1831 – 1895

For this next piece I am indebted to Joe Cowen of Fernie fame for this most fascinating story about his Great Uncle who was Master of the Braes of Derwent in County Durham. The extraordinary thing about this particular incident is that Colonel Cowen was very seriously ill at the time and was been cared for at his home at Blaydon Burn. He died just a few weeks later on the 14th April 1895 and it was from there this whole true story unravelled. This is not the first time that something has occurred before a death although it would appear more unusual than what seems to very often happen afterwards.
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Colonel John Anthony Cowen, the second son of Sir Joseph Cowen was born at Blaydon Burn House in 1831. He was described as a handsome young man with a beard and moustache and penetrating blue eyes. He was universally popular wherever he went in County Durham and was a great participant of the manly sports of England, be it hunting, shooting, fishing and hawking. He was held in high esteem by his industrial employees at Blaydon and Blaydon Burn and was also extremely well respected for his fair dealing as a JP on the Gateshead Bench. He married Isabella Lilley Atkin from Benwell, at that time a small village just two miles west of Newcastle.

In days that were far less democratic than they are today farmers, puppy walkers, earth stoppers and members of the Hunt would mix freely at the numerous functions that the Hunt held. Colonel Cowen also enjoyed entertaining his friends at home as well as giving his Hunt Supporters a Dinner at Riding Mill in the Tyne Valley. Although he was a temperate man himself he loved to ensure his friends were well fed and watered! The Meets at Blaydon Burn it is led to believe were most popular events.

The season of 1894/1895 was marred by the Colonel lying seriously ill at home. It was coming up towards the end of the season when the hounds met at the village of Ryton on the 9th March. Having found at Bewes Hills Whin hounds ran well to Blaydon Burn. They checked in the Kennel fields and then ran on into the garden where Miss Mary Cowen, his daughter who had been looking after him, viewed the fox from the windows of the house. After much excitement in and around the outbuildings and shrubberies the fox was caught on the lawn in full view of the Colonel who had witnessed the entire proceedings from a chair in his bedroom. This was the last time that Colonel Cowen saw of the Braes of Derwent hounds of which he had been Master of for twenty three seasons.

On the 2nd December 1938 Mr John Cowen the Colonel’s son, who had been Secretary to the Braes of Derwent for thirty eight seasons, died at Minsteracres in the Newcastle and District Beagles Country. Almost a month later at their New Years Day Meet which was held at Healey they found their first hare. She decided not only to go straight back to Healey Churchyard but directly to the place where Mr Cowen had been buried just those few weeks before. It was said afterwards that as they ran quite literally over the top of his grave that they gave of their very best with a real merry cry.

There are two unusual aspects to these stories. Firstly I am of the belief that it is somewhat out of the ordinary although not unheard of, for foxes to behave in this way before a death is announced. Secondly although hares are mysterious animals, it is somewhat rare to hear of such an incident as above involving one of them.


James Barclay





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