Tuesday 20 September 2016

Ted Smith

When I met Ted Smith he was the gamekeeper on a shoot just west of Dorchester. Having been posted to Dorchester prison, and moved to Dorset, I began getting involved in the sort of things which I have followed throughout my life. So it was that having be out with the local hunt, The Blackmoor Vale, I met a chap whose mother, it turned out, worked in the prison administration department. As a result of meeting her son we would often chat about matters of a rural nature and one day, as we approached the winter, she asked me if I was interested in doing a bit of beating. I said I was and shortly afterwards was invited to go and meet the keeper for my vetting. Having been advised the said keeper was a, "crusty old sod" and could be quite rude. Well I turned up at the keepers house and was greeted by Ted. He was a very big man, probably around six feet tall and built like the proverbial brick toilet. To cut a long story short I passed the once over and was invited to join his team of beaters for the forthcoming season. Especially, it appeared as I had a terrier.

Ted was an all-round countryman having worked in hunt service as a terrier man,worked on the farm and, of course, become a gamekeeper. He was a very good keeper, always presenting a good head of pheasants and ensuring they flew high over the guns. The shoot upon which Ted worked was rented from the landowner and run by one Henry Tailor-Newton. ( Name changed as he is probably still around ). It seemed that shooting was by invitation and those that attended were all Henry’s friends. For Henry the winter was spent shooting as the system that he was a part of was built upon invitations, those whom invited friends to shoot would receive invitations in return. Each week throughout the season was, therefore, spent all around the area shooting. Nice work if you can get it. Clearly these people were very well healed as, work as most of us know it, was abandoned for several months whilst they pursued their sport. Ted on the other hand, worked from dawn until dusk for most of the year to ensure his birds provided the highest quality shooting for his employer. He was assisted by his daughter, Jill, who acted as under keeper. Jill had a passion for gun dogs and owned a significant kennel of Black Labradors. On a shoot day she would work three or four of them. During the non- shooting months of the year she was an enthusiastic gun dog trialer, a pursuit at which she did very well.

Teds team of beaters was, as these groups tend to be, diverse. Old, young, friendly, standoffish,townies and both male and female. The standoffish ones were those, whom for the most part, had been coming to beat for years this, it would appear, gave them a privileged position. New members of the group were expected to pay due respect to these dinosaurs and to take their instructions, because of course, they knew how things should be done !!

Many of the beaters brought dogs with them and these were as diverse as the owners themselves. Mostly of a mongrel type  but with the odd gundog breed. For the most part the standard of dog training amongst the beaters was not high. This was very obvious on a shoot day when the keeper could be heard shouting such things as …."Who’s ……ing dog is that ?". "What the bloody hell is that dog doing ?" and "for Christ’s sake keep your bloody dogs on the lead". 

Seldom were any of the dogs, brought along with the beaters, given praise and as a result of this my first few seasons with Ted were a little trying, to say the least. I, at the time, had a Border Terrier and, no doubt, as a result of Ted’s days as a hunt terrier man, he had a very soft spot for terriers. He would often say to me, "Let your little terrier off". Ted, for my terrier was also called Ted, would disappear into the scrub and took great delight in flushing birds all over the place. But, as can be imagined, this did not endear me to the rest of the group. Actually it was even worse when, keeper Ted began telling all and sundry, "that is what I call a dog, not one of these poncey dogs that’s afraid to get stuck into bushes". Although Ted worked a Labrador himself his pride and joy was Sadie his little white terrier. Know by the rest of us as silent and violent, Sadie wandered around and attack any pheasant foolish enough to hang around long enough for her to catch it. She never once yapped, always completing her murders in total silence, hence her nickname. It was quite usual to see Ted, at the end of a drive, with a handful of birds that had been nowhere near the guns! And, of course, "that is what he called a dog." It was the custom for Henry Tailor– Newton to come into the beaters hut at lunchtime to pay us and, apart from handing out the little buff pay packets, he would always take time to thank us for our efforts.Ted would take his lunch with the beaters and Henry would usually have some words of praise for Ted’s efforts, passed on from the guns. Having been told how brilliant, (for example ), the second drive had been and how delighted the guns were with it, Ted would reply in the negative. His usual response would be to tell Henry, "That it would have been if you had bloody well done it the way I wanted to". I don’t know why but Ted couldn’t seem to take praise. Henry would mutter something like, "Yes, well quite Ted", and leave him to get on with it. To his great credit I never once saw him lose his temper with Ted.

Ted, apart from being a good keeper, was also an accomplished gardener. He had a large plot opposite his house where he grew some amazing vegetables. He also kept a large number of chickens. I once took Ted with me to Hatherleigh market in Devon when he wanted to replenish his chicken numbers. It was one of the few days in the year he took off, he thoroughly enjoyed it but, unfortunately, kept telling everyone about it for months to follow. Nothing lasts for ever, and so it was with that shoot. A new farm manager was appointed and he had no interest,or liking for,shooting. There followed a couple of seasons during which the manager made life difficult for the shoot until, finally, Henry decided to give it up. By this time Ted was getting on and he retired. It is a great testimony to him that he was able to buy himself a house with several acres and, when I say buy, I mean he paid for it in cash, no mortgage. There he lived until his death several years later.

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