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Full text of "British duck decoys of today, 1918"

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British Duck Decoys 

OF 

To-day, 1918. 



By 
J. WHITAKER, F.Z.S., 

of Rainworth, Notts., 

Vice - President of the Selborne Society. 



Author of 
■ The Deer Parks of England," " History of the Birds of Nottingham- 
shire," " Scribblings of a Hedgerow Naturalist," "Nimrod, Ramrod 
and Fishing Rod Tales," "Jottings of a Nature Lover," &c. ; and 
Compiler of the List of Birds in the Victorian History of Nottingham- ; 
shire. 



FIRST EDITION. 



PUBLISHERS : 

THE BURLINGTON PUBLISHING CO., LTD., 
74-77, TEMPLE CHAMBERS, LONDON, E.C. 



i 9 I 8 



333 



This book is dedicated by kind permission to 
Her Grace the Duchess of Bedford, a lover 
of Nature in all its forms, especially Birds. 



908772 



PREFACE. 



I am anxious for my readers to quite understand that 
this small book is not a history of duck decoys, but only 
a descriptive list of those that are being - worked now. 
The late Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, who, I am sorry to 
say, has died since I started to> write these notes, brought 
out in 1886 a volume on " The History of Duck Decoys," 
which then, as now, leaves nothing to be desired. He was 
quite the greatest authority on decoys and punt shooting. 
It was only a few weeks before his death he most kindly 
gave me valuable hints as to the making of a duck trap 
on the pond here. In his capital book he gives a list of 
all the known decoys then worked, and made out forty- 
seven. Since then I find several have ceased to be worked, 
and I have only been able, notwithstanding much kind 
help, to find twenty-eight now being worked. I must admit 
I am quite at a loss to understand that anyone lucky 
enough to come into a property having a decoy on it should 
permit it to lapse. Some owners say, " Well, it does not 
pay " ; but one would have thought that even if it did 
not the giving to one's friends and supplying one's house 
would have been a recompense for the loss of a few 
pounds, to say nothing of the delight of seeing scores, 
nay, hundreds, of ducks on the water during the taking 
season. It is supposed there were about 200 decoys in 
Britain early in the nineteenth century. Probably no one 



PREFACE. 

catches so few ducks as I do, but the delight it gives me 
and the pleasure to my friends amply repays me for what 
time and food costs. The first thing I do when coming 
downstairs in a morning during the season is to look 
out of the hall window on the chance of seeing a duck near 
the mouth of the trap, and I find the common wild duck 
is the bird most likely to> go in. The other morning there 
were seven tufted ducks and a pochard, and for over an 
hour they passed and repassed the trap, and once or twice 
looked like going in, but some noise at the house put them 
away. I can see now a drake pochard sitting on the water 
within 30 yards of where I write these lines, so the con- 
tinual chance, though a catch seldom comes off, gives me 
untold pleasure ; of course, most decoys are away from 
the house, but then a peep through the screens is an 
object-lesson and delight, and much can be learned of the 
everyday life of some of the most beautiful and interesting 
birds we have ; and then the pleasure of being able to 
capture some of them is fine, for ducks take as much 
circumventing as do any British birds I know. Getting 
information for a book of this kind would be impossible 
without the help of one's friends and owners of decoys, 
and I am deeply indebted to many for kindly aid ; and I 
sincerely thank these : Lady Payne-Gallwey for photo- 
graphs of Sir R. Payne-Gallwey ; Vera Bowden, my 
daughter, for sketches of decoy pipes and my decoy trap, 
which are of much interest; the Editor of " The Shooting 
Times," Dr. Salter, who up to lately was tenant of 
an Essex decoy; Mr. H. Forrest, who helped me with 
Shropshire decoys; W. Whitaker, my brother, for help 
with Leicestershire; Mr. E. R. Moorsom for most 
interesting account of Mr. Pretyman's decoy at Orwell, 



PREFACE. 

Suffolk; Sir Ernest Paget; Thomas Gilbert Skelton, 
himself the designer of many decoys and the grandson 
of George Skelton (old George), who was the first to 
reduce the size of the decoy ponds, and with marked 
success; Mr. Fawcett, of Ashby Decoy; Mr. A. Grossman, 
of Sedgemoor Decoy ; the Revd. B. D. Aplin, of Aston-le- 
Walls ; Colonel Ireland-Blackburne ; Colonel Saurin; Mr. 
Sydney Smith,' of York; Mr. John Halkes; Major 
Berkeley; and Mr. Arthur Patterson, of Great Yarmouth, 
for the very clever sketches of a take, &c. ; also Mr. Bruce, 
of Priors Marston, and Mr. Peter's, of Berkeley; 
and Mr. Williams, of Borough Fen Decoy, for 
photographs ; Mr. Grabham, of York ; and the 
Revd. C. G. Littlehales. To finish, this little book is only 
a modest account of the decoys now worked, with a few 
notes of the ducks taken in them and some interesting 
facts of the big takes of long-gone days, never, I fear, 
to return, and if it gives my readers as much pleasure to 
read it as it has given me to write it I shall be amply 
repaid. 

J. Whitaker. 
Rainworth, Notts, September, 1918. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS OF TO-DAY, 

' 1918. 



CHAPTER I. 

DECOYS AND THE TAKING OF DUCKS. 

The name decoy is said to be of Dutch extraction, and 
is an abbreviation of the word " Endekooy," i.e., the 
duck cage. We see in some old books it is called duck- 
coy or duck cage, and has been contracted into decoy, or 
it may be derived from de coy, the cage ; it is also written 
duck-koy. Decoys are said to have been first made in 
England by Sir William Woodhouse in the reign of 
James I. 

Owners and tenants were always naturally jealous of 
their property and rights, and particularly to those per- 
taining to decoys, and people disturbing decoys either by 
shooting near them or by trying to drive the fowl away 
by any means were prosecuted, and judges over and over 
again gave their decision in favour of the plaintiffs, and 
rightly so, for it was the destroying, or trying to do so, 
of their means of livelihood, for in those days a decoy was 
a very valuable asset, even when the price of ducks was so 
much less than nowadays, though the greater number of 
ducks taken in past days made up for the increase of value 



2 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

in these, for where scores are taken now hundreds or more 
were then captured. 

I must own I feel rather diffident in writing this simple 
description of a decoy and its working- after the very 
elaborate accounts we read in Sir R. Payne Gallwey's 
book on " Duck Decoys," and also in Pennant, Gold- 
smith, Lubbock, Folkard, and several others; but as 
some of my readers may not have seen these accounts I 
give the following. The decoy is a piece of water on an 
estate chosen because of its attraction to wildfowl for the 
following reasons — because it is always kept quiet; 
this is the most important thing, and that it is at- 
tractive to ducks, for they are very peculiar in 
their likes and dislikes, for water that to us looks 
the perfect spot is not so to wildfowl. In this 
valley are eleven ponds varying in size from 17 acres 
to 1 J. On some Ave always see ducks at all times of the 
year, and it is only when they are frozen up they are not 
there. Then there are two both quiet and much like the 
others, but it is quite the exception to find ducks on one 
of them, and the other is never sure. This latter pond 
twenty years ago was a pretty certain find, but since then 
it is often blank. Decoys are generally in a wood, but 
such wood should have the trees away from the banks, and 
one surrounded by brushwood for a hundred yards is 
preferable to one with trees near the banks. Trees make 
ducks feel hemmed in, and they always fly round more 
before settling than if the pond lies fairly open. My 
friend Mr. Chaworth-Musters, of Annesley, thinks a per- 
fect decoy pond would be one well out in the open with a 
bank running all round it, well back from the water, and I 
agree with him, for I know of no one more competent to 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 




The Decoy Trap, Rainwortii Lodge. 

tiy Vera Bowden. 



4 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

give an opinion on such a subject. In former days many 
decoys were on large pieces of water, because it was 
thought that the big sheets of water had more ducks on 
them, and the more birds the more chance of getting 
them ; and it was not till George Skelton started planning 
decoys that small pieces were adopted. Many of the 
older men of that day smiled at his idea, which he proved 
to be right, for in a few seasons more ducks were taken 
in a decoy of 2 acres of water than formerly had been 
on decoys of 20 acres or more ; there might be more 
birds on the larger piece, but they were not under the, 
may I say, control as were those on the smaller piece, for 
wildfowl will come from a moderate distance to food or 
a dog than they will from further off. The number of 
pipes vary from one to ten or more, but four is the general 
number. These pipes are placed so that ducks can be 
taken in most winds. This is very important, for ducks 
can only be taken when the wind blows up the pipe or at 
a certain angle across it. Then a piece of burning peat 
must be carried, so that the smoke will prevent the smell of 
the decoyman alarming the fowl. The size of the pool 
best suited is about 2 acres, or a little more. All repairs 
are done in late spring or early summer, for the decoy 
should be quite quiet from July 1st, as during that month 
neighbouring hatched ducks will begin to come in, and 
these will later on act as leads to those from further 
afield. The pipes are from 60 to 75 yards long, and 
where there is plenty of room the latter length is the 
best. The entrance should be from 16 to 25 feet across, 
and the wider it is the higher it should be. Under the first 
hoops the water in pipe should be from a foot to 18 
inches deep, and gradually get shallower to 2 or 3 inches 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 




6 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

at the narrow end, which will be a foot or so wide. Here 
the tunnel net is fastened on, and the far end tied to a 
peg. In the more modern decoys the hoops are of iron, 
often fastened to posts sunk into the ground, and they 
-are covered with wire-netting. The older decoys had 
wooden hoops and string-netting. The first hoops should 
be about 12 to 16 feet above the water, and get gradually 
lower to 2 feet at the end of the pipe. The reed screens 
run about three-fourths of the length of the pipe, and over- 
lap each other, with a low one between the ends of each 
for the dog to jump over, and where the decoyman shows 
himself. It is generally October before many ducks are 
taken, and the following is a fair explanation of how it is 
done. When the greys of dawn begin to light up the 
pool the ducks start to come in for the day, the greater 
proportion having been away for the night feeding in 
the streams, ponds and sloppy places, often a long dis- 
tance from the decoy ; if the night has been very dark 
and they have not satisfied their 'hunger, they feed for 
some time after they arrive ; then they preen themselves, 
and settle down to rest, many on the banks and others 
on the water. After a moonlight night, having fed well, 
they sooner settle down, so the decoyman tries them about 
11 a.m. and again at 2 p.m. These are nearly always the 
best times. Then he proceeds to the decoy with his dog 
and often with a helper. He peeps through the screen near 
the entrance. This is done by slipping a peg of wood, flat 
and about a couple of inches wide. It is put through the 
reeds and twisted round, and a good view is obtained. 
Other pegs are fastened on the back of each screen 
for a like purpose. If there are plenty of fowl about the 
pipe which the wind favours he gives a gentle whistle, 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 7 

which at once attracts his tame ducks, for it is the call 
always used at feeding time, and they at once swim to 
the pipe. He then throws corn, crushed oats, barley, or 
hemp seed. This floats on the top, and they at once start 
eating. The wild ducks generally are attracted, and swim 
to participate in the good things. He moves further up, 
and throws more, and they go deeper into the pipe, but 
if they will not proceed further he brings his dog into 
play, and it is sent over the low screen, which is between 
the high ones. This seldom fails, for directly he appears 
every head is stretched forward, and on they swim ; again 
the dog goes over, and on the ducks follow, till he, peep- 
ing through, sees they are well up. He then signals to 
the man by holding out his hand. If he has no helper he 
goes back himself, for by now the fowl are generally 
suspicious and are often starting to swim back. 
Now is the time for one of them to show them- 
selves, and wave his hat or hand. The sight of the 
man to the ducks acts like magic. Away they fly, and 
dash up the pipe, thinking that round the bend is safety. 
The man follows, showing himself here and there (I may 
here say, as the screens overlap, he is not visible to the 
ducks on the water). The ducks get more confused,, 
dashing against the sides and top, but on they go; the 
pipe grows smaller and smaller, and they get more mixed 
up and alarmed, and at last into the tunnel net they crowd. 
The decoyman gets quickly to it and unties it, and placing 
the end between his knees, takes duck after duck out, and 
with a sharp twist breaks their necks — a painless death; 
and it is really wonderful how quickly an expert at this 
work can kill a great number of ducks, so within a few 
minutes of their entering the pipe they are lying dead on 



