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Breeding And Bloodlines Of The Stoke Hill Beagles

by Charlie Jewitt

In this article I promised to tell you a little about the breeding and bloodlines of the Stoke Hill Beagles. I took over the pack as Joint Master in 1992, although I had been involved with the Stoke Hill since 1984, having been Hunt Secretary and a Whipper-in. I therefore had a fairly clear idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the pack throughout the period before taking office and was reasonably sure of what I wished to achieve with the hound breeding. However circumstances, and probably my own incompetence, have prevented me from achieving all that I would have liked over the intervening period!  Nonetheless, I will firstly outline the sort of hound that I have been looking for and secondly tell you of my faltering attempts to achieve the goal.

If you have read my previous two articles you will remember that our hounds have to get used to two or three huntsmen through a season. Also that we hunt over several properties in a day’s hunting. You may recall that we hunt an area with many trunk roads, three railways (including the very busy London main line) and a deer population that is higher than the hare population. Much of our hunting ‘country’ is also ‘mixed farming’ (livestock and cereals) on sandy soil that can dry out very easily. This is a particular problem in the autumn where a dry period can mean that there is little or no scent on the arable fields and the pastures remain heavily stocked. It can therefore be very difficult to sustain hunting in such circumstances. The impact of these factors means that we have bred for 

  • ‘Biddability.’ We need hounds that are willing to please and are not too hard to control.

  • ‘Nose.’ the ability to stick with reasonable tenacity to the line, although there is a danger that this can lead some of the hounds to ‘dwell’ a little on a line, particularly as they get older. 

  • ‘Hare sense.’ I think that this is probably just another way of saying ‘applied brains.’ Hounds need intelligence to perform well in the field and the ability to apply that intelligence to hunting. Sometimes this does not come through immediately and such high quality hounds can take up to a season to ‘enter’ properly to hunt hare. It is, however, worth persevering as such hounds often take time to gain in confidence but end up becoming stars of the pack. Firefly (98) was such a hound, a nightmare to walk out and to enter. However, she was recently picked out by some very astute welsh hunting enthusiasts as having ‘star’ quality. 

You will notice that I have not mentioned conformation on the above list. Conformation is very important and it is certainly true that Beagles should have no faults that impair their ability to move effortlessly over the ground. Conformation is also, in reality, the only attribute judged in British hound shows (although it is arguable that alertness may also be a factor) and it is important that the Beagle breed is continuously improved in this regard. We are limited to breeding from two or three as our bitches are whelped at supporters homes, there being no room for this in the kennels which we share with the local foxhounds.

Kennels that have professional staff and have the ability to breed a larger number of litters each year have however made great progress in developing the hunting Beagle in Britain during the last twenty or thirty years. Such packs have now developed a highly athletic small hunting hound, looking something more like a ‘miniature foxhound’ than the traditional, more ‘boxy’ (squarer and heavier) animal that the non-hunting showing community would regard as the ideal stamp. Such hounds have now become the breed standard and win at the hound shows and I will talk more about such hounds in a future article. Most are also fantastic to watch in the field and are very much hare catchers. However, in our country they would gallop off the edge of the map all too easily and lead me into all sorts of trouble!

Britannia Spirit

Britannia Spirit (00), a modern English hunting beagle bitch of classic conformation who was given to us as a whelp by Admiral Eberle.

 

Size and, finally, colour are at the bottom of my list. To show hunting hounds in the UK, they should be less than 16 inches in height at the shoulder and we aim for ours to stand at about fifteen and a half inches. However, as we do not breed many hounds and the majority have to enter the pack, we tolerate at least an inch difference plus or minus in height. What is more important, from our perspective, is that the pack hunts well up together. Large hedged banks bound our fields, so it is impossible for the pack to run ‘as if a sheet would cover them.’ However, front running hounds must be avoided as they foil the line and stragglers are no use as tend to become unhappy, and develop the tendency to ‘babble’ (speak) unnecessarily and so distract the body of the pack. Such hounds are better drafted to more suitable packs or, if old are generally better put down as they seldom make good household pets. We really don’t worry about colour too much, although weaknesses such as a thin coat would cause concern.

When we took over the pack in 1992, they were not ‘smart’, but were certainly fit for the purpose. I hope that they have remained that way! The breeding policy had been laid down by John Orchard, Master from 1972 to 1982 and was continued by his successors through the intervening ten years. It was based on two ‘tail female’ breeding lines, i.e. the bottom line of a breeding tree. The aim was to use dogs largely from within the pack but out-crossing occasionally to keep the blood ‘fresh’ so that the family characteristics of the pack remained paramount and they would ‘think as one.’ Of the two lines, one contained a lot of blood from Beacon Kinsman (64), a well known stallion hound from a neighbouring pack, and this was the more biddable strain. The other line was rather more wilful, and normally threw hounds that were predominantly black and somewhat long in the back. This strain, however, had the better nose; in short, they were the hare catchers! Many of the hounds also have Stoke Hill Butler (72) in their pedigrees. I knew Butler when he had been retired to John Orchard’s home. He was a grand chap, sired a Peterborough (our premier show for hunting Beagles) champion Cheshire Banner (80) who won the bitch class in 1985 and imparted his good nature on his progeny. Butler’s grandsons Pedlar (83) and Playboy (83) and great grandson Farthing (89) have been used as Stallion hounds by other packs in the south-west of England. 

