A fortnight or so ago I was reading a blog post about the beginning of the shooting season and my imagination was instantly inflamed by images of handsome Regency gentlemen in their shooting-jackets, with guns (Did you know that they used to be called fowling-pieces?) and dogs enjoying a fine day’s sport on the moors or in the woods.
Before long, I had a set of characters and a plot-line for another story that I knew I had to write. Naturally, handsome gentlemen and great country estates is always a pleasure to write about, but there is also a terrible secret to deal with, centuries-old enmity to put an end to, a near-death accident to recover from, and something by way of a nice, satisfying ending for everyone involved.
The only problem was that the major part of the story was taken up by a shooting party and I knew nothing whatsoever about shooting. As always in such cases, I took myself to Google Books and, having found half a dozen books with advice and instruction to young sportsmen to begin with, started my research.
There is a great number of things to talk about in connection with the subject, but I decided to dedicate my first post, in what I imagine will be a series of posts, to those necessary articles of clothing that a Regency sportsman had to garb himself in when going fowling. I must say that they had to put on so many garments and supply their shooting habiliments with so many appendages I am surprised they could actually move, let alone walk long distances or be quick with their piece.
Of course, every author, expanding upon the subject, has his own view on the matter and often enough it is quite different to the one expressed by another author, so the best that a sportsman can do in such a case is to think for himself and choose wisely. Personally, if I were a sportsman, I would care about comfort rather than appearance and, as such, would adhere to a rather more sound advice of the following author, who believes that “a good deal of success, and nine-tenth of the real pleasure derivable from shooting, depends upon the right management of the commissariat department”:
A shooting sportsman should be conveniently and appropriately clad. Ease, comfort, and safety, are the three leading points to be attended to. The coats or jackets should be well supplied with capacious pockets; those for hares should be lined with oil-skin; indeed, all shooting pockets should have a lining of this kind, because there is commonly a multitude of articles to fill them with. To all shooters of forty years and upwards flannel shirts are recommended, no matter how warm the weather.
Laced half-boots, with gaiters to reach above the knee or whole-legged, are desirable things. Thick woollen stockings, made of soft yarn, not worsted. The great secret of keeping the feet in good order during continued walking, is the use of the right sort of stockings or socks: and none really answer the purpose so completely and pleasantly as the fine wool made into thick yarn, and home knit. To those who have tender feet, a little soap rubbed on the sole of a stocking will answer a beneficial end.
Taken from “Shooting: A Manual of Practical Information On This Branch Of British Field Sports” by Robert Blakely.
However, Marmaduke Markwell, Esq., the author of “Advice to Sportsmen, Rural or Metropolitan, Noviciates Or Grown Persons; With Anecdotes Of The Most Renowned Shots Of The Day: Exemplified From Life, etc.” has quite a different set of rules he wishes sportsmen to heed when choosing what to wear on such an occasion:
Gentlemen retiring into the country to follow their favourite pastime, will do well to maintain by their appearance a proper distinction from the country-bred squires. For this purpose, it will be necessary for them, when they appear abroad, to avoid dressing like gamekeepers in fustian jackets, slouched hats, and water proof boots.
In fact, he is adamant that boots have no place during the shooting season:
Boots are quite out of ton, during the shooting months; every thing has its proper use, and boots are certainly fit to be worn by gentlemen during the epoch of racing; those sultry months of June, July, and August are proper periods for appearing in them; the good old Spanish proverb is verified by wearing them at such times: what will keep the cold out, will keep the heat out.
Thus he proposes that light shoes or pumps should be worn:
They are particularly calculated for walking over ploughed lands; the clods of earth adhering to the bottoms of your feet, after wet weather, are quite heavy enough, without encumbering yourself with limbering boots or high-lows.
As for the stockings, he is certain that black silk stockings will do very well:
They will be found equally advantageous should you happen to beat through marshy grounds, or cap into a slough – where by chance you may leave your pumps behind – the soil and mud will bear a sportsman-like contrast to the stockings which, from their colour, have the effect of boots, without their inconvenience and weight.
The next piece of advice on the same subject is taken from “Hints To Grown Sportsmen”, a curious book written as a series of conversations between friends on different shooting-related subjects, while the actual sport is taking place. The author of this manual prefers fustian material for clothes, because it is lasting, strong, impenetrable, and fit enough for the weather later in the season. However, he finds laced boots inconvenient on account of their being too heavy and too small and, as for the stockings, he rather gives preference to very thick worsted socks, instead of long stockings, because they give one much more liberty to move.
And, before we part for today, a few words about the importance of an appropriate colour by the same author:
There are some circumstances in which colour is of great consequence; for instance, stalking a deer. In such a case, the dress should be of the same colour as the surrounding objects; for example, bottle green, is an unremarkable colour. Indeed, for my own part, I conceive that colour is of some consequence in a dog, and the one with little or no white will get nearer the game without disturbing it, than one which is all white. It will not, indeed, be amiss to avoid strong contrasts with surrounding objects on all occasions, such as white hats.
Until next time!
Farida Mestek is the author of “Margaret's Rematch” and “A Secret Arrangement” - romantic stories set against the backdrop of Regency England. You can learn more about her books at her blog Regency Sketches.