8 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

the grass, and the other ducks on the water are none the 
wiser; in fact, in a short time another lot may share the 
same fate. This is how the pipe decoy has such a great 
advantage over the trap decoy, for as long as there are 
ducks and they will go in, take after take can take place, 
but in a trap only one take can be made in a day, as the 
ducks in it have to be left till after flight time. When 
the other ducks are gone, then the decoyman rows to it, 
catches the ducks with a landing net, baits and resets the 
trap. The lowering of the door has to be done with great 
care, for the fowl are very suspicious, and the grating 
of the door being let down will send the ducks, if near it, 
dashing out, and it will take a long time before they are 
persuaded to go in again. Some of the decoy traps are 
double, so two takes can take place if ducks are in. The 
partition is of wire, and the door is lowered by a wire 
which runs under the water, and is worked from a small 
hut or from the back of a screen by a windlass. 

Then there is the trap which is always set. Ducks enter 
by a tunnel which runs well into the trap, enticed there 
by corn, and cannot find the way out, or seldom do. Some- 
times a live duck is put in a partition at the far end of the 
trap, and by its calls induces other ducks in. These 
traps catch teal better than common wild ducks, and I 
have heard of 71 being taken in one night. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



CHAPTER II. 

BUCKINGHAMSHIRE. 

Name of Decoy — Boarstall. 

Name of Owner — Captain Aubrey-Fletcher. 

Size of Water — 2$ acres. 

Number of Pipes — 4. 

In a Wood of 13 acres. 

Average number of Ducks taken — about 200. 

A Dog is used. 




This is the only duck decoy in Buckinghamshire. Ducks 
taken are mostly common wild ducks, some teal and a 



io BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

few wigeon. This decoy lies about a quarter of a mile 
from the village of Boarstall, and 8 miles north-west of 
Thame. The Revd. B. D. Aplin, of Aston-le- Walls, writes 
to me and says when he visited this decoy some years 
back the decoyman told him the following : " One day he 
saw a fox going up the side of a pipe and the ducks 
following him, so he took advantage of the fox acting as- 
his decoy-dog and made quite a good take, and blessed 
him for his kindly help." 

Before leaving Cheltenham I had an afternoon at 
Tewkesbury, where I saw the Abbey, and I was very 
greatly struck with this fine church ; in fact, after Durham 
I consider it to be the best example of Norman archi- 
tecture in England, the nave being especially grand, the 
great central tower magnificent. No church except 
Westminster can rival its chapels, and the canopy over 
the tomb of Hugo le Despenser is admitted to be the 
most beautiful in Europe ; it is indeed a building to see, to 
admire and to think about. From Cheltenham I went 
to Aston-le-Walls, seeing Stratford Church on my way, 
and stayed with my old friends, the Rector and Mrs. 
Aplin. On Friday, May 25, I went to Brill Station, and 
Mr. Lear most kindly met me and motored me over 
to Boarstall. We found the old decoyman, White, 
waiting for us. He has been on the estate for 
over 50 years and at the decoy about 40. His 
cottage is just outside the wood, and not more 
than 100 yards from a pipe. I may here say the 
wood, decoy, and garden are 15 acres, the size of the 
pool and pipes about 2 acres. We followed him to the 
nearest screens. These are well over 6 feet high, and 
wheat straw is used as no reeds grow near, and he 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS n 

surprised me by telling me that a screen lasted for fourteen 
or more years. I at once noticed he did not use pegs to 
make a peep-hole as do so many other decoymen, but 
had holes about the size of one's hand covered with a 
piece of slate which could be moved on one side, the lower 
part being tucked behind a cross-bar, and I think this is 
one reason the screens last so long, because each time the 
peg is pushed through it crushes the reeds or straws and 
new holes are always being made, so the wet gets in and 
rotting takes place, and then if the peg is pushed through 
too far the ducks near can hear the noise and sometimes 
see the end of the peg move, and then the peep-hole is 
small, whereas the slate can be gently moved with no 
sound, and a hole of fair size is made. The pipes here are 
shorter than Berkeley, and are about 50 yards or so in 
length. My first sight delighted me. A gentle ripple was 
on the water, and the sun lit up the pool, all the bushes and 
trees were in tender green, the wood was blue with wild 
hyacinths, with here and there a clump of primroses, and 
on the sides patches of king cups, all so quiet, so fresh. 
Blackbirds fluted, nightingales jugged, and the silvery 
peal of willow-wrens' songs came from all sides. Not a 
duck or waterhen was to be seen. How different to 
winter-time, when the wind whistled through the leafless 
trees and the water was covered by hundreds of wild fowl. 
White told me that during the last season there were a 
couple of thousand ducks of several kinds on it at one 
time. We walked to the other pipes, and I was much 
interested by his conversation, and it was no difficult thing 
to see he was not only capable as a decoy man, but took a 
very great interest in his work. Amongst many things, 
he told me that in peeping through the screen one day he 

B 



12 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

saw several clucks swimming - up the pipe heads out, just 
as they do when the dog is working. He showed himself, 
arid saw it was a stoat they were following, and he took 
14 common ducks, thanks to his helper, who on seeing 
him bolted through the wire and away. He uses a dog, 
and to make him more attractive ties a scarlet handker- 
chief round him. This decoy is not so artificial as the 
Berkeley Castle, the hoops to hold up the netting are 
of willow, and are lower, and between the pipes screens 
of branches are fixed, which are more in keeping with the 
surroundings than are wooden boards. In the season of 
1 878- 1 879 the most ducks were taken of the following 
kinds — common wild ducks 1,328, teal 200, wigeon 13, 
in all 1,541. The hour I spent went only too quickly, but 
it is fastened in my memory, and I shall ever remember 
the quiet pool, the pretty wood, and the old decoyman 
Nor shall I forget the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Lear. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 13 



CUMBERLAND. 

Name of Decoy — Silver Hill, Ljfngtown. O' / 

Traps — About 24, set at different ponds. / 

Size of Water — 12. ponds. / 

Name of Owner — Sir Richard Graham, Bt., of Netherby. 
In Wood of 250 acres. 

Number of ducks taken from 900 to 1,000 in a season, north- 
west of the Solway Moss, which is 1,000 acres. 

Sir R. Graham informs me that some traps catch better 
than others, and they are baited with Indian corn and 
chopped turnips. In 1899 he bought a lot of teal from a 
decoy in Somersetshire, and kept them in an enclosure 
with their wings clipped till the following autumn. Most 
of them remained when they could fly. These taught the 
wild ones to eat corn, which previously they would not do. 
For some years teal were ringed and some of these were 
sent to a decoy in Essex. The following year one was 
caught at Netherby with a 'ring on, another was killed off 
the North Coast of Germany, one caught in a decoy in 
Wales, and several on the Continent. I have also 
received a very interesting letter from W. Bell, the 
Netherby keeper. He says : " The traps are all fixtures, 
and should be placed in shallow water. Size of traps, 
21 feet on front next to water, 18 feet deep, the entrance 
2 feet 6 inches wide, 3^ feet long of a tunnel shape, the 
end 8 or 9 inches wide. The best year was 1,233 tea lj an ^ 
the best take 76 teal and 2 wigeon in one trap at one 
time." He once saw a white teal there for a few days. 



14 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



DORSETSHIRE. 

Name of Decoy — Abbotsbury. 
Name of Owner — Earl of lichester. 
Size of Water — i acre i rood xi perches. 
Number of Pipes — 3, and one into the Backwater. 
No dog used. 




TjhLB WEST FLEET 



A square pond sunrounded by reeds and pampas grass. 
There is also a pipe near by leading- into the open water 
of the Fleet or Backwater. Teal and common wild duck 
are the usual catch, but several other kinds are now and 
again taken. The decoy is 8 miles from Dorchester, at 
the head of the Fleet estuary. The date of this decoy 
being made is not known, but there is no doubt it is an 
ancient one, and probably belonged to the Monastery of 
St. Peter. Great numbers of duck, teal, wigeon, tufted 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 15 

-duck, pochard, and golden-eye visit it. The average 
number of ducks taken now is about 250. Close to the 
western end of the Fleet is the decoy. On this Fleet, 
Avhich extends for 6 miles, a great number of swans are 
kept. Mr. Hutchings, Lord Ilchester's agent, kindly 
informs me there are now about 1 ,000, which is an average 
number. Years back there were over 1,500 one year and 
again 600. I take the following from Mr. Cornish's 
delightful book, " Wild England of To-Day " : " During 
the winter wild ducks and coots in thousands frequent 
the sheltered waters of the Fleet, and in summer the hot 
and hazy surface of the shingle swarms with the young 
of terns and ringed plover. At the head of the water, 
in an almost tropical growth of pampas grass and fuchsias, 
is the Swan Paradise of Abbotsbury, and the rich and 
sheltered mead which fringes the Abbotsbury Brook is 
white with the graceful forms of hundreds of nesting 
swans. All the sites early in April are occupied by the 
jealous and watchful birds, each keenly resentful of any 
intrusion on its territory, yet in such close proximity that 
only a space of 10 or 12 feet divides them. Near the mouth 
of the small stream, which enters the Fleet below an 
extended bed of reeds, which is now and again cut down 
and stored for the use of the birds when nesting, lies the 
ground most coveted by the swans. Here are between two 
and three hundred nests or sites for nests on not more 
than 2 acres. So anxious are the birds to secure a space 
on this favoured spot that they remain sitting constantly 
on the place to be occupied in order to maintain their rights 
against intruders, and there collect with their long necks 
every morsel of reed and grass within reach to form a 
platform for their eggs. At this time the swanherd visits 



1 6 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

them constantly, and scatters bundles of dry reeds from 
the stacks, which are eagerly gathered by the swans and 
piled round them as they sit." Mr. Hutchings tells me 
that the swanherd has never seen a cygnet hatched whose 
first feathers were white as in the so-called Polish swan, 
though at Cambridge a pair had now and again a white 
young one, one of which I saw when on a visit there to 
the late Professor Alfred Newton some years ago. 

