Fri, 09/09/2022 - 9:57pm

Getting Up to Speed

The coursing Greyhound in art

Hare coursing is the oldest sport. There are accounts of it taking place in the Middle East as long ago as 2000 BC, when “gazehounds,” the forerunner of the Greyhound, hunted exclusively by sight rather than scent as the modern-day Harrier and Beagle do.

Arrian of Nicomedia — Greek historian, military commander and philosopher of the Roman period — described early rules for coursing, the principal one being “to test the speed of the chasing dogs and the true sportsman is glad if the hare escapes.” This sentiment still applied to modern coursing in the U.K. until coursing was banned in 2004. The objective was to “slip” two dogs and test one against the other, their speed and how many times they turned the hare, and not to kill it.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, coursing became fashionable as well as popular throughout England. The Duke of Norfolk, at the request of the Queen, drew up rules for the sport and these became known as “The Laws of the Leash.” However, it was not until the 17th Century, in King Charles I’s reign, that coursing trials in public were held. It was during the 18th Century, in 1776, that the first public coursing club was founded by Lord Orford at Swaffham in Norfolk. Orford was a distinguished breeder of Greyhounds and became known as the “Father of Coursing.”

The engraving of Richard Corbould’s “Coursing at Swaffham” (1793) shows a typical scene at an organized meet, particularly in the early years: in the distance are the beaters who would have driven the hare; two dogs have just been slipped; the judge mounted on horseback gallops alongside; a slipper holds the next pair of dogs to be slipped, and the field, all mounted, follow on behind. As the sport became more popular and followed by all classes, most of the field would have been on foot.



A theme that was constant throughout the centuries with coursing was the horse. The aquatint circa 1810 by Samuel Alken Sr., who was a leading exponent of the newly developed technique, shows a yeomen farmer mounted going out for a day’s sport with his two dogs.  

The Waterloo Cup was to coursing what the English Derby and the Kentucky Derby are to horseracing. The first meeting was in 1836, and it became one of the longest continuous sporting events in the world. The Waterloo Cup was the brainchild of William Lynn, the proprietor of the old Waterloo Hotel in Liverpool, hence the name. Throughout its history it was held on the estate once owned by Earls of Sefton at nearby Altcar. So popular was this prestigious event that toward the end of the 19th Century daily crowds of 75,000 flocked to the Waterloo Cup.



Famous coursing Greyhounds became national heroes, one of whom was the brindle dog “Fullerton,” whose portrait here was painted by Charles Whymper and offered for sale by Tennants Auctioneers. He was owned by one of the sport’s most famous owners, Col. J.T. North, and won the Cup outright from 1890 to 1892. When the results of the Cup were released in 1892, carrier pigeons carried the news to all major cities in Britain, and the Stock Exchange closed early to study the results. The stuffed body of “Fullerton” is now in the Natural History Museum at Tring.



As well as donating the ground, the Seftons were great supporters of coursing. In the early years of the Waterloo Cup the second Earl, the one who had donated the ground, won it twice, the first time in 1847 with “Senate” and the second time in 1854 with “Sackcloth.” The next time it was won by a family member was in 1921 when his grandson, the fourth Earl, and his wife won it with the fawn bitch “Shortcoming.”



Lilian Cheviot’s painting of the bitch, which is currently with Blackbrook Gallery, was painted the year she won the Cup and shows the famous Waterloo course in the background.

Maud Earl is regarded by many as the most important of all dog artists, and it was she who painted the two head studies reproduced by the Berlin Photographic Company in her portfolio “British Hounds and Gundogs.” As with all the images in this series, there is just a hint of the sport the subject was involved with, in this case a coursing slip.



The two dogs are the Fawcett brothers’ red dog “Fabulous Fortune,” winner of the Waterloo Cup in 1896, whose mother had been bought in a pub for £5, and “Fabulous Fortune’s” daughter, the black bitch “Fearless Footsteps,” owned by J.H. Bibby and winner of the Cup in both 1900 and 1901.

The job of the slipper is to release the dogs in pairs simultaneously; the rolled leather lead has a length of cord running through it with two collars attached to one end and a wooden handle attached to the other. When the handle is pulled, the dogs are released.



The painting “Out of Slips” captures the power and athleticism of the dogs the moment they were slipped by the slipper in his traditional red jacket. It was painted by Michael Lyne, one of the leading sporting artists and illustrators of the mid-20th Century in the U.K., illustrator of more than 30 books on sport.

Greyhound track racing as we know it today is comparatively recent compared with many other sports, beginning in 1919 in California with the invention of the mechanical hare. Along with his equine sculptures, John Skeaping RA was one of the mid-20th Century’s most important sculptors of racing Greyhound subjects. The bronze of two dogs racing is one of his most important Greyhound groups.


Skeaping had more than a passing interest in dogs as his second wife, Morwenna, was a leading breeder and exhibitor of Standard Poodles, and Skeaping did complete a few bronzes of the breed. He retired to the South of France to be near his beloved wild horses of the Camargue.

To show just how diverse has been the interpretation by artists of the sporting Greyhound, I conclude with a finely carved late-19th-Century pipe tamper, its use being for a smoker to push down the tobacco in a pipe. Possibly made in Germany, where many of these carvings were, it shows a Greyhound that has just caught a hare.



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