The Billesden Coplow Run

Smith, Charles Loraine; The Billesdon Coplow Run, Leicestershire

*note – Billesdon and Billesden have both been used to name the hunt.


[From “Reminiscences of the late Thomas Assheton Smith, Esq”]

The run celebrated in the following verses took place on the 24th of February, 1800, when Mr. Meynell hunted Leicestershire, and has since been known as the Billesden Coplow Run. It will only cease to interest, says a writer in the Sporting Magazine, when the grass shall grow in winter in the streets of Melton Mowbray. They found in the covert from which the song takes its name, thence to Skeffington Earths, past Tilton Woods, by Tugby and Whetstone, where the field, as many as could get over, crossed the river Soar. Thence the hounds changing their fox, carried a head to Enderby Gorse, where they lost him, after a chase of two hours and fifteen minutes, the distance being twenty-eight miles. A picture descriptive of this famous run was painted by Loraine Smith, Esq., who was one of the few who got over the river, and was until very lately in the possession of Robert Haymes, Esq., of Great Glenn, Leicestershire. In this painting, which shows the field in the act of crossing the Soar, we see Mr. Germaine, who has just crossed it, and was the only one out that day who did so on horseback. Mr. Musters is in the middle of the stream, and on the point of throwing himself off his horse, who is too much distressed to carry him over. The other horsemen in the picture are Jack Raven the huntsman, Lord Maynard, and his servant, who are all three coming up towards the stream. Mr. Loraine Smith, ” the Enderby Squire,” who of course well knows the locality, is crossing a ford on foot, and leading his horse, higher up the stream. The hounds are seen ascending the hill on the opposite side, in full cry, leaving Enderby village and church to the left. The song was written by the Rev. Robert Lowth, son of the eminent Bishop of London of that name. The reverend divine was one of the field, being on a visit at Melton at that time, and wrote the song at the request of the Honourable George Germaine, brother of Lord Sackville, afterwards Duke of Dorset, in consequence of some in correct accounts of the run which had been published.

By the Rev. Robert Lowth

                                              ” Quseque ipse miserrima vidi,
Et quorum pars magna fui.”

With the wind at north-east, forbiddingly keen,
The Coplow of Billesden ne’er witness’d, I ween,
Two hundred such horses and men at a burst,
All determined to ride—each resolved to be first.
But to get a good start over-eager and jealous,
Two thirds, at the least, of these very fine fellows
So crowded, and hustled, and jostled, and cross’d,
That they rode the wrong way, and at starting were lost.
In spite of th’ unpromising state of the weather,
Away broke the fox, and the hounds close together :
A burst up to Tilton so brilliantly ran,
Was scarce ever seen in the mem’ry of man.

What hounds guided scent, or which led the way,
Your bard—to their names quite a stranger—can’t say ;
Though their names had he known, he is free to confess,
His horse could not show him at such a death-pace.
Villiers, Cholmondeley, and Forester made such sharp play,
Not omitting Germaine, never seen till to-day :
Had you judged of these four by the trim of their pace,
At Bibury you’d thought they’d been riding a race.
But these hounds with a scent, how they dash and they fling,
To o’er-ride them is quite the impossible thing ;
Disdaining to hang in the wood, through he raced,
And the open for Skeffington gallantly faced ;
Where headed and foil’d, his first point he forsook,
And merrily led them a dance o’er the brook.
Pass’d Galby and Norton, Great Stretton and Small,
Right onward still sweeping to old Stretton Hall ;
Where two minutes’ check served to show at one ken
The extent of the havoc ‘mongst horses and men.
Such sighing, such sobbing, such trotting, such walking ;
Such reeling, such halting, of fences such baulking ;
Such a smoke in the gaps, such comparing of notes ;
Such quizzing each other’s daub’d breeches and coats :
Here a man walk’d afoot who his horse had half kill’d,
There you met with a steed who his rider had spill’d :
In short, such dilemmas, such scrapes, such distress,
One fox ne’er occasion’d, the knowing confess.
But, alas ! the dilemmas had scarcely began,
On for Wigston and Ayleston he resolute ran,
Where a few of the stoutest now slacken’d and panted,
And many were seen irretrievably planted.
The high road to Leicester the scoundrel then cross’d,
As Tell-tale 1 and Beaufremont 2 found to their cost ;
1 Mr. Forester’s horse. 2Mr. Maddock’s horse.