ABBOTSBURY DECOY, SEPTEMBER 12th, 19x7. 

After seeing Hamptworth I went via Weymouth to 
see this decoy and swannery. When changing trains 
at Poole I thought of Colonel Hawker and the 
shooting he did there in those long past days. 
Between Dorcester and Abbotsbury I saw a long- 
horned bullock in a meadow. How seldom does one see 
one of this rare breed nowadays. On arriving at Abbots- 
bury Station I found Mr. Hutchings, Lord Ilchester's 
agent, and was glad to be able to thank him for having 
so kindly given me information about the decoy. He now 
told me the keeper, Gill, would be at the decoy and ready 
to show it to me when I got there, which I did about 6 p.m. 
On my way I passed the church, and the ruins of the old 
Abbey, and in the bottom the Tithe Barn, which I under- 
stand is the largest in England, 270 feet long and 31 wide. 
About a third is in ruins ; the rest is in fair repair, and is 
thatched with reeds from the decoy. It is a grand 
building, and the wooden roof is a wonderful struc- 
ture. Down a short lane and over a meadow and I 
found the old decoyman waiting for me. He told me he 
had held the post for 38 years, and had been on the estate 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 17 

for over 50. How I admire these old and faithful servants, 
who take so much care and interest in their masters* 
things. I found the decoy was fenced from the meadow 
by a high stone wall, which runs across the neck of land 
which contains the pool. He first of all pointed out to me 
a board on a high pole, and on it it is stated that in 
November, 1824, after a great wind and high tide the sea 
rose 22 feet above the decoy, the like which had never 
been seen before or since. A path runs along the left 
hand, and on its side is a pretty border of plants and 
flowers, which the old man takes the greatest interest in. 
Along the green walk we went till we were on the edge of 
the backwater, a long piece of brackish water cut off from 
the sea by the Chesil Bank, about 7 miles long, and 
varying in width, ending by the decoy in a wide piece of 
many acres. Here is the swannery, which is so well known, 
and where over 1 ,000 breeding swans live. How beautiful 
they looked in varied-sized parties dotted about on the 
rippling water. It was, indeed, a beautiful sight, and 
one I shall ever remember. Gill informed me that owing 
to the war no corn was given to them, and with the late 
cold spring not a single young bird had been reared. He 
generally placed 150 or more in the feeding pens. One- 
third of them were given away or eaten at the Castle, 
and the remainder went to keep up the herd. This 
swannery has been kept here foor hundreds of years, and 
I was truly pleased to see so interesting a collection of 
these grand and beautiful birds. Under the bank on our 
left amongst a scattered weed bed were several hundreds 
of coots, and Gill told me that two big coot drives took 
place during the winter, and about 1,000 birds were shot 
each time, and he thought that at times there were from 



1 8 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

eight to nine thousand of these birds on the water. He 
never remembered to have seen a variety amongst them. 
It was a pretty evening, still, clear, and bright, and a very 
charming picture was the great expanse of water and the 
numbers of great white birds on it. We now turned our 
attention to the decoy. There are four pipes, three of 
which open from the decoy pool, which is about ij acres 
in extent, surrounded by 3 or 4 acres of reeds, and on one 
side by some storm-blown trees draped with lichen, 
reminding me of the Dee-side trees in Aberdeenshire. 
The fourth pipe opens into the backwater, and this 
is the one in which the most ducks are taken. One 
day over 100 teal were secured. The most ducks ever 
got in a short time was a few years back when about 500 
were captured in two days, 77 being caught at one take. 
The pipes are about 50 yards long, 9 feet high at the 
entrance, and about 4 yards wide there. They are of wire, 
and the hoops are of ash and willow. Each pipe has a 
run of water through it, and Gill told me this attracted 
ducks more than dead water ones. This I can quite under- 
stand. The screens average about 5 feet 6 inches in 
height, and are well made of reeds, lasting on an average 
of fourteen years ; there are no screens between the pipe 
mouths, but one runs along by the edge of the backwater. 
The dense growth of reeds form a complete screen all 
round the decoy pool. A better situated decoy I have not 
seen, and the decoyman, I am sure, is an adept in 
decoying, and I much enjoyed my chat. He pointed out 
on the Chesil Bank where a large colony of common terns 
nested and a fair lot of lesser ones, and a long line of dark 
growths ; these are peas, for a ship ladened with them was 
wrecked here years back, and year by year they grow, but 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



i9 



-now the pods are short and the seed small. It was getting 
dark and the sun was dipping westward before I could 
tear myself away from a spot which thoroughly appealed 
to my feelings, and I shall long remember the pleasant 
chat, the beautiful evening, and the quiet decoy so peace- 
fully placed in that western county. Long may the swans 
float on the rippling waters, and may it be long, long 
years before the decoy is given up, as I am sorry to say 
so many have been in this our dear England. 




WSfcHt, 






*V. 



Pbepjno Through the " Spy-hole." 

By A. H. Pattetson. 



2o BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



ESSEX. 

Name of Decoy — The Grange. 

Name of Owner — Mr. Atter. borough. 

Size of Water — Rather more than an acre. 

Number of Pipes — 6. 

Is a Dog used? — Yes. 




7Z?e 6r<?/7?e 2?ecoy 'Fhof 

This decoy is in Tillingham Marsh, south of the 
Blackwater, and three-quarters of a mile from the sea. 
The average yearly take is from 1,500 to 2,000 ducks. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 21 

It lies in a flat part near the coast, which part consists 
of reclaimed meadows, intersected by ditches, and pro- 
tected by a sea-wall. The quantity of wigeon which 
come vary very much. In some seasons there are great 
numbers, in others not so many, but some frequent the 
Marsh House Decoy, which is quite near. As many as 
10,000 ducks of several kinds have been taken in one 
season not so many years back in this decoy. 

After leaving Orwell I went on to Langford Hall, where 
I received a warm welcome from Mr. and Mrs. Littlehales, 
and the next morning, July 19th, he and I took train for 
Southminster, a quaint old town, with a large church, which 
has a very fine north porch and tower. Here a carriage 
was waiting, and we drove to the Grange Farm, and from 
there walked over a marsh field to the decoy, a distance 
of half-a-mile or so. This decoy lies surrounded by low 
trees and bushes, with a few tallish elms. It is about a 
mile from the sea-wall, and in the distance looks like an 
island in the great open flat. The pool is a little over an 
acre in extent, with six pipes, and has been a decoy for 
many years. The pipes vary in length a little, and in 
stepping them I found them, No. 1 70 yards, No. 2 70, 
No. 3 67, No. 4 60, No. 5 70, No. 6 63. These pipes 
are covered with netting on wooden hoops, with side and 
top supports of wood. The screens were 5 feet 6 inches 
high, the arch at entrance of pipes about 12 feet, and the 
water about 15 feet wide. Only two pipes had running 
back walls, as the growth of bushes- acted for the others. 
This decoy is a very old one, is well kept, and must be 
very attractive to ducks. There were a fair number on 
it, and several gulls. The wood round it would be 
6 acres or so, and we saw a lot of rabbits. As I stood 



22 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

taking notes a stoat ran past us within 3 yards in the 
open part, and as we were down wind it never noticed us. 
Never before have I seen one come so near in the open 
and pass without spotting me. Not so the ducks, for 
directly we came to the pipe, where the wind blew from us 
to the pond, all the ducks about its entrance rose and 
flew across to the other side. This decoy was more like 
the one at Iken than any other 1 have seen. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



23- 



ESSEX. 

Name of Decoy — Marsh House. 

Owners — Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's. 

Tenant — E. Raby. 

Size of Water — 2 acres. 

In a Wood of 8 acres. 

Number of Pir>°s — 6. 

A Dog is used. 



7%zxrZ? jfyoz/je Ifecoif 



24 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

The Marsh House Decoy is in Bradwell Marsh, south 
of the Blackwater. It lies three-quarters of a mile west 
from the coast, and is about 2 miles from Tillingham. 
It is very secluded and well concealed with reeds and 
brushwood. A good many wigeon are taken, and most 
are taken in November, December, January, and February. 
Wigeon have once been seen on this decoy as early as 
August, but generally it is October before they come. This 
is a very ancient decoy, about 200 years old. Between 
2,000 and 3,000 ducks are taken, principally wigeon. 
Many years back ^400 were made of ducks sold. This 
would mean, counting teal and wigeon as half-birds, 
about 10,000 fowl taken in one season. In 1795, 
according to Daniel (p. 49), this decoy cleared ^800 after 
paying all expenses. An interesting collection of different 
birds taken in this decoy from time to time is preserved 
at Marsh House, and comprises the following : Hooded 
crow, kingfisher, brown owl, kestrel, sparrow hawk, 
peewit, wild duck, scaup, garganey, shoveller, pintail, 
wigeon, gadwall, scoter ferruginous duck, tufted duck, 
smew, coot, redshank, spotted redshank, greenshank, 
oxbird, common sandpiper, little grebe, common gull, 
stormy petrol. 

THE MARSH HOUSE DECOY. 

After a most pleasant hour at the Grange Decoy we 
drove on by Tillingham to the Marsh Decoy, and though 
as the duck flies it is only a bit over a mile from the 
Grange, it was 3 miles or so by the road. We walked 
from the farm buildings over a beautiful piece of marsh 
grass full of wild white clover to the decoy wood; it is 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



2 5 



about half-a-mile. The pool is a little over i£ acres in 
extent, surrounded by a wood of 7 acres or so. No high 
trees, but well sheltered with willow, alder, and birch. I 
always think low trees are preferred by ducks where the 
water is of small size, as they have more space to settle 
and rise. The pipes are six in number, covered with 
netting (string), and 011 wooden hoops, and are all about 
10 feet high at the entrance and 15 feet wide across the 
water. The screens are 5 feet 6 inches high. There were 
a nice few ducks on the water. This decoy has not been 
worked for three years on account of the war, but will 
be again as soon as it is over. A pleasant drive back, 
and I saw the first corn of the year being mown (oats), 
and back to Langford. So ended my visit to all the decoys 
in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex. In this decoy were taken 
in seasons of — 

1 853-54 
l8 54-55 
1855-56 
1856-57 



I know no decoys now worked so well placed to attract 
wildfowl as are these two Essex ones, well out in a big 
marsh pasture close to the sea and sheltered by a ring 
of trees and bushies — perfect spots. More than once 
over 10,000 wildfowl have been taken in a season in this 
decoy. 



1,227 


ducks 


2,668 


j? 


3,008 


>» 


2,062 


j> 


2,076 


» ? 


11,041 


fowl. 



