Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Peel, John

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PEEL, JOHN (1776–1854), Cumberland huntsman, came of an old yeoman or ‘statesman’ family of Caldbeck in Cumberland, where he was born on 13 Nov. 1776. As a youth he eloped with Miss White of Uldale to Gretna. It was a happy union. Of their thirteen children, only one died young. Peel's love of hunting was remarkable, even among a race keenly attached to field sports. For fifty-five years he maintained, at his sole expense, a pack, usually of twelve couples, of hounds, and generally kept two horses. He had a faultless knowledge of the country and of hunting, and was long aided by his eldest son, ‘Young John.’ The worldwide reputation he has won is attributable to the song celebrating his prowess as a hunter by his friend John Woodcock Graves. This was written under the following circumstances. Peel and Graves were planning a hunting expedition one evening in the parlour of the inn at Caldbeck when a casual question from Graves's daughter as to the words sung to an old Cumberland rant (tune), ‘Bonnie Annie,’ caused Graves to write impromptu ‘D'ye ken John Peel,’ the five verses of which he sang to the ancient air. Graves jokingly prophesied that Peel would ‘be sung when we've both run to earth.’ Few songs of modern date have so firmly established themselves in popular estimation. Late in life Peel's neighbours and friends, including Sir Wilfrid Lawson and George Moore the philanthropist, presented him with a sum of money in acknowledgment of his long services. Besides his patrimonial estate at Caldbeck, Peel acquired, through his wife, a property at Ruthwaite, on which his last years were spent. Here he died on 13 Nov. 1854. He was buried, and a headstone erected over his grave, ornamented with emblems of the chase, in the churchyard at Caldbeck. There is a good portrait of him in the possession of his descendants. Graves, who was born in a house next to the Market Hall in the High Street of Wigton in Cumberland, on 9 Feb. 1795, emigrated to Tasmania in 1833, settling in Hobart Town, where he died on 17 Aug. 1886, leaving a large family. He published ‘Songs and Ballads of Cumberland,’ and a ‘Monody on John Peel.’

[West Cumberland Times, 9 Oct. 1886, and 2 Oct. 1886; Ferguson's Cumberland Fox Hounds; Smiles's George Moore, 1879, p. 26; Dixon's Saddle and Sirloin, p. 109.]

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