John Peel (huntsman)

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John Peel (1776? – 13 November 1854) was an English huntsman who is the subject of the nineteenth century song D'ye ken John Peel - "ken" meaning 'to be aware of' or 'to know' in some dialects of the North of England and Scotland.

Peel's life[edit]

Caldbeck cottages, home of the huntsman John Peel. Caldbeck was a stopping place for travellers to whom the monks provided hospitality.
Headstone of John Peel in the churchyard of St Kentigern's Church, Caldbeck, Wigton, Cumbria, UK

Peel was born at Park End, near Caldbeck, Cumberland; his family moved a short time after to the Greenrigg farm.[1] He was baptised on 24 September 1777, but most sources suggest he was born the previous year. Peel married in 1797 to Mary White.[1] Some of the White family's property at Ruthwaite (near Ireby) passed into his hands, which secured Peel a comfortable income. However, he was, as many of his friends admitted, prone to dissipation and he devoted himself primarily to hunting. Peel was a farmer by profession, and kept a pack of fox hounds. Peel hunted pine martens and hares in addition to foxes. By the end of his life (13 November 1854, most likely due to a fall while hunting) he had accrued large debts, which his friends helped him pay off.[1]

John Peel did occasionally ride to hounds, his mount being a 14 hand dun crossbred gelding named 'Dunny'. 'Dunny' would often be abandoned for hours during the hunt when the going became too rough to ride over, standing patiently waiting for his master to return.

Peel's niece Nancy Wilson (who was brought up in the Peel household) was also known to hunt with her Uncle John on horseback, 'mounted on a grey pony and garbed in a green habit', meaning she rode sidesaddle, which was the proper custom for ladies at the time. But Peel did on many occasions follow the old Cumberland custom, known as 'Chasing the Ace', chasing after the hounds on foot.

Peel became a moderately well-known figure, owing to the song written about him. Some of the local gentry, after his death, were glad to take on his sons as servants, and the story of Peel romanticized hunting activities for many.[1] He died in 1854 and is buried in the churchyard of St Kentigern's Church, Caldbeck.[2] In 1977 his grave was vandalised by anti-hunting activists.

Peel Region, the equivalent of a county in Ontario, Canada may be named after him.

It is believed that 3 Inns were named after his hounds, Hark to Towler at Heywood, Hark to Bounty at Slaidburn, and the Hark to Bellman Clitheroe. Residents now passed of the area have always understood that John Peel hunted the in the Clitheroe district, later arriving by train to Chatburn station, with hounds and horses, and from there to the Bellman Inn (less than 1/2 mile) for a tot of whisky before going hunting. The railway opened in 1850, and the Bellman Inn was granted its first licience in 1826,[3] but was known as the 'ancient hostelry of the Hark to Bellman' in 1832.[4]

There was also a racecourse very near the Bellman hostelry which ran from at least 1811 to 1839, The hound Bellman was also said to be a completely white hound. John Peel has a fact file in Tullie house Carlisle.[citation needed]

Lyrics of D'ye ken John Peel[edit]

Note that the title of the song may also be rendered as Do You Ken John Peel and Do Ye Ken John Peel.

The first verse and chorus[1] are the best known:

D'ye ken John Peel with his coat so gay*?
D'ye ken John Peel at the break o' day?
D'ye ken John Peel when he's far, far a-way.
With his hounds and his horn in the morning?
For the sound of his horn brought me from my bed,
And the cry of his hounds which he oftime led,
Peel's "View, Halloo!" could awaken the dead,
Or the fox from his lair in the morning.

*Some believe[citation needed] the end of this line to be 'grey', due to the colour of his coat made from local Herdwick wool. The line popularly ends 'gay',[5][6][7] as huntsmen other than Peel traditionally wore a brightly coloured, often red coat ("hunting pink").

The words were written by Peel's friend John Woodcock Graves, 1795–1886, in Cumbrian dialect. He tinkered with the words over the years and several different versions are known. The lyrics were rewritten for clarity by one George Coward, a Carlisle bookseller, and approved by Graves for a book of Cumberland songs titled Songs and Ballads of Cumberland published in 1866.[1] Another song written by Graves mentions one of John's brothers, Askew Peel, a horsedealer who also lived in Caldbeck, and who also died in 1854.