26 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



GLOUCESTERSHIRE. 

Name of Decoys — Berkeley Old Decoy and New Decoy. 

Name of Owner — Earl of Berke'ey. 

Size of Water — Old, 13 acres; New, 1 acre. 

Old Decoy in a Wood of 8 acres ; New Decoy in a Wood of 

5 acres. 
Number of Pipes — Old Decoy, 4 ; New Decoy, 2. 
Average of Ducks in the two Decoys — 1,200. 
Is a Dog used? — Yes, in both. 




Of the wildfowl taken an average of the common wild 
duck is 75 per cent. Other ducks taken are wigeon, teal, 
pintail, shoveller, pochard, scaup, and various divers 
(grebes). 

This decoy is 3 miles north of the town of Berkeley 
and 12 miles south-west of Gloucester, and close to the 
bank of the River Severn. The pools are about a mile 
from each other, and the new decoy was made in 1840. 
They are on the same plan as that of Hornby Castle, in 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 27 

Yorkshire, and were copied from the one at Sedgemoor, 
near Glastonbury, in Somersetshire. Years back a good 
many ducks were taken when feeding in the pipes at 
night by falling nets fitted at the entrance to the pipes 
and let down by pulling a cord. 




YISITS TO BERKELEY CASTLE DECOY. 

It is wonderful how little we think of trouble and what 
distances we will go to see anything that interests us, 
and when on May 15th I left home for Cheltenham on my 

c 



28 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

way to see the Berkeley Castle decoy, distance, time, and 
trouble were the last things I thought about. Stopping 
at Worcester, I saw the Cathedral for the second time, 
and though perhaps with the exception of Chichester we 
hear less of it than of any of the others, I found it full of 
interest. It is one of the larger middle-sized Cathedrals, 
and is 426 feet in length. There are many interesting 
monuments, and none more so than that of King John, 
placed in the choir in front of the high altar. Some years 
back it was opened, and the body, which was in a fair 
state of preservation, was examined, and part of one of 
the stockings and the sole of a sandal removed and placed 
in a glass case hard by. I viewed these with much 
interest. The material the stocking is made of is dark in 
colour and coarsely woven, and must have been very 
uncomfortable to wear, but its condition after all these 
centuries is wonderful. I then proceeded to Cheltenham, 
which I now visited for the first time, only having passed 
through the station going west. I was much struck with 
its well-laid out streets and roads, the buildings, and trees 
everywhere ; the Promenade is very pretty, fine trees with 
rooks nesting in them, one tree being of much interest — 
a large weeping willow, which was brought as a slip from 
the tree overshadowing Napoleon's grave at St. Helena. 
On the 17th I went to Gloucester, and enjoyed a good 
look over this fine Cathedral. On Friday, May 18th, I 
left for Berkeley Road Station, from which place I walked 
to the decoy, about 4 miles or so. A very pretty walk it 
was through winding lanes, by rustic cottages standing 
in nice gardens, bright with spring flowers, all freshened 
by the rain of the previous day. The mellow notes of 
blackbirds sounded on all sides ; chaffinches poured out 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 29 

their short jerky song from the fruit trees, which were 
smothered with blossoms, and the cuckoo's voice was 
loud. After about 3^ miles 1 crossed several fields and 
arrived at the keeper's cottage, which is close to the decoy 
pool, as it is called here. This decoy is laid out in the most 
approved way, and the trees planted round to make it as 
much hidden as possible, with lots of shrubs and bushes. 
There are four pipes, higher than usual and wider, and 70 
yards long to where the trammel net is fastened, all the 
hoops to hold the net are of strong iron, and all the other 
supports are of iron. The netting is very strong, and 
tarred. The small ends and sides are of wire; between 
each pipe along the water's edge is a boarded fence 7 feet 
high, so the whole pool is screened. It is a most attrac- 
tive piece of water, and being close to the River Severn 
is well placed for ducks. I went (round and carefully 
looked at everything. I was much struck with many of 
the screens, which were overgrown with ivy. This 
covering caused them to look more in keeping with the 
surrounding trees and bushes. The decoy must have 
been laid out by a man fully competent for such a work, 
but so much iron made it look rather artificial. As I took 
a last look at the wood I heard two nightingales pouring 
out their melodious song, and many swallows were 
hawking over the water, and the rippling song of willow- 
wrens came from all sides. A pleasant walk back to the 
station and then by train to Cheltenham finished a happy 
outing. 



3 o BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

TO BERKELEY CASTLE DECOYS A SECOND TIME. 

Owing- to non-delivery of my letter to the decoyman at 
Berkeley, I did not see him when I went in May, so on 
my way back from seeing - Hamptworth and Abbotsbury 
I stopped at Cheltenham with my daughter, and having 
had kindly permission from Mr. Peters, Lord Berkeley's 
agent, 1 again went in order to see the second decoy 
pool, which I did not see when there. I found the decoy- 
man, whose father was there for many years, and his 
elder brother till he was unfortunately drowned. Though 
only a short time since he took the place he has worked 
with keen interest, and is carrying out the instructions 
taught him by his father when he was a boy, and I could 
see he took the greatest interest in everything pertaining 
to the decoying of ducks. We started with the old decoy 
close to his cottage, which I have described before. There 
were a few ducks on. After leaving we crossed the canal, 
a very fine one, 30 to 40 yards wide, and running for 
14 miles without a lock. About a quarter of a mile or 
so we got over into a flat open piece of great extent, 
and at once about 50 wild geese rose several hundred 
yards away, and flew out and settled on the Severn, which 
is nearly a mile wide hereabouts. He told me they were 
bean geese. These come year by year early in September 
and leave in October, when their place is taken by the 
white-fronted geese, which are in big numbers, and these 
with a number of pink-footed live here till the spring, and 
there are many hundreds of them. After they have taken 
the best of the grass on this flat, or if it is deeply flooded, 
they go over the bank into the meadows beyond, and from 
there they are driven to the guns standing behind high 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 31 

butts between the meadows and the river just at the 
back of the bank, and as many as 21 have been shot at 
one drive. Near here is the new decoy, lying a couple 
or more hundred yards from the flood bank and half-a- 
mile or so from the river. It is about an acre or so in 
extent, with two pipes. There used to be four. They 
run south-west and north-west, and the pool is surrounded 
by trees, and lies very quiet and sheltered. More ducks 
are taken here than in the old decoy, also teal and wigeon. 
The best take was some years back, when 300 ducks were 
caught in one day, and at two takes 180 and 120. Some 
of the screens are wooden boards, but most are of reeds, 
and they last about 15 years. One pipe is rather straight, 
but the other is a perfect-shaped one. When a big lot 
of ducks are in, and the tunnel net will not hold them, 
a drop door, iron rimmed, and of net, is dropped, the 
tunnel net is taken off and another is put on, and the 
ducks which have gone back to the drop net, which is 
about 6 yards from permanent end, are, after the others 
have been killed, again driven in. The big take filled 
the tunnel three times. The pipes are about 70 yards 
long, 18 feet wide at the mouth, and 14 feet high. The 
decoy man encourages ivy to grow over the screens, and he 
told me such covered screens lasted longer. He found 
that pheasants were fond of perching on the top of the 
screen, and they crushed and broke the reeds and rot 
set in, so he now runs a 4-inch-wide board on the top 
lengthways, and this not only keeps the birds off, but 
keeps the rain from running down the cut reeds. In the 
old decoy there are a lot of coarse fish, which attract 
herons. These perch on the top of the pipes and trees 
and at once spot the decoyman, then rising with their loud 



32 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

squawk they disturb the ducks. He catches a few every 
season in the pipes and also in traps. In the new decoy 
over ioo teal have been taken in a day. He finds the 
wigeon the hardest to tempt in, but hemp-seed and millet 
thrown into the pipe floats down and often attracts them. 
Teal are very fond of these seeds, also of the seeds of 
goose grass and knot grass. The pipes are covered with 
strong cord netting, and all hoops are of iron, and they 
are higher and wider than in any of the decoys I have so 
far seen. He also told me his father never tried to take 
ducks by feeding, because he caught the lead in this way, 
and the lead are very important ducks, for they are 
continually bringing strange ducks into the decoy. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



3$ 



LANCASHIRE. 

Name of Decoy — Hale. 

Name of Owner — Colonel IrHand-Blackburne, C.B. 
Size of Water — 2^ acres. 
In a Wood of 8 acres. 
Number of Pipes — 5. 
Is a Dog used? — V'es. 




HALE DECOY. 



Common wild ducks, teal, wigeon, pintail, are taken, 
and occasionally shovellers. Teal are taken in greater 
numbers than any other ducks. This decoy is only 9 miles 
south-east of Liverpool, and is in a marsh within a 



34 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

quarter of a mile of the River Mersey, close to the village 
of Hale, and within 150 yards of the high road, and is 
surrounded by a moat 18 feet wide, which is filled during 
high tides, and forms a great protection to it, and is known 
to be at least 180 years old. Sometimes from 1,000 to 
1,500 ducks are taken in a season, but the average now 
is about 600. A decoy book is kept, which dates from 
1 801 up to now. More common duck were taken up to 
1875 than teal, but from that date a change has taken 
place, and teal predominate. This is the only pipe decoy 
in Lancashire. I have to thank Colonel Ireland-Blackburne 
for the following : " The most common wild ducks taken 
in one season, 444 — that was in 1875; the most teal, 
1,021, in 1898; and the most wigeon, 94, in 1894. Since 
1900 teal have predominated, and three-fourths of the 
fowl taken have been of this species. From 1875 to J ^5 
1,361 common wild duck were caught; 118 widgeon also 
during this time, and 4,327 teal. From 1900 to 191 7 
221 wigeon, 820 common wild duck, and 6,545 tea * were 
taken." 

HALE HALL DECOY VISITED, November 22nd, 1917. 