And Villiers esteem’d it a serious bore,
That no longer could Shuttlecock1 fly as before ;
Even Joe Miller’s2 spirit of fun was so broke,
That he ceased to consider the run as a joke.
Then streaming away, o’er the river he splashed,—
Germaine close at hand, off the bank Melon3 dash’d.
Why so stout proved the Dun, in a scamper so wild ?
Till now he had only been rode by a Child.4
After him plunged Joe Miller with Musters so slim,
Who twice sank, and nearly paid dear for his whim,
Not reflecting that all water Melons must swim.
Well soused by their dip, on they brush’d o’er the bottom,
With liquor on board, enough to besot ’em.
But the villain, no longer at all at a loss,
Stretch’d away like a d—I for Enderby Gorse :
Where meeting with many a brother and cousin,
Who knew how to dance a good hay in the furzen ;
Jack Raven5 at length coming up on a hack,
That a farmer had lent him, whipp’d off the game pack.
Running sulky, old Loadstone 6 the stream would not swim,
No longer sport proving a magnet to him.
Of mistakes, and mishaps, and what each man befel,
Would the muse could with justice poetical tell !
Bob Grosvenor on Plush7—though determined to ride—
Lost, at first, a good start, and was soon set aside ;
Though he charged hill and dale, not to lose this rare chase,
On velvet, Plush could not get a footing, alas !
To Tilton sail’d bravely Sir Wheeler O’Cuff,
Where neglecting, through hurry, to keep a good luff,
1 Lord Villiers’ horse. 2 Mr. Musters’ horse.
3 Mr. Germaine’s horse. 4 Formerly Mr. Child’s.
5 The name of the huntsman. 6The huntsman’s horse.
7 Mr. Robert Grosvenor’s horse.

To leeward he drifts—how provoking a case !
And was forced, though reluctant, to give up the chase.
As making his way to the pack’s not his forte,
Sir Lawley,1 as usual, lost half of the sport.
But then the profess’d philosophical creed,
That ” all’s for the best,”—of Master Candide,
If not comfort Sir R., reconcile may at least ;
For, with this supposition, his sport is the best.

Orby Hunter, who seem’d to be hunting his fate,
Got falls, to the tune of no fewer than eight.
Bashan’s king,2 upon Glimpse,3 sadly out of condition,
Pull’d up, to avoid of being tired the suspicion.
Og did right so to yield ; for he very soon found,
His worst had he done, he’d have scarce glimpsed a hound.
Charles Meynell, who lay very well with the hounds,
Till of Stretton he nearly arrived at the bounds,
Now discover’d that Waggoner4 rather would creep,
Than exert his great prowess in taking a leap ;
But when crossing the turnpike, he read ⇒ ” Put on here,”
‘Twas enough to make any one bluster and swear.
The Waggoner feeling familiar the road,
Was resolved not to quit it ; so stock still he stood.
Yet prithee, dear Charles ! why rash vows will you make,
Thy leave of old Billesden5 to finally take ?
Since from Legg’s Hill,6 for instance, or perhaps Melton
If they go a good pace, you are beat for a guinea !
1 Sir Robert Lawley, called Sir Lawley in the Melton dialect.
2 Mr. Oglander, familiarly called Og. 3 Mr. Oglander’s horse.
4 Mr. C. Meynell’s horse.
He had threatened never to follow the hounds again from Billesden,
on account of his weight.
6 A different part of the hunt.

‘Tis money, they say, makes the mare to go kind ;
The proverb has vouch’d for this time out of mind ;
But though of this truth you admit the full force,
It may not hold so good of every horse.
If it did, Ellis Charles need not bustle and hug,
By name, not by nature, his favourite Slug.1
Yet Slug as he is—the whole of this chase
Charles ne’er could have seen, had he gone a snail’s pace.
Old Gradus,2 whose fretting and fuming at first
Disqualify strangely for such a tight burst,
Ere to Tilton arrived, ceased to pull and to crave,
And though freshisA at Stretton, he stepp’d a pas grave !
Where, in turning him over a cramp kind of place,
He overturn’d George, whom he threw on his face ;
And on foot to walk home it had sure been his fate,
But that soon he was caught, and tied up to a gate.

Near Wigston occurr’d a most singular joke,
Captain Miller averr’d that his leg he had broke,—
And bemoan’d, in most piteous expressions, how hard,
By so cruel a fracture, to have his sport marr’d.
In quizzing his friends he felt little remorse,
To finesse the complete doing up of his horse.
Had he told a long story of losing a shoe,
Or of laming his horse, he very well knew
That the Leicestershire creed out this truism worms,
“Lost shoes and dead beat are synonymous terms.”
So a horse must here learn, whatever he does,
To die game—as at Tyburn—and ” die in his shoes.”
Bethel Cox, and Tom Smith, Messieurs Bennett and
Their nags all contrived to reduce to a walk.
1 Mr. Charles Ellis’s horse. 2.Mr. George Ellis’s horse

Maynard’s Lord, who detests competition and strife,
As well in the chase as in social life,
Than whom nobody harder has rode in his time,
But to crane here and there now thinks it no crime,
That he beat some crack riders most fairly may crow,
For he lived to the end, though he scarcely knows how.

