Catchers in the Rye

E.S. Turner

  • Rural Reflections: A Brief History of Traps, Trapmakers and Gamekeeping in Britain by Stuart Haddon-Riddoch
    Argyll, 416 pp, £40.00, April 2006, ISBN 1 902831 96 9

A multi-volume Anthology of Huntingdonshire Cabmen (‘sure to be the standard work on the subject’) was a running gag in J.B. Morton’s ‘Beachcomber’ column in the Daily Express. Compare and contrast, as the examiners used to say, with the anthology of Wednesfield trapmakers which occupies more than a hundred pages (with 70 more pages of non-Wednesfield trapmakers) in this extraordinary compendium, or ‘mine of information’, disarmingly entitled Rural Reflections. There is nothing in the least jokey about the Wednesfield A to Z. It is a painstaking tribute to the blacksmiths and ironfounders of a Staffordshire town who for generations took on the duty of regulating the more tiresome elements of the brute creation; or as Stuart Haddon-Riddoch puts it, producing ‘an ecological balance in our ever-changing countryside’; or, as the manufacturers might have put it, eliminating pests in the interests of good husbandry, public safety, sanitation, sustenance, fun and fashion. The men of Wednesfield took over a trade which had been practised successfully in Dorset since around 1700. The demand for their ‘engines of destruction’ was world-wide and seemingly inexhaustible. The reader now bracing up for a world of three-legged rabbits and one-legged birds will learn, by way of introduction, of a much-burrowed field in Suffolk, in the 1930s, in which a warrener was to be found working from dawn to dusk removing dead and dying rabbits from 250 traps lining three sides of his killing-ground, and augmenting his haul with additional contributions from snares in the adjacent barley. If one English field needed armaments on that scale, what could be the state of that notoriously rabbit-ridden continent of Australia? Yet in the lists of Britain’s manufacturing exports you never read of Wednesfield’s specialised output, any more than you read of exports of leg-irons and thumbscrews (‘Hiatts of Birmingham are of course famous for their manufacture of handcuffs,’ we’re told).

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