I often look back with pleasure to the days when I was 
collecting information for my book, " The Deer Parks of 
England," and well remember the many kindnesses I 
received from the owners or their agents and the great 
number of beautiful places I saw and the friendships I 
made ; and now again as I get together information of the 
decoys now worked I find how kindly the owners are, how 
freely they give me particulars and ask me to go and see 
them. From none have I received greater kindness than 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 35 

from Colonel Ireland-Blackburne, the owner of the Hale 
Decoy, and an invitation to go and see it and him was 
eagerly accepted by me. I left home on the 21st of 
November, and arrived at Liverpool in the early afternoon, 
and saw the New Cathedral which is being built ; it stands 
in a fine position, and will be a very large and striking 
church, covering more ground than any other English 
Cathedral. I arrived at Ditton Junction, and was met by 
Colonel Blackburne, who shortly after gave me a hearty 
welcome at his house, a building of great interest dating 
back to the thirteenth century, at least a goodly part of 
it does. I was very much struck with the inner hall- 
door, the finest in a private house I have ever seen ; it is 
8 feet 6 inches in height, 5 feet 6 inches in width and 
3 inches thick, of black oak, and looks as good as it did 
hundreds of years back; it is indeed a door to be proud 
of. The view from the west windows is a fine one over the 
park to the River Mersey, which here is 2\ miles wide, 
and beyond it the hills of Cheshire form a grand back- 
ground. We met the decoyman in the morning near the 
decoy, which is about a mile or so from the Hall. He was 
accompanied by his dog, a very smart-looking brown 
terrier, and I was pleased to hear there were a lot of teal 
on the decoy, and he said he was certain of a fair take. 
He had caught 18 the day before, and 16 on the previous 
one. The decoy is near the bank of the river, and is 
z\ acres in size — this includes the five pipes — and is 
surrounded by 8 acres of wood, consisting of oaks, elms, 
and a few ashes; it is known to have been a decoy for 
nearly 200 years, and is as well placed as is possible to 
imagine. Leaving the road we crossed a flat, damp 
meadow, and arrived at the wood. A dyke surrounds all 



36 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

this wood ; it is about 6 yards across, and forms a grand 
protection from two and four footed intruders. I was 
much interested with the foot-bridge; this when not in 
use is locked on the meadow side, and when wanted is 
unfastened and swings over the water, as the swing doors 
of a canal do. Crossing it we entered the wood. Here 
is pipe Xo. i, not used this season as the snow of last 
spring bent down some of the arches. I may here say the 
five pipes are about 70 yards long, 8 yards wide at the 
mouth, and 10 feet high there; they have iron hoops, and 
are covered with strong cord netting; the screens are of 
i-inch boards, 6 feet high, and tarred, and the peep-holes 
in them are about 2 inches long, half-an-inch wide, cut 
across the boards. The ends of all the pipes run to within 
a few yards of the outside of the wood. The dog-leaps 
have a round hole cut through them, through which the 
small dog goes. This to me is better than the dog jumping 
over, as it does not startle the fowl so much. We now 
had a peep at the pool, and what a sight. It was to me a 
perfect picture; it was dotted all over with scores of teal 
and here and there a pair of common wild ducks. A bright 
sun was shining, showing up their lovely plumage. The 
place resounded with the whistling notes of the drake 
teal and the subdued quack quack of the females. I 
whispered to the keeper what number about are there ; he 
replied between four and five hundred. I should have 
thought more. Many were sleeping, others preening 
themselves and little thinking their enemy man was so 
near. A delightful bird picture which I shall never forget. 
As the wind suited No. 3 pipe we moved on. I stopped 
half-way up it and glued my eye to the peep-hole ; there 
were a lot of teal about the entrance. The keeper went 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 37 

down with the dog and put her through near the mouth of 
the pipe. The effect on the teal was wonderful. Up went 
every head, necks were poked forward, and on the second 
appearance many swam up the pipe. Now the decoyman 
showed himself to them, and up the pipe they flew past me,, 
so near I could feel the wind from their wings, and being 
near a dog-jump I could see to net at the end. Forward 
they dashed, and struggled into the very end of the 
tunnel net. We were quickly there, the decoyman 
unfastened the net, laid the hoop end on the ground, and 
started to break the necks of the teal which were sticking 
through the meshes ; this he did by taking hold of the bird 
close to where the neck joins the body, then taking the 
head between the thumb and two first fingers he pressed 
the neck to his left hand and twisted the head round to 
the right, and so killed them quickly and with little pain. 
This done he emptied the birds out, and we found there 
were 28, all teal, with a proportion of two drakes to a 
duck. Beautiful they were in plumage and shape. I was 
amused to see the dog pick several up, look at his master,, 
and with a smile and tail-wag laid them down as if to say 
we both have done it well ; and it was wonderful to think 
that all this had been done in a few minutes and none of 
the fowl on the pool were any the wiser. Peeping down 
No. 4 pipe, which the wind only permitted from near the 
bend, we saw several birds on the side well up, so the 
decoyman asked us to stand well back, and he crossed 
through the trees to the pipe, showed himself at once and 
up they went. We joined him at the end net, and found 
eight teal and a waterhen in. Before we had been there 
a couple of minutes every duck on the pool was on the 
wing, having even at this distance got our wind, and con- 



38 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

tinued to fly round till we had emptied and fixed the net ; 
we then drew away amongst the trees and watched them. 
Round and round they flew, and gradually lowering at 
.last swished down and settled again. This proves how 
soon they wind anyone and what an effect it has on them, 
.and completely kills the idea of some folk that birds can- 
not smell. Having collected the 36 teal, we quietly left the 
decoy, passed over the plank bridge, which was swung 
.over to the meadow, chained and locked, where I thanked 
the decoyman for a delightful exhibition and returned to 
the Hall with my host, and left for home after sincere 
thanks for such a sight which will never fade from my 
memory. 



Name of Decoy or Trap — Hornby Castle, near Lancaster. 

A Trap. 

Size of Water — Made on side of River Lune. 

Name of Owner — Mr. C. H. \Y. Foster. 

Size of Trap — 24 feet square. 

In a long and interesting letter the head keeper, W. S. 
Bowman, tells me the following : " This trap was 
made to catch up the tame-reared ducks, which are 
reared at Hornby Castle, from 200 to 300 in number, but 
some wild ones are taken, about 40 in a season, and 14 
the most ever taken at one time." He writes: "The 
placing of the trap must be carefully arranged, otherwise 
there will not be much chance of success, the place selected 
to be on the river bank where willows or brushwood is 
growing. The decoy must be placed behind the brush- 
wood, so that it is hidden from the ducks, but an inroad 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 39 

from it to the river must be made, running to the entrance 
of the trap. The tunnel of the trap is the main object. 
This must be of a half-moon shape on arches of wire 
or willow running- into the trap for about z\ feet, the 
outer entrance to be made 2 feet wide by 1^ feet high, 
and must be fitted to a hole cut out of the end next the 
river and where the inroad runs up the cage, the end of 
this tunnel to be 1 foot wide, about the same height or 
a little less, so that the ducks can pass into the cage 
through it without having to squeeze in. Many ducks 
won't do this, but when they feel the wire touching them 
they back out." He says : " Middle day is the best time 
to look at the trap, as in the evening and early morning 
ducks are feeding, and it would frighten them much. 
The corn for bait must be laid from the water's edge 
through the cutting and the tunnel into the centre of the 
trap, the bait to be Indian corn. Most traps have a 
recess entrance, but I recommend the tunnel opening to 
be straight on the end." 



4° 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 




BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 41 



LEICESTERSHIRE. 

Name of Water — Groby Pool. 
Traps. 

Owner — The Hon. Mrs. Grey. 
Tenant — T. W. Everard. 
Size of Water — 20 acres. 

Number of Traps — 2, made of Wire Netting ; Length, 14 feet ; 
Width, 5 feet ; Height, 4 feet. 

The traps are baited with maize. One is in the rushes, 
the other on the side of water. Common duck and teal 
are taken, but never very many in a season. The best take 
at one time was fifteen common wild duck and nine teal. 
Waterhens are now and again caught. This is a very 
pretty lake, and much frequented by wildfowl ; but a road 
runs on one end and is rather a drawback. Beds of reeds 
form a good covert for ducks, and much weed is also 
attractive. 



42 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



LINCOLNSHIRE. 

Name of Decoy — Ashby. 

Name of Owner — Mr. F. King. 

Name of Tenant — Mr. Noel Fawcett. 

Size of Water — 2 acres. 

In a Wood of 10 acres. 

Number of Pipes — 4. 

Is a Dog used? — Yes. 



f 




d>o<4tl*y deary 



This is one of the most celebrated decoys in England, 
and is now the only one in Lincolnshire. Years back there 
were thirty-eight. Most of them had been discontinued 
as far back as 1808, when over 200,000 acres in this 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 43 

county had been drained ; in those days there were no 
doubt more wildfowl in Lincolnshire than in any other 
shire in England. The most ducks taken in one season 
was in 1834-35, when 6,367 were caught, and in 1852-53 
the take was 6,059, and in thirty-five seasons 95,865 
clucks were captured, consisting of 48,664 wild ducks, 
44,568 teal, 2,019 wigeon, 285 shovellers, 278 pintail, 
22 gadwaJl, and 29 garganey. Mr. Fawcett informs me 
the proportion now is three-quarters common wild duck 
and one-quarter teal. In late years the best day's take 
was 248, of which number 113 mallard were taken at one 
drive. The decoy is 2 miles from the River Trent. 

A VISIT TO THE ASHBY DECOY. 
The owner of this famous decoy, Mr. King, having 
kindly asked me to run over and have a look at it, I need 
hardly say I jumped at the kind invitation, and a friend 
almost as keen offering to motor me there, we left home 
by 10 a.m., and were soon passing the entrance of the 
beautiful old abbey of Rufford, where King Edward stayed 
so often for the Doncaster St. Leger. The sun was shining, 
and the grand old trees and shrubs have never 
looked more beautiful. On through Ollerton to 
Retford, where after a warm up and a short rest 
we ran on to Gainsborough, where we were 
charged is. 8d. for bridge toll over the River Trent. 
After passing through the town, we came to Scotter and 
Messingham, and sinking the steeping hill, arrived at the 
decoy-house and had a hearty welcome from Mr. King. 
He told us that the decoy was frozen, but he would take 
us to the screens to have a look at the ducks. The water 
at this celebrated decoy is about 2 acres in extent, and 

D 



44 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

lies in a wood of 10 acres. The trees — oak, birch, and 
alders — grow down to the bank, and some are high ones. 
There are four pipes. In this decoy between the seasons 
of 1833-34 an d 1867-68 were taken 95,865 ducks of seven 
different kinds. I also noticed in the list were twenty-nine 
garganey, taken in the following years : — 



1833 1 1844 

1834 2 1846 

1836 1 1849 

1838 3 1851 

1840 1 1852 

1841 2 1853 



1 1854 ... '... 3 

1 1856 2 

2 1857 3 

1 1861 1 

1 1863 1 

3 Total ... — 29 



Garganeys are rare, and not being a winter bird, are 
seldom taken, makes this a most interesting list. During 
the thirty-five years only twenty-two gadwall were caught. 
This clearly shows that they are far from common. 