The words were set to the tune of a traditional Scottish rant, Bonnie Annie, and the most popular arrangement of it in Victorian times was William Metcalfe's version of 1868. He was a conductor and composer and lay clerk of Carlisle Cathedral, and his more musical arrangement of the traditional melody became popular in London and was widely published. However, in 1906 the song was included in The National Song Book with a tune closer to Bonnie Annie and that is the most widely known version today.[1]

Additional verses[edit]

Verses 2-5 in Coward's version:[1]

D’ye ken that bitch whose tongue was death?
D’ye ken her sons of peerless faith?
D’ye ken that fox, with his last breath
Curs’d them all as he died in the morning?
For the sound of his horn, etc.
Yes I ken John Peel and Ruby too
Ranter and Royal and Bellman as true,
From the drag to the chase, from the chase to the view
From a view to the death in the morning
For the sound of his horn, etc.
And I’ve followed John Peel both often and far,
O’er the rasper fence and the gate and the bar,
From low Denton Holme up to Scratchmere Scar,
Where we vie for the brush in the morning
For the sound of his horn, etc.
Then here's to John Peel with my heart and soul
Come fill – fill to him another strong bowl,
And we'll follow John Peel through fair and through foul
While we’re waked by his horn in the morning.
For the sound of his horn, etc.

Alternative versions[edit]

As is common with songs often sung from memory, this has been recorded with other verses and minor differences in lyrics, such as in the third verse: From the drag to the chase, from the chase to the view and From a view to a death in the morning:

Yes, I ken John Peel and his Ruby, too!
Ranter and Ringwood, Bellman so true!
From a find to a check, from a check to a view,
From a view to a kill in the morning.
For the sound of his horn, etc.

Coward's version of the last line was used for Matt Cartmill's book, A View to a Death in the Morning: Hunting and Nature Through History. The alternative version was used as a title to the short story "From a View to A Kill", found in the Ian Fleming collection of short stories, For Your Eyes Only. This was in turn shortened to A View to a Kill, when applied to the fourteenth James Bond movie.

This verse was not in Coward's version:

D'ye ken John Peel with his coat so gay?
He liv'd at Troutbeck once on a day;
Now he has gone far, away;
We shall ne'er hear his voice in the morning.
For the sound of his horn, etc.

A number of parodies also exist. One version broadcast on I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again parodied the British Radio DJ John Peel

D'ye ken John Peel with his voice so grey?
He sounds as if he's far far away;
He sends you to sleep at the end of the day;
'til you're woken up by Tony Blackburn in the morning.

Another was used in the film "Porridge" which saw Ronnie Barker as Fletch cheekily observe a new prison warder

"D'ye see yon screw with his look so vain?
"With his brand new key on his brand new chain;
"With a face like a ferret and a pea for a brain
"And his hand on his whistle in the morning.

Regimental march[edit]


Wedgwood's creamware pitcher modelled with hunting scenes in low relief and with a handle modelled as a leaping hound, which was introduced in 1912, carried the pattern name "D'ye Ken John Peel".

See also[edit]

D'Ye Ken John Peel? a 1935 film

"Bellman and True" a 1987 film starring Bernard Hill which uses the lyrics to describe the various duties of bankrobbers (ie a Bellman, in the vernacular of the London underworld, is the man whose job it is to fix the alarms. A version of the song plays over the closing credits, sung by Lonnie Donegan


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Story of John Peel". Tullie House. Retrieved 4 October 2009.[dead link]
  2. ^ Caldbeck - St Kentigern's Church, Visit Cumbria, archived from the original on 3 January 2010, retrieved 29 March 2010 Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  3. ^ Clitheroe's 1000 years
  4. ^ Preston Chronicle & Lancashire Advertiser 9/2/1876
  5. ^ "20,000 Volkslieder, German and other Folk Songs".
  6. ^ Images of Cumbria - John Peel
  7. ^ Know Britain, Traditional British Songs

External links[edit]