With snaffle and martingale held in the rear,
His horse’s mouth open half up to his ear ;
Mr. Wardle, who threaten’d great things over night,1
Beyond Stretton was left in most terrible plight
Too lean to be press’d, yet egg’d on by compulsion,
No wonder his nag tumbled into convulsion.
Ah ! had he but lost a fore shoe, or fell lame,
‘Twould only his sport have curtail’d, not his fame.
Loraine,2—than whom no one his game plays more safe,
Who the last to the first prefers seeing by half,—
What with nicking 3 and keeping a constant look-out,
Every turn of the scent surely turn’d to account.
The wonderful pluck of his horse surprised some,
But he knew they were making point blank for his
” Short home ” to be brought we all should desire,
Could we manage the trick like the Enderby Squire.4

Wild Shelley,5 at starting all ears and all eyes,
Who to get a good start all experiment tries,
Yet contrived it so ill, as to throw out poor Gipsy,6
Whom he rattled along as if he’d been tipsy,

1 Said to have threatened that he would beat the whole field.
2Mr. Loraine Smith.                      3 A term of reproach.
4Where Mr. Loraine Smith lives 5 Usually very grave.
6 Sir John Shelley’s mare.

To catch them again ; but, though famous for speed,
She never could touch1 them, much less get a lead.
So dishearten’d, disjointed, and beat, home he swings,
Not much unlike a fiddler hung upon strings.

An H. H.2 who in Leicestershire never had been,
So of course such a tickler ne’er could have seen,
Just to see them throw off, on a raw horse was mounted,
Who a hound had ne’er seen, nor a fence had confronted.
But they found in such style, and went off at such score,
That he could not resist the attempt to see more :
So with scrambling, and dashing, and one rattling fall,
He saw all the fun, up to Stretton’s white Hall.
There they anchor’d, in plight not a little distressing—
The horse being raw, he of course got a dressing.
That wonderful mare of Vanneck’s, who till now
By no chance ever tired, was taken in tow :
And what’s worse, she gave Van such a devilish jog
In the face with her head, plunging out of a bog,
That with eye black as ink, or as Edward’s famed Prince,
Half blind has he been, and quite deaf ever since.
But let that not mortify thee, Shackaback ; 3
She only was blown, and came home a rare hack.

There Craven too stopp’d, whose misfortune, not fault,
His mare unaccountably vex’d with string-halt ;
And when she had ceased thus spasmodic to prance,
Her mouth ‘gan to twitch with St. Vitus’s dance.

    1 Melton dialect for “overtake.”
    2 These initials may serve either for Hampshire hog or Hampshire
    3 A name taken from Blue Beard, and given to Mr. Vanneck by his
Melton friends.

But how shall described be the fate of Rose Price,
Whose fav’rite white gelding convey’d him so nice
Through thick and through thin, that he vow’d and
No money should part them, as long as life lasted ?
But the pace that effected which money could not :
For to part, and in death, was their no distant lot.
In a fatal blind ditch Carlo Khan’s2 powers fail’d,
Where nor lancet nor laudanum either avail’d.
More care of a horse than he took, could take no man ;
He’d more straw than would serve any lying-in woman.
Still he died !—yet just how, as nobody knows,
It may truly be said, he died ” under the Rose.”
At the death of poor Khan, Melton feels such remorse,
That they’ve christen’d that ditch, “The Vale of White

Thus ended a chase, which for distance and speed
It’s fellow we never have heard of or read.
Every species of ground ev’ry horse does not suit,
What’s a good country hunter may here prove a brute ;
And, unless for all sorts of strange fences prepared,
A man and his horse are sure to be scared.
This variety gives constant life to the chase ;
But as Forester says—” Sir, what KILLS, is the PACE.”
In most other countries they boast of their breed,
For carrying, at times, such a beautiful head ;
But these hounds to carry a head cannot fail,
And constantly too, for,—by George,—there’s no tail.
Talk of horses, and hounds, and the system of kennel,
Give me Leicestershire nags, and the hounds of Old Meynell!

     1 At the cover side a large sum was offered for it.
     2 Mr. Price’s horse.

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The Billesden Coplow Run

Smith, Charles Loraine; The Billesdon Coplow Run, Leicestershire

*note – Billesdon and Billesden have both been used to name the hunt.


[From “Reminiscences of the late Thomas Assheton Smith, Esq”]

The run celebrated in the following verses took place on the 24th of February, 1800, [...] Read more →