The decoy is about a couple of hundred yards from the 
house, and is about 2 miles from the banks of the Trent. 
Near the river there is a good lot of warped land, which 
is made land, and is done in the following way : The high 
tide is let over the fields, and when the sediment has 
settled, it is run off at low water. This is con- 
tinued till there is a sufficient deposit, which is very 
productive, being greatly composed of vegetable matter, 
and grows large crops of mangolds and potatoes. Mr. 
King informed me they generally warp 4 feet, but he has 
known as much as 10 feet put on, but, of course, it depends 
on the lie of the land, some parts wanting only 2 feet or 
so. These floodings attract great numbers of wildfowl, 
who frequent them to feed at night, resting by day on the 
waters of the decoy. After crossing the meadow in which 
the house stands, we passed over a plank and entered the 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 45 

wood, and were soon at the screens. On peeping through 
I saw a great company of wildfowl standing on the ice. 
They were in two lots, and Mr. King estimated the number 
at about 700. They were principally common wild ducks, 
but there were a good few teal and some wigeon, and a 
very beautiful sight it was, their bright plumage showing 
up under the brilliant sunshine. I could have remained 
for hours, and my thoughts went back to the olden days 
when, instead of hundreds, probably there were thousands, 
for flocks of many thousands were often seen passing over 
from one part of the fen to another, and an old friend of 
Mr. King's told me he remembers years back 2,200 ducks 
being taken at Ashby in thirty-one days. After tearing 
myself away from the reed screens I walked down the side 
of the pipe, and so on to the house. In the hall Mr. King 
pointed out to me a case containing a stuffed dog, and 
informed me it was one of " Mr. Healy's. "* It was a long 
low foxy -coloured animal with an abnormally bushy tail. 
It interested me much, and I wondered how many ducks 
it had enticed to their doom. Outside was a stone to 
another favourite, and on it a Latin inscription, which, 
translated, reads thus : — 

Moss IE, 

Amongst Dogs the Most Beloved. 

Departed this Life, 

1848. 

This Monument was placed in her Memory 

by 

H. H. 

On the top of the stone slab is a dog very beautifully 

* Mr. H. Healy was a former owner of Ashby Decoy. 



4 6 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



carved. The stone had only lately been discovered, 
having - been used to cover a drain, but will now be taken 
care of. The Ashby Decoy is now rented by Mr. Noel 
Fawcett. The pipes are 75 yards long, 16 feet wide at 
entrance, and 14 feet at arch, and are covered with string 
netting ; four in number, in good working order. The 
screens are of reeds and 6 feet hiyh. 













■^Ak* ^Hl. '■* 4^^B 


Hffbih 


_ 


K - 














r 
















■^2 




^B 














^pm^K- 





Mr. H. Williams Feeding Dicks over the Screens at 
Borough Fen Decov, near Peterborough. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 47 



NORFOLK. 

Name of Decoy — Wretham. 

Name of Owner — Mr. Saxton W. A. Noble. 

Size of Water — 30 acres. 

Size of Wood — 38 acres of Woods on three sides ; the other 

side Open Park. 
Number of Pipes — 3 

Average number of Ducks taken in a season is about 1,000. 
No Dog is used. 

Common wild ducks are principally the ducks taken, 
but teal, wigeon, shovellers, and gadwall are caught now 
and again. The piece of water is known as the " Mickle 
Mere," and is situated in Wretham Park, midway between 
Thetford and Watton. It is now about eighty years since 
the decoy was made. One of the good seasons was 
1883-84, when 1,640 ducks were taken. A decoy book 
was started in 1868. It is found here that a good year 
for acorns is a poor year for taking ducks, for the ducks 
then leave the water continually to go into the plantations 
to feed on them. Teal and wigeon are not often taken, 
though there are frequently many hundreds on the water. 
This is now the only decoy worked in Norfolk; formerly 
there were twenty-one, and in 1886 there were five. The 
following are some of the best years lately : 1896-97, 1,807 5 
1897-98, 935; 1900-1, 1,354; i9°3-4i 881; 1906-7, 1,259; 
1907-8, 806; 1908-9, 950; 1910-11, 711; 1913-14, 1,283; 
1915-16, 992. 

WRETHAM DECOY, JULY 15th, 1918. 

I left my brother's near Leicester and went on by Peter- 
borough and Ely to Thetford. It was close snd hot, and 



48 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

trains crowded, which made travelling anything but 
pleasant. The country looked bright and fresh after the 
rains of the last few days. I again saw Peterborough and 
Ely Cathedrals ; both fine ones. The latter, 1 always 
think, is the grandest, both inside and out, in England, 
and I have seen them all. Thetford was full of soldiers, 
and I had much difficulty in getting a carriage, but at last 
succeeded and drove off to Wretham Decoy. The country 
I passed over was typical of Norfolk, moderately undulat- 
ing, well wooded, with large open fields. Here and there 
were big pieces of bracken, with patches of heather dotted 
about. Lots of striking flowers were on either hand. 
Mulleins reared their long stems decked with yellow- 
flowers, bedstraws, yellow and white, pink mallows, and 
lots of biting stone-crop, which seems to flourish on this 
dry, sandy ground. Six miles brought us to Wretham 
Park, and 1 found Brown, the head keeper, at home, and 
we at once walked across the park to the decoy. It lies 
a few hundred yards from the house, a natural piece of 
water called " Mickle Mere." It is about 30 acres in 
extent. Formerly there were ten pipes, but only three 
have been used for some years. It is a perfect-looking 
duck pool, and Brown said that during the season there 
were often thousands of ducks on it of several sorts, and 
any day there were hundreds. The first pipe I saw was 
the largest of the three, and the biggest I have ever seen. 
It was 96 yards long and 25 feet wide at the mouth and 
about 16 feet high at the top of the arch. This size was 
carried up for 20 yards or more, and the hoops, which 
were of flat wood, were strengthened with bands of iron, 
and supported as far as the bend by poles up the middle 
of the pipe. The hoops were fixed in strong oaken posts, 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 49 

which came above the bank. The netting- was of wire. I 
have never seen these centre supports used in a pipe before. 
The other two pipes were 65 yards long, and not nearly so 
wide or high. The screens are of reeds 6 feet 6 inches 
high, the dog-jumps wood, and not high. The best season 
Brown has had he got just over 1,800 ducks. The park is 
well wooded, and the house, a new one to replace the one 
burned a few years back, is of brick and large in size. 
There are several smaller pools about, which add to the 
attraction for ducks. Big belts of various timber trees 
surround the park, and it struck me as a very fine sporting 
property. My thanks are due to Mr. Saxton Noble for 
kindly permission to see it. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 




BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



5i 



NORTH AMPTON SH I RE. 
BOROUGH FEN DECOY. 

Name of Decoy — Borough Fen Decoy. 

Name of Owner — Mr. Watson. 

Name of Tenant — Herbert Williams. 

Size of Water — 2 acres. 

In a Wood of 19 acres t - 

Number of Pipes — 8. 

A Dog is used. 



fit fit 



QoROtfCH Fen v 




52 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

This decoy has been in the tenancy of Mr. Williams* 
family for over 200 years. It is in the north-east corner 
of Northamptonshire and about 6 miles north of Peter- 
borough. It is one of the oldest decoys, and was worked 
as far back as 1670. Very large takes were made in the 
past years, the duck taken in greatest numbers being the 
common wild duck, but a good few wigeon and teal are 
taken, some shovellers, and once or twice garganey teal ; 
amongst other bints, Two full snipe have been caught. Mr. 
Williams tells me that even now a goodly lot of duck are 
seen on the pool, as many as between 2,000 and 3,000 at 
one time. This decoy is most beautifully kept in every 
way; the pipes, screens, etc., in fact everything, in the 
best of order. After the great floods of August, 1881, 
more ducks were taken during the season than Mr. 
Williams ever remembers; just over 16,000 ducks were 
caught. 

BOROUGH FEN DECOY, JULY 13th, 1917. 

Having received a kind invitation from Mr. Williams 
to visit this well-known decoy, I took the opportunity when 
on a visit to my brother's to go, his place being nearer than 
mine, and the trains fitted better, for it is a labour in 
those evil times of few trains and higher fares to arrange 
to get to arid return from places even though they are not 
so very far apart. Leaving Glen Station, we changed into 
the Peterborough train at Market Harborough, and were 
soon running through the great Welland Valley. Here 
many were busy with their hay ; more than half the crop 
was carried, and was quite an average one. Away on the 
right we had a view of Rockingham Castle, and very fine 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 53 

it looked, with its trees and great chimney stacks and 
its flag- flying from the highest part — a beautiful position 
for such a house guarding the wide vale, and surrounded 
by oaken woods of great size. Leaving Seaton, where I 
have in the far past years got off for my old school,. 
Uppingham, we passed under the long Midland viaduct 
of Harringworth and ran into a dried-up part of the shire 
of Rutland. Here pastures were brown and scanty, and 
corn crops looked none too well. This change was remark- 
able, for a few miles on the Leicestershire side of Seaton 
was fairly green ; here burned up. Passing King's Cliff 
I was struck with the number and size of the woods and 
plantations. Soon we arrived at Wansford, and the old 
tale of the landlord of the hotel there came to my mind. 
He one Sunday afternoon when hay was cocked went into 
his meadow, and, getting on a cock, went to sleep. 
Earlier in the day there had been a big storm higher up the 
valley, and a great volume of water came down and away 
floated the hay cock into the river, but after a few hundred 
yards it stuck in a hedge by a road. After a time Mr. 
Percival woke up and wondered wherever he could be. 
His shouts brought a man on to the road above him. 
" Wherever am I? " he asked. " At Wansford," replied 
the man. "What, Wansford in England?" asked 
Percival. " Yes," answered the man. " Thank goodness 
for that," and so it is often called Wansford in England to 
this day. We motored from Peterborough over a typical 
marsh road through a typical marsh country for about 
6 miles, then turning through a gate ran under a nice 
avenue of willows with a wide dyke on either side to the 
decoy-house, where Mr. Williams (whose ancestors have 
rented this decoy for over 200 years) was waiting for us 



54 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

and took us at once to the decoy. It is in a wood of 
J9 acres, and the pool, including- the eight pipes, is 2 acres. 
There is a patch of reeds in the middle. We were soon 
at the first pipe, and I saw at once they had been planned 
by an expert. The bend was perfect and the tapering 
shape capitally done. Nothing caught the eye. Nets 
of strong cord covered the pipes ; they are dipped in 
tar every few years, and last about twenty-five, or in 
some cases more ; along the bottom they were fastened to 
stout oak and elm boards, and the soil was dug away from 
the outside to keep the grasses from growing against the 
net and rotting it. The screens were well made ; not so high 
as is generally the case, and I at once noticed the following, 
cut on the outside post of one of them, " John Williams, 
aged 21, 1833." Time had worn the sharp edges of the 
knife-cuts, but it was as easy to read as the day on which 
it had been done. This post was of oak, but of no great 
strength. The bottom had been sprunned, and the top 
was serrated^ by rain and snow, but the rest from the 
ground to within a few inches of the top was as sound 
as ever. John Williams was the father of the present 
tenant, and lived to be eighty-five. We now arrived at the 
boathouse, and getting into a boat, Mr. Williams rowed 
us out into the middle of the pool, where we could see the 
eight pipes and the surroundings. Several common ducks 
rose from the reeds, and also three shovellers. The pipes 
are 12 feet high at the entrance, and from 70 to 80 yards 
long, and slope down to 1 foot 6 inches where the tunnel 
net is fastened on. The mesh of the net is about 
3 inches at the water-end and 1 inch at the small end. A 
white broken-haired terrier is used as a decoy dog. This 
■white dog is not dressed in any way, so it seems ducks 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 55 

are attracted by the animal, and its colour does not matter. 
Common wild ducks are principally taken, also wigeon, 
teal and a shoveller now and again; garganey on a few 
occasions in autumn on their way south. Mr. Williams 
told me there were large numbers of duck on sometimes. 
He thinks between 3,000 and 4,000 now and again. The 
wooden hoops to hold up the netting are of willow and 
ash, the latter lasting the longest. The spruns to the 
largest posts are oak and elm, the screen props willow or 
elder. The surrounding wood consists of willow, birch,, 
poplar, and on the d*rier portions ash and elm. The 
ground under them is covered with high water grasses, 
meadow sweet, and here and there an apple tree. The 
decoy and its surroundings and outer hedges are kept in 
the most perfect order. Between the mouth of the pipes 
the screens are about 4 feet high of split twisted willows,, 
and the outer fence of wood the same. When looking 
through the reed screens Mr. Williams does not use a 
peg as in some decoys, but has a short piece of willow 
run through and the other end pushed behind one of the 
bars. Thus it is always in place when wanted, and there 
is no noise or crushing of reeds, as where a peg is run 
through and twisted round. The best times for takes here 
are 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and the most attractive food is 
seeds of fat hen (goosefoot), knot grass and wheat. I 
cannot imagine a mere delightful occupation than the 
working of this well kept and attractive decoy, and I am 
very much inclined to envy Mr. Williams his occupation T 
and never shall I forget the quiet wood, the still pool with 
its reed screens, and the happy hour I spent seeing this 
charming spot. Since visiting this decoy I have had the 
pleasure of entertaining Mr. Williams at Rainworth. He 



56 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

told me that last season, 191 7-1 8, was a very good one. 
He had two takes one day with only a short time between ; 
the first was 176, the second 140, all common ducks. 

