensive? There was an extensive hierarchy, headed by the MFH (Master of the Foxhounds) and below him were subordinates such as the whipper-in (who stopped the hounds from straying and, as the name implies, used his whip), and, vitally important, the terrier man.
Also expensive were the activities associated with the hunt -- the hunt balls and so forth. Naturally there are no statistics, but large sums of money were expended keeping the farmers, over whose land the hunt operated, happy.
Fields in England were fairly small, and centuries-old hedges split rural land up.
Farmers had to be paid to build them up to present exciting hazards to the hunt, and if necessary paid to install five-barred gates to be jumped over. They also had to be paid not to shoot, poison or trap foxes.
When the newly invented barbed wire arrived from the U.S., they had to be paid not to put it up.
Each hunt had its own farm fund. There was two-way traffic; farmers let the hunt have its dead cattle for the hounds. Naturally the wealthier farmers hunted, and the lifestyle of the richest was not so different from that of the "toffs" -- a life of hunting, shooting and fishing.
Pictures of the time give us an idealistic view of Victorian fox hunting. But it was not like that in real life. In real life it was a shambles, for not only was it a sport but it was a social occasion and the more adventurous women were participating, may of them still ride sidesaddle. So we have hunt servants opening gates for the women -- and the less experienced riders. And we have dozens of riders meandering around, hopelessly lost. Plus the odd hound who has decided he is not a pack animal after all.
The hounds were the strike force, born to kill and kill fast.
No less essential were the terriers, which persuaded the foxes to leave their earths and when necessary joined in pitched battles under the soil, though barking was often sufficient to urge the fox from safety.
The terrier had to be quick, agile and fearless.
Many of these were Jack Russells, not yet named such but already distinctive, as we see in the cartoons of the humorous magazine "Punch," the only guaranteed guide to what English life was really like (photographers could only deal with subjects that stood still, artists painted idealistic pictures that would sell).
Some Jack Russells were bred with short legs so that they could be carried on the saddle, though it also made it easier for them to get into the earths.
Others kept their tails so that it was easier to pull them out of an earth.
By some strange mutation, they all acquired qualities not found in other fox terriers and achieved pet status, alongside other fashionable breeds such as the Pekingese and, surprisingly, the dachshund.
It is no accident that the chosen dog of today's county and aristocratic people (Prince Charles for one) is the Jack Russell.
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