Tom Brown's Schooldays
- 1857 -

Big Side Hare & Hounds


The Prehistory of Hashing
Tom Brown's Schooldays

By Herb “Square Root” Wills

The good old American sport of baseball has this wonderful origin story involving Abner Doubleday and rural New York. Historians don't agree on much, but every sports historian agrees that the Abner Doubleday story is totally false, a fabrication of Al Spaulding. Spaulding, you see, hated the fact that baseball had evolved out of the British game of rounders, so he contrived to have a new history of the game invented that left England out of the picture.

Hashing has an origin story much like the Doubleday fable, with the difference that it is mostly true. In short, Simon Gispert, a British expatriate living in Malaysia, founded the club devoted to hare-and-hounds running in Kuala Lumpur during 1938. The club was called the Hash House Harriers.

Now, the facts of this story are well documented, and some of the original Hash House Harriers are still alive and attest to the veracity of the tale. However, I claim that all that Gispert and his friends invented was the name “Hash House Harriers”, so the origin is no origin at all. The practice of hare-and-hounds running prior to 1938 is not that different from Hashing; Hashing varies more from place to place today than it does from hare-and-hounds runs of the previous century. To demonstrate this, let's look at a description of a hare-and-hounds run. Looking for the first such run is futile, but one well-known record takes us back to the 1830's.

Tom Brown's Schooldays is a particularly tiresome classic written by Thomas Hughes in 1857 about the life of a schoolboy at Rugby School in England. The story takes place during the 1830's, when Hughes himself attended Rugby. Hashers who are not really into stories about sadism among pubescent males at an all-boys school will not find much entertainment in this novel, except possibly for the account of “Big Side Hare-and-Hounds”, Rugby's version of the Hash. According to statements by Hughes, Big Side Hare-and-Hounds was an actual institution at Rugby, so this isn't jut fiction – this is a glimpse at what it was like following trail in the 1930's.

As the scene opens, a group of schoolboys is “tearing up old newspapers, copybooks, and magazines into small pieces, with which they were filling four large canvas bags.” This is “scent” for the Hares. The use of paper is not unusual; even today many Hashes use paper rather than flour.

“Which run is it?” said Tadpole.

“Oh, the Barby run I hear,” answered the other, “nine miles at least, and hard ground; no chance of getting in at the finish, unless you're a first rate scud.”

“Well, I'm going to have a try,” said Tadpole; “it's the last run of the half, and if a fellow gets in at the end, Big Side stands ale and bread and cheese, and a bowl of punch; and the Cock's such a famous place for ale.”

Strangely enough, the Hounds know where the run is. Specifically, they know that they are going to be running around Barby Church and finishing at the Cock Tavern. Unlike most modern hashers, they are going to follow the trail anyway – it's part of the rules. However, note the object of the run: beer and food. This hasn't changed. However, you “get in at the end” and earn your munchies, it isn't enough just to finish, as seen in this account of the actual run.

Then the hounds clustered around Thorne, who explained shortly, “They're to have six minutes law. We run into the Cock, and everyone who comes within a quarter of an hour of the hares'll be counted, if he's been round Barby Church. Then came a minute's pause or so, and then the watches are pocketed, and the pack is led through the gateway into the field which the hares had first crossed. Here they break into a trot, scattering over the field to find the first traces of the scent which the hares throw out as they go along.

The old hounds make straight for the likely points, and in a minute a cry of “Forward” comes from one of them, and the whole pack quickening their pace makes for the spot, while the boy who hit the scent first, and the two or three nearest to him, are over the first fence, and making play along the hedgerow in the long grass field beyond. The rest of the pack rush at the gap already made and scramble through, jostling one another.

“Forward” again, before they are half through; the pace quickens into a sharp run, the tail hounds are straining to get up with the lucky leaders. They are gallant hares, and the scent lies thick right across another meadow and into a ploughed field, where the pace begins to tell; then over a good wattle with a ditch on the other side, and down a large pasture studded with old thorns, which slopes down to the first brook; the great Leicestshire sheep charge away across the field as the pack comes racing down the slope.

The brook is a small one, and the scent lies right ahead up the opposite slope, and as thick as ever; not a turn or a check to favor the tail hounds, who strain on, now trailing in a long line, many a youngster beginning to drag his legs and feel his heart beat like a hammer, and the bad plucked ones thinking that after all it isn't worth while to keep up.

Well, fifteen minutes after the Hares or don't drink is pretty stiff, but even today if you come in DFL (Dead Fucking Last) the FRBs may have drained the keg before you get there. And there's a little more structure than most Hashes, and the hounds yell “Forward!” instead of “On-On!” There aren't any women, but neither were there any in the original Hash House Harriers. And there is a trail, shiggy, checks, and most everything we expect at a Hash. Unfortunately, we never get to see the early Victorian equivalent of an On-In because Tom Brown gets lost out on trail. They had sorry wankers back in those days too.

Several historians feel that the hare-and-hounds passage in Hughes' book inspired the formation of later clubs in England.

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