A SECOND VISIT TO BOROUGH FEN DECOY, 
FEBRUARY, 1919. 

When I visited this decoy in July, 191 7, I saw in what 
perfect order everything was, and it was an easy thing 
to see how thoroughly Mr. Williams understood all about 
the decoying of ducks, and since then I have had a keen 
desire to go and see a take or two. So when I had a 
kindly invitation to go there for a couple of nights 
towards the end of this season, 1919, I need hardly say 
I accepted it with delight. It was a typical February 
morning when I left home for Peterborough — still, grey, 
and cold — but as there had been no frosts since I heard I 
knew that the decoyman's chief enemy had behaved 
kindly to me. A sharp frost is fatal, for the decoy pools, 
lying low and sheltered, as they all do, are much more 
liable to get coated with ice than are more exposed 
waters, where the wind often prevents ice from forming. 
Often in decoys after the first night's frost the ice about 
the pipe which the wind favours is broken before day- 
break, and corn thrown in, the tame decoy ducks then 
keep it from forming till the wild ones arrive, and they 
at once make for the only open piece and keep it clear, 
and often with great results to the decoyman ; but two or 
three nights seal up the water, and nothing can be done 
but to keep the pool quiet. Mr. Williams met me at 
Walton, and drove me out to the decoy house. On our 
way we passed a lot of pollard willows on the roadside, 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 57 

and in one sat two little owls, and though we drove 
within a few yards neither of them moved. Turning 
from the high road through the gate, another flew from 
a willow, and Mr. Williams told me there were any 
quantity about, and I was glad to hear he gave them a 
better character than I have heard given in other parts. 
A kindly welcome from Mrs. and Miss Williams and a 
dish of tea, after which we went into the decoy wood to 
see the "decoy rise," as the leaving of ducks at flight 
time is called. As we walked along up wind, just inside 
the trees, I was surprised at the great number of wood- 
pigeons which had come in to roost. All the odd Spruce 
and Scotch firs were full, and even the swishy willows 
of no great height were grey with them. Never have I 
seen more in a wood of this size; there were hundreds. 
Every now and again a pheasant wirred out of a tree, 
and I heard several cocks go up further away. We fixed 
under some poplars, and soon the decoy rose. Ducks 
in pairs, ducks in fours, ducks in dozens went over, and 
on either side the air was full of them. Teal passed in 
quantities, and now and again the " Whew-whew ! " of 
the wig-eon came from small parties of this pretty duck, 
and the long and slim forms of one or more pintail showed 
up against the pale grey background. The flight is soon 
over, and this was much too soon for me, for never 
before have I seen such a quantity of ducks at a flight 
time. It was fairly dark now. So back to the house 
we went, and a great chat about decoys and ducks we 
had till bedtime. Another grey morning, but so far fine. 
Just before we started for the decoy, at 10.30, a slight 
powder rain commenced, but there was little of it, and, 
having received a burning piece of peat, we, his man, 



58 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

and not forgetting the dog, proceeded to the first pipe- 
The dog, a curiously marked one, of pure white, with a 
jet-black head, such a marking as a Chilian swan has, is 
a long-haired terrier, perfectly broken, and full of intel- 
ligence. I may say the wind was as bad as possible for 
this decoy. Arriving at the first pipe, the man went to- 
the first screen from its mouth, and showed himself to 
those ducks that were in the pipe. There was a rush of 
wings; the birds, well up, going forward, those who were 
about the mouth going away. I stood at the bend, and 
had a good view of the narrow end and the tunnel net. 
I saw one duck rise up, twist round, and fly back, 
evidently had seen this game before ; the rest flapped past 
me, and into the small end they pushed, one over the 
other. To them we went, and the net was taken off, and 
the man started taking them out, which he did two at a 
time, handing them to Mr. Williams, who took them by 
the necks in his right hand, locked their wings with his 
left, and then, changing hands, twisted their heads and 
with a backward bend broke their necks — all done so 
quickly and with little pain to the victims. I was greatly- 
impressed with this art — for I may term it an art — of 
killing in a humane way is only attained as he did it by 
long practice. The locking of their wings keeps them 
from moving when thrown down, and prevents them 
making the noise they would do, which would be heard 
by the ducks near. The time taken by the two men for 
each pair was about half a minute. On counting we found 
there were 24 ducks, consisting of 14 ducks and 10 mal- 
lards. We now proceeded to the next pipe, and went to 
work as beforehand 10 ducks was the result, five of each 
sex. Williams now said there is just a sporting chance 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 59 

for one other pipe, but only a poor one, but we will try. 
On peeping- through the screen, he beckoned me to come 
and look, and I did so. There were a lot of ducks about 
the mouth and near by — I should say a hundred or so — 
nearly all common wild ducks, but a few teal, three 
wigeon, and one beautiful drake pintail. It was a pretty 
sight, and one that charmed me, and I would have much 
sooner stayed and looked than have tried to take any, but 
a movement of his hand sent the man to the first screen ; 
then the rush of wings, and all but four flew up wind 
out over the pool ; the four went right, and were added 
to the bag. There were now a goodly number of ducks 
flying round overhead, and I was struck at the little 
notice they took of us when standing- still by the trees, but 
their attention seemed to be taken up by those that 
were on the water, many of which kept calling loudly. 
The slain were now fastened by their necks in two ropes 
and then divided and slung over the left shoulder, half 
on back and half in front. To the duck-house we went, 
and each bird, after being smoothed down, was placed 
on its breast on the shelf. Here they set, and their 
weight being on their breast flattens it out, making them 
look plump and wide. Here lay shovellers, pintail, 
wigeon, teal, and common ducks, and all of very beauti- 
ful plumage; for take the ducks as a family all in all 
they are the more striking and beautiful in dress than 
any other lot of British birds. I was given a pintail and 
a wigeon, both of which I found most excellent when 
cooked. It was now raining, and continued to do so alt 
the afternoon and evening, and we never got out again t 
and, though fine next morning, the wind was in a worse 
quarter than yesterday, and I was sorry when Mr. 

B 



60 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

Williams said it was no good trying, but was pleased to 
have seen what I had. One is much interested in reading 
about the cost of things in long past days. What price 
game was, and I have no doubt those who come after us 
will be the same. I was shown a letter in which one of 
the largest London wholesale dealers said I have bought 
wild ducks by hundreds, and not so long back at the 
decoy for is. 3d. and is. 6d. each, 2s. 6d. and 3s. a 
couple, and I am now — February — giving 8s. each, 16s. 
a couple. What a price it is. Surely it will never be so 
much again. I need hardly say how much I enjoyed 
myself, for it is a great favour to be permitted to see a 
take in any decoy, and I sincerely thank Mr. Williams 
for kindly permitting me to do so. 




Decoy Pipe, Showing Tunnel Net. 
7 tliank Messrs. Cassell <S» Co., Ltd., for the loan of tliis block. 



• 
62 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



NOTTINGHAMSHIRE. 



Name of Decoy — Annesley Park. 

AT)ecoy or Trap? — A Trap. 

Name of Owner — J. P. Cha worth-Musters. 

Size of Water — About 5 acres. 

In the open Deer Park ; a few trees at one end. 

Remarks — Mr. Mucters informs me he only takes ducks for 

his friends and the house, and has caught the following 

kinds : Mallard, wigeon, pintail, gadwall, tufted duck, 

pochard, and shoveller. 
Size of Annesley Trap — 75 feet long, 8 feet high, and 10 feet 

wide, and when set the door is 2 feet above the water. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



63 



Name of Decoy — Rainworth Lodge. 

A Decoy or Trap? — Trap. 

Name of Owner — J. Whitaker. 

Size of Water — 15 acres; surrounded by trees. 

Size of Trap — 33 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 7 feet high. 

The trap is opposite the house, cut out of the bank of 
the pond, and is overhung - by trees, and can be seen into 
from several windows. Few ducks are taken, but there 
is always the chance of getting - one or two, which keeps 
up the interest. 200 yards away is a second trap, for teal, 



w 



ftwii 



TEAL TRAP. 










Clan? 



feru*L 



64 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



which is 12 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 5 feet high. This 
one is at the shallow end of the water, and cut out into 
an osier bed ; it is baited with hemp seed and corn, and 
ducks go in and cannot find their way out. This tail piece 
will give an idea of the ground plan. 




Entrance to one of the Pipes, Hornby Castle Decov. 

Ducks following the Decoy Dog. 

Copyright.] [Photo by Oxley Grabham. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



6 S 



SHROPSHIRE. 

Name of Decoy — Oakly Park. 

Name of Owner — The Earl of Plymouth. 

Size of Water — 3 acres 1 rood 22 perches. 

In a Wood of 13 acres. 

Number of Pipes — 4. 

Dogs have been used. 




This decoy is an old one, and is marked on a map dated 
1796. Originally there were only two pipes, but two more 
were added in 1834 by the late Hon. Robert Clive. 
Ducks are only taken to supply the house and give away, 
and the common wild duck is the bird caught. The decoy 
is 3 miles north-west of Ludlow. In Davies' " History 
of Whittington Castle," printed about 1800, the following 
curious lines from an epitaph occur : — 

Andrew Williams, 

Born a.d. 1693; died April 18th, 1776, 

Aged 84 years, 



66 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

of which time he lived under the Aston family as decoyman 
for 60 years ; this decoy has not been worked for a number 
of years now. 

