beagle pack

Eton and beagling

Daily Mail appears to reveal all about Eton schoolboys and illegal hunting.

Yesterday the Daily Mail printed a headline to a ‘news report’ that in just one deliberately-triggering sentence took in privilege, its current obsession with ‘woke’ (it takes a special sort of person, think Clarkson or Botham perhaps, to be proud of an ability to denigrate 21st century thinking on issues like climate, slavery or gender), and wildlife crime in the guise of so-called ‘sport’.

That sentence?

“Eton schoolboys launch protest over fears that £42,000-a-year public school’s woke leadership wants to scrap its 160-year-old hunting society”

Pro-wildlife campaigners, sabs, and monitors know all too well that hunts operate in defiance of laws that ban hunting with hounds. Hunts have always denied undue influence, but observations on the ground are undeniable: police force after police force appears to be working to instructions to watch sabs and monitors rather than hunters breaking the law, while MP after MP line up to defend the ‘tradition’ of hunting.

The near-pointless article below the Mail’s headline tells a story that the rest of the world could happily skip past, but is actually a clear explanation of why we struggle to enforce the Hunting Act and get rid of hunting once and for all, of who is pulling the strings, and why hunts seem impervious to enforcement.

A handful of sentences clarifies all. The “prestigious institution”., for instance, “failed to recruit a new Kennel Huntsman for the Eton College Hunt (ECH) to replace the previous incumbent who recently left for another role”. “Trustees of the ECH, made up of former Etonians and the Hunting Office….” Headmaster Simon Henderson who (gasp, is reported to wear chino trousers and open-necked shirts) had relocated the school’s hounds “as a ‘temporary measure’ despite many parents offering to keep the pack together at their own estates.” The college will continue “its search for a new Kennel Huntsman, at which point the hounds will return to Eton”.

Yes, as the Mail tells us, Eton students have their own Hunt, own kennels, and parents wealthy enough to house hounds on their own estates. The trustees of their Hunt include Old Etonians (Eton is the alma mater of former and current lawmakers like Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Jacob Rees-Mogg and eight other Tory MPs), and the Hunting Office – the “executive arm of the Governing bodies for Hunting with hounds” and organisers of the infamous ‘smokescreen webinars’ where senior hunting staff discussed how to use ‘trail hunting’ to disguise law-breaking.


Training children to hunt

That a select few private schools use beagles as a gateway to a lifetime of hunting is hardly a secret, but while we are talking here about beagle packs (traditionally used to hunt hares, not foxes), what the ‘journalist’ is revealing is that Eton is training children to hunt.

A laudatory article titled “An education in hunting: the role of school and college packs” in April 2021’s ‘Horse and Hound’ by columnist Andrew Sallis*, for example, runs with the ‘train ’em young’ theme and in paragraph after paragraph described how beagle packs like Eton’s, Radley’s and Stowe’s provide today’s law-breaking foxhunters.

The beagles naturally attract children from hunting backgrounds but, more importantly, they offer a great opportunity for all children to get involved in a community beyond the school gate”, Sallis writes, adding that “for generations, “young gentlemen” (and now some ladies) have followed the well-worn path of masterships from school beagles to college beagles before taking a pack of foxhounds”

A certain Captain Ronnie Wallace (a former senior trustee of the ECH) is described by Sallis as considering the “careful placement of school and college kennel huntsmen vital for the future of hunting.

An encomium to outdoor sports in something called ‘School House’ published in October 2019 quotes yet another Old Etonian wistfully remembering schooldays hunting. Rory Buchanan (a fine fly fisherman and shot apparently), became Master of the Eton Beagles in his final year, hunting 50 days a year and overseeing the club’s day-to-day running. Beagling, he recalls, was “a real highlight of his school days”, which must sound utterly other-worldly to kids whose highlight is a weekly trip to the rec to kick a football about.

A crowing 2011 article from The Field, says that “packs are full of vitality and are essential for training the future generation – be they hunt staff, Masters or politicians”, and quotes Phillip Kennedy, then kennel huntsman for the Stowe pack, claiming, “I think Stowe has provided more Masters in the last 30 years than any other school pack.” The same article states that “When it comes to graduating as a bona fide huntsman or fledgling Master, the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester is where many gain their apprenticeship.


Eulogies to foxhunting ignore the truth

Most of the organisations and articles bragging about converting children into adult hunters (there are many more online) are careful to mention ‘legal hunting’, by which they typically mean so-called ‘trail hunting’, which as a famous schoolchild might say ‘as any fule kno is a smokescreen for illegal hunting’. Like the sort of ‘trail hunting’ the Eton Beagles were taking part in when filmed ‘apparently’ illegally hunting a hare in North Yorkshire in October 2015?

None of these eulogies to hunting trouble themselves, though, with why there is so much lawbreaking across the country week in, week out. Or why hunts are so unpleasantly arrogant and sure of themselves. Or why many police forces and many Police and Crime Commissioners turn a blind eye to illegal hunting. Or why so many Conservative politicians want to repeal the Hunting Act (or why others understand the Act so well that they’re happy for it to exist in its current weakened form rather than killing it off).

But then again, they don’t really need to because anti-woke attacks masquerading as journalism like the Mail’s article actually lay it all out for us to read,

But before we do that, how about we take a moment to imagine how different that article would have been if the Daily Mail had covered a protest at a state school by pupils who wanted to go hare coursing…?