C.V. Horner (1897–1980): Life and Labour

Much of C.V. Horner’s life revolves around gamekeeping, so much so that an entire chapter of his memoir is dedicated to the habits and his experiences with the animals he had spent his life around. However, the influence that his father had on him to pursue gamekeeping did not surface until later in his life.

Instead, Horner’s first job was ‘with an old army Colonel and his wife at “The Chantry”, near West Witton”, (31) which he presumably acquired shortly after leaving school. His chores there were numerous, which included: attending to the poultry; cleaning the boots; and helping the old Norfolk gardener. As he puts it, he had to ‘generally do all the odd jobs.’ (31) In addition, he had to take their bulldog for a walk with him as he ventured to West Witton for milk and cream (it was on these journeys that he would stop by the Reading Room Club, as mentioned in my Reading and Writing blog). In true Horner fashion, he never fails to recall a short, but amusing story about his time there:

The old gardener was on his way to Leyburn one day with the pony and cart to collect a load of coals, he saw the bull-dog sitting on the door step of the Reading Room and came in and ordered me out straight away. After some harsh words, I picked up the poker and chased him out and then the bull-dog joined in and got him by the breeches backside! (31)

A “Click-Hook”.

By February 1912, Horner began looking for work rearing pheasants and eventually settled down in Liverton-in-Cleveland, until 1915 when ‘the war put an end to pheasant and wild duck rearing.’ (34) Following his service in the Royal Navy, he returned to Yorkshire and proceeded to work as a rabbit-catcher in a number of places, such as Harmby Quarry, Newmarket, Dumfriesshire, Bishopdale, and Widdale. This period of time was when the anecdote of Horner catching a person in one of his rabbit snares took place, which can be found in the Introduction. Horner notes that ‘[r]abbiting was primarily a winter occupation,’ (51) meaning that he would have to find other means of work, yet he soon found ‘there was plenty of work to be had.’ (51) He recalls that he and his father were renowned ‘stone wallers and [their] services were much in demand on local estates and at Spigot Lodge, the local racing stables.’ (51)

At the beginning of his eighth chapter, Horner remarks: ‘[s]hooting for game was somewhat curtailed during the war years but I had some eventful days foxing during this time.’ (85) Here is when he begins to delve into the machinations of what can arguably be described as his speciality. He writes: ‘[i]n our part of the world the most practical ways of controlling foxes were to quietly await them leaving or returning to their earths or to bolt them from their rocky habitats with hardy terriers, bred for the job.’ (85) Exterminating vermin was not his only wartime occupation, however, as ‘[he] also did a lot of estate maintenance, repairing walls and fences, keeping drains open from “boggy” land, helping farmers to repair their farm buildings on the estate and so on.’ (88) Evidently, this was not his main priority, as he quickly moves on to the subject of fishing.

A “Lime-Kiln”.

Working appears to be a large part of Horner’s life, especially gamekeeping; his labour allowed him to develop the skills he needed to be proficient in such fields. He takes great pride in what he does, stating:

The impression most people have of a gamekeeper is a man dressed in tweed ‘plus-fours’ with a gun under his arm and a game bag on his back and of-course a dog or two at his heels. If such people were to spend only a day with him they would be amazed by the amount of knowledge he needs to accomplish a never ending variety of tasks, by no means all related to dog and gun. (111)

Working also allowed him to socialise and become part of a community, further helping shape the man he became. Horner recalls that he encountered ‘many humorous folk’, (59) as well as those he considered to be the best acquaintances. He says: ‘I think perhaps it was amongst the racing crowd that the greatest personalities existed. They worked hard and played hard, many had known both hard times and great wealth and altogether it combined to make an outstanding set of people.’ (59)

Bibliography

  • Burnett, John, David Vincent and David Mayall. Ed. ‘C.V. Horner.’ The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945. 3 vols. Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989: 2:422.

Images

  • Featured Image: C.V. Horner’s “Samson” trap.
  • A “Click-Hook”.
  • A “Lime-Kiln”.

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