For most of my period as Master, I have tried to stick to the same formula for breeding. However, I have come to rely increasingly on external dogs as I found that breeding Stoke Hill dog to bitch was moving me further and further away from the sort of hound I wanted. Generally, the hounds retained their character but their conformation was getting progressively weaker. Over time, I also came to believe that the Stoke Hill ‘nose’ was probably worse than some other packs I visited, although it took me a while to start to focus and remedy this. I also introduced a new line by breeding from a bitch called Taw ValeBracken (92) who we knew as Locket. She was given to us as a whelp and proved to be a super bitch of ideal conformation and good scenting ability. The only fault she threw was a tendency for her and her progeny to wheeze if walking in a grass field in the summer – I have often wondered if this is hay fever?  One unnecessary fault that I perpetuated for a generation was a poor or ‘hooked’ stern. I did this by breeding from a hound called Stoke Hill Wizard (92). He had this fault but as he appeared a fine animal in all other respects, and I had also been told that the fault was caused by his stern having been caught in a door as a puppy! The door was clearly not the problem though, for he threw puppies with the same fault. He died at a relatively young age of cancer and his progeny were also rather weak in conformation. Was this the result of the same genetic fault? I doubt it, but one cannot help but wonder. The remainder of his siblings have, however, been real stars. Wynnstay for several years was an invaluable ‘no change’ hound who would stand on the line indicating if the pack had changed to a fresh hare. We still have his brother Warlock, now about to start his eleventh hunting season, who has a wonderful nose and is able to hunt a hare along a surfaced road.  

To provide out-crosses, I have been to a number of packs for external sires over the years. Listed below are the sires that have been most beneficial to us in the hope that this might be of interest should readers ever have hounds with their names on their pedigrees:

Taw Vale Warrior (83).  Used by my predecessor to produce Warlock, Wynnstay and Wizard. Unusually for the Taw Vale who generally have dark hounds, Warrior was pure white and easy to spot in the hunting field! He has left his mark on the Stoke Hill through Warlock’s progeny, although I was less successful with Wizard as described above. 

Cheshire Banker (84).  My first attempt at using an external sire and I used him because he was a descendant of Butler. He threw some nice athletic looking hounds and I bred from the most sensible of the bitches he produced. Sadly, however, a tendency to hunt deer prevailed in several of the progeny and the grand progeny, so I will not be continuing with this strain.  

Taw Vale Grappler (91).   Geoffery Cox, Master of the Taw Vale, kindly lend him to us for a period after he had been with the Newcastle and District in the north of England where he proved to be an influential sire. His combination of brains and nose put our own pack right rather too many times not to be mildly embarrassed and his son Dunster (96), although no great looker, is probably our best hunting hound at the moment.

Stoke Hill Dunster
Stoke Hill Dunster (96). A son of Taw Vale Grappler (91).  In terms of his conformation, Dunster would be considered an ‘old fashioned’ sort. He is, however, a wonderful hunter with brains and a good nose. He is also quite the happiest hound I know!

Bailiff (90).   The Chilmark Beagles kindly drafted him to us as he had an excellent nose and his progeny currently provide the backbone of experience in the pack. We were also lucky enough to win the Best Unentered bitch prize at the West of England Hound Show with Frantic in 1998. She was a super hound but sadly developed a disease which made her blind. However, I have put her sister, Fortune to another Chilmark hound called Bishop (97) this year and the puppies are starting to look very smart and I am hopeful for their future. My Joint Master, Richard Chesterton looked after Bashful (90), Bishop’s dam, when he was Master of the Chilmark. He tells me that she was a great ‘escapeologist’ who ended up living in his front porch - so the results might be interesting!

Britannia Driver (95).    He comes from the Naval College pack in the south of Devon and is now referred to as Nelson as he has lost his sight in one eye! My initial reason for using him was because the Stoke Hill bitches did not seem to be falling pregnant easily to Stoke Hill dogs in 2000. His progeny, generally, appear to be pleasingly steady and sound. Admiral Eberle, the Britannia Master, also drafted me a young dog called Sirius (00), also by Driver, at the same time who is a most promising and intelligent hunter, and it was he I used on Firefly (98) last year.

Stoke Hill Scarlet

Stoke Hill Harlet (00). An example of the litters bred from Britannia Driver (95)

Before using a sire, we generally try to hunt him ourselves or at least see him in the field. However, all this theory is fine but so often the reality of one’s breeding policy is determined by one’s own available time when bitches come into heat, and indeed a hurried search for an alternative when the intended bitch fails to become pregnant! 

Most recently, the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in the UK caused us only to put one bitch (Firefly) to a dog last year as we were worried about not finding anyone available to ‘walk’ the puppies on the farms. Firefly only produced two puppies, but very kindly the Dummer Beagles put a top bitch to a dog for us and her six puppies and a draft from the Wiltshire Beagles have brought our entry for this season back to strength.   In my next article I will write about a day’s hunting in our country – its joys and tribulations!

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).