Masters of Basset Hounds

The Basset Hound is a relative newcomer to the hound world of Britain. It originally came to England from France in 1866, when a couple were imported by Lord Galway of Serlby from the kennels of the Marquis de Tournon at Royat in the Puy de Dôme. Lord Galway described the dog and bitch as “the colour of Foxhounds, with a certain amount of white about them and they had deep, heavy tongues, more like Foxhounds than Beagles”.

At the time, there was a fashion - particularly within the aristocracy - of attending dog shows, of which there were many held at regular intervals throughout Britain. The Bassets were first regarded as a canine curiosity. Lord Galway mated the two and bred a litter of five in 1867. However, for some reason he later sold them to Lord Onslow of Clarendon Park, Guildford and it was he, in 1872, who had the idea of hunting the hare with them as a pack and was, reputedly, the first person in Britain to do so.

The Basset Hound quickly took the dog showing world by surprise. They were also taken up by a surprising number of the aristocracy, who became involved with both breeding and showing them. In 1884 Princess Alexandra (later Queen Alexandra), established a pack at Sandringham and this made the breed even more fashionable. In the same year the Basset Hound Club was formed and the breed accepted by the Kennel Club. In 1883 there were ten entries  in the Kennel Club Stud Book and by 1896 there were ninety,

Godfrey Heseltine and his brother Christopher, in late 1889, established a pack at Walhampton, near Lymington in Hampshire and intended to use the pack for both showing and hunting. They  commenced hunting in the season 1891-92 and at first they hunted badger in the New Forest, but gave this up after one season and then began hunting the hare, which they did with great success. This continued up to the commencement of the Second Boer War in 1899, in which both Heseltine brothers served. By this time several other Basset packs had become established, many of which were founded with Walhampton blood and all hunted the hare.

Soon after 1910 the Basset Hound in England began to suffer from the influences of the showing world and the type of Basset that appealed to judges at dog shows was beginning to look quite different to that required for the hunting field. Because of a very limited gene pool the show bench Basset was getting in-bred, with heavy bones, very crooked legs, heavy dewlaps and stuffy shoulders. On the other hand, the breeding of the hunting Basset was going in a very different direction, where activity, soundness and endurance in the hunting field were very necessary qualities. It was for this reason that the Masters of Basset Hounds Association was formed in 1912 specifically with the objective of encouraging the breeding of hounds solely for hunting.

After Godfrey Heseltine died in 1926, Dr Eric Morrison, a local Doctor with an addiction to all forms of venery, acquired the Walhampton pack at Leicester Hound Sales from the Heseltine estate. Morrison had been whipping-in to Heseltine after the latter moved to Lutterworth some years previously. He then renamed the pack The Westerby.

Morrison had distinct ideas of what he wanted in a hunting Basset. He described it as “a hound standing about 15½ - 16 inches at the shoulders, as near straight as possible at the front and with enough bone to give it strength, without suggesting lumber. They move like Foxhounds and come home with their sterns up; their pace is about the same as 15 in. beagles, but they turn quicker. I call these High Leicestershire Basset Hounds”. Nowadays they are usually  referred to as English Bassets.