" Here lies the decoyman, who lived like an otter, 
Dividing the time betwixt land and water; 
His hide he oft soaked in the waters of Perry, 
Whilst Aston old beer his spirits kept cheery. 
Amphibious his life, Death was puzzled to say 
How to dust to reduce such well-moistened clay ; 
So Death turned decoyman and 'coyed him to land, 
Where he fixed his abode till dried to the hand. 
He then found him fitting for crumbling to dust, 
And here he lies mouldering as you and I must." 

OAKLEY PARK DECOY (APRIL, 1918). 

Finding I could combine a visit to my sister at Clevedon, 
in Somerset, and to Oakly Decoy on my way back, I wrote 
to Mr. Bruce, Lord Plymouth's agent, asking for per- 
mission to see it. He most kindly consented, and asked 
me to stay a night at Prior's Halton with him. After 
spending ten days, during which time I saw the beautiful 
surroundings of Clevedon, I left on April 19th, and had 
time on my way to see the fine church of St. Mary's, 
Redcliffe, at Bristol, and the Cathedral at Hereford, I 
arrived at Ludlow, where Mr. Bruce met me, and as we 
passed through the old town I saw the church, a large 
and fine one, and the grand old castle, which played so 
great a part in the long past days. After a dish of tea, 
we proceeded to the headkeeper's, and found him waiting 
for us. In walking to the decoy, Mr. Bruce showed me a 
splendid oak, great in girth, long in bole, and with a grand 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 67 

spreading top. It is a magnificent specimen of a grand 
old English tree, and now at its very best. Close by are 
the ponds, one of which is the decoy. The River Teme 
runs through them. The nearest to the decoy man's 
cottage is called the Upper Pond, and is about 6 acres in 
extent; then comes the Decoy Pool, 3^ acres, with some 
nice reed beds at one end; then the middle one, this 
is the largest, just over 9 acres ; and the fourth is the lower 
pond, 2\ acres. The Decoy Pool is a perfect one for its 
purpose, large enough, but not too big, surrounded by 
a plantation of 13 acres, in which are some grand trees, 
especially silver firs. These are very tall and of great girth, 
and here and there big Scotch firs, long in the stem, clean 
of bark and ruddy in colour. It was cold, but the sun 
shone and birds sang. The decoy has four pipes — north, 
south, east and west. Here they are called Flues. Njowhere 
else have I heard this name used for a pipe. They are 
shorter than any I have seen, and are from 52 to 54 yards 
long, and do not cover so much water as in other decoys. 
The hoops are of iron, fastened to oak posts, and the 
covering string nets. The screens are of reeds, and not 
more than 5 feet high, less in some places. The entrance 
of pipes is about 9 feet high and 16 feet wide. The 
exposed parts of the banks have reed screens, and on the 
head of pond spruce boughs drawn through rails. No 
dog is used. There were nine mallards on the water. No 
doubt their partners were sitting in the bracken in the park, 
and I saw two pairs of coots. The decoyman, who had 
joined us, pointed out a bird on the water on the far side 
of the next pond, and said there is a Spanish goose, the 
first we ever had here. I put my glasses on it, and saw 
it was a great-crested grebe. I was surprised, partly at 



68 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

the wonderful name given it, and also that it was the first 
they had ever seen, and the place such a likely one. After 
a delightful hour we left this interesting spot, and I was 
pleased to have seen another of the now only too few 
decoys in England, and I felt much indebted to Mr. Bruce 
for his kindness in giving me the opportunity of doing so. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



69 



SOMERSETSHIRE. 

Name of Decoy — Ivythorne. 

A Decoy for Teal. 

Name of Owner — The Marquis of Bath. 

Name of Tenant — Mr. Alfred Crossman. 

Size of Water — 42 yards by 43 yards. 

In a Wood of 2 J acres. 

Number of Pipes — 2. 

Is a Doc; used? — Yes. 




Plan of Se.dffe.moor d&cx>y aj it in now -f977 



One of the pipes is 40 yards long, the other 25. The 
average number of teal taken in a season is 500 ; the most 
taken in a season was 1,200, all teal; one white teal has 
been caught. The decoy lies at the foot of the Polden 
Hills, on the south side of them. It is surrounded by a 
great flat, and there is a lot of good feeding ground, which 
is attractive to ducks, especially teal. Not far away the 
Battle of Sedgemoor was fought in July, 1685, and 



7 o BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

pieces of armour and swords are now and again turned 
up. This is a beautiful part of a very beautiful county. 
The views from the Polden Hills are delightful. In 1886 
there were two other decoys close by in the flat, and two 
more within a couple of miles or so, but Ivythorne is now 
the only one in this shire. 

VISIT TO THE IVYTHORNE DECOY, SOMERSET. 

On October 19th, 1917, alter a very tedious journey 
from Newquay, the 170 miles taking over 8 hours to do, I 
arrived at Glastonbury, and found most comfortable 
quarters at "The George," an ancient and beautiful 
building, and arranged for a motor to take me out in 
the morning to see the Ivythorne Uecoy at King's, 
Sedgemoor, which is now the only decoy worked in 
Somersetshire. There were two others here in 1886, when 
the late Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey published his book 
on decoys, and another at Shapwick, and one at 
Sharpham. These four have ceased to be worked now 
for many years. On Friday morning, October 20th, I 
left the hotel at 9.15 a.m. for Ivythorne, but on nearing 
it the road was so bad I had to leave the motor and walk 
the last mile or so. On arriving I had a most hearty 
welcome from Mr. Crossman, the tenant, and we were 
soon on our way to the decoy. I may here say it is a 
teal decoy. Mr. Crossman does not care for common 
wild ducks, which he finds also disturb their smaller but 
more tasty relations. The decoy is surrounded by trees, 
and lies well out in a great flat, which is of a marshy 
and rough nature. It is only a small piece of water now, 
the greater part being grown up, but it is very attractive 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 71 

to teal, and one memorable day Mr. Grossman took 
155 teal, 75 of which were captured at one draw. He 
said the surface of the pool was fairly packed with teal, 
and he thought that a stone could not have been thrown 
without hitting a duck. He told me that for so small a 
piece two pipes were ample. One runs north-west, the 
other south-east. Last season he placed a dummy teal 
made of wood and painted at the bend of the pipes, and 
he found it encouraged the ducks to go forward. I may 
say the 75 were taken without the help of the dog, the 
rest of takes that day with one. I saw the dog, a most 
intelligent-looking animal, of a rich brown colour, and 
of moderate size, a cross between a terrier and spaniel. 
There are some high poplars growing on one side of the 
decoy, and more than once when teal rose in a gale of 
wind he has seen some whipped down by the swinging 
branches. The longest pipe is 40 yards long to the 
tunnel net. The trees surrounding the water run about 
50 yards deep. The screens are made of straw, and the 
most attractive bait for teal is the seeds of goosefoot and 
knot grass, and as they float well are soon discovered. 
Away over the flat he pointed out where the battlefield 
of Sedgemoor was, which proved so disastrous to the 
Duke of Monmouth's cause. I may add Mr. Crossman 
was most kind, and took a lot of trouble to show me his 
decoy, and I could clearly see he was quite an artist at 
decoying, and I shall long remember how I enjoyed seeing 
that quiet spot nestling at the foot of some of the prettiest 
hills in that beautiful western shire. 



72 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



SUFFOLK. 

Name of Decoy — Fritvon or Somerleyton Decoy. 

Name of Owner — Lord Somerleyton. 

Size of Water — 3 miles by 180 yards to 250 yards. Surrounded 

by Woods. 
Number of Pipes — 4. 

Average Number of Ducks taken — About 1,000. 
Is a Dog used? — Yes. 




V***** 




Common wild duck, wigeon, teal, a few gadwall and 
pintail are taken, and now and again tufted ducks and 
pochards. The takes consist of 90 per cent, of common 
wild ducks. This decoy is at the east end (Ashby). The 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 73 

water is very beautifully situated, and the acorns in the 
autumn are a great attraction to the wild ducks. The 
best months for mallard are November and December ; and 
February for teal and wigeon. It is rather curious that a 
much greater percentage of mallards are taken than ducks 
— eight to twelve — and in many instances nothing but 
mallards have been taken. Over 2,000 ducks have been 
caught more than once in a season. In 1884-85 some 
sharp weather set in on the 20th of November, and 556 
ducks were taken in three days, the catch on November 
24th being 307. Between 1862-3 and 1876-7 13,421 ducks 
were taken, showing an average of about 900 per season. 
At the Rabbits and Game Advisory Committee meeting 
on March 27th, 1918, in London, Lord Somerleyton said 
that during the season of 1917 and 1918 1,500 wildfowl 
had been taken in his decoy at Fritton, mostly teal. 

FRITTON DECOY, JULY 16th, 1918. 

I left Thetford early and went on to Norwich, where 1 
again looked over the Cathedral. It is a beautiful one, 
and the Norman work is more highly decorative than in 
any other one of this period I know. It has the second 
highest spire in England, 314 feet. After leaving Norwich 
we passed through great flat pasture fields; here were 
more cattle than I ever saw together before. On the side 
of the railway was a wire fence with wooden posts, and 
I was much surprised to see a heron standing on one, and 
more so that it was not sent off ; it only raised its wings 
and refolded them as the train rushed by. After a kindly 
welcome from Mr. and Mrs. Patterson, whose guest I 
was, we started for Fritton Lake, walking from St. Olave's 



74 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

Station, which is a mile or so from the lake. In doing 
so we passed Fritton Church. It has a thatched roof and 
round tower. I have never seen a church thatched before. 
We hired a light, roomy boat, and first rowed round the 
west end of the lake. I have often heard of the beauties 
of it, and I must say I was not disappointed. It is one 
of the very prettiest pieces of water I have ever seen, 
about 3 miles long, and from 200 to 250 yards wide, and 
is over 800 acres in extent. Beautiful woods fringe it all 
round, and patches of reeds and great mace add to its 
charms. The decoy is at the east end. Formerly there 
were as many as twenty -one pipes worked, eight at the 
north-western end, thirteen at the east. Now there are 
"only four. The westward one is the shortest, and is so 
straight you can see the end from its mouth; it is only 
40 yards long, mouth 15 feet wide, 10 feet high. The 
second one is 45 yards long; the third is 65 yards long, 
14 feet high and 18 feet wide at mouth ; the other about 
the same length. They are covered with wire netting on 
iron hoops. The screens are 5 feet 4 inches high, and 
are about the lowest I have seen. There is a wire duck- 
trap near the mouth of the third pipe. About its mouth 
are patches of water lilies, backed by reeds and great 
mace, with rhododendrons on its sides — a pretty spot, 
hung over by silver birches and dark firs. I may add the 
reed-screens are fastened by wire, not wooden laths, as 
generally is the case. A row back and home, a pleasant 
evening and a great bird chat was the finish of a delightful 
day, and I had the privilege of seeing many of Mr. 
Patterson's clever sketches of birds, animals, and humans. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



75 




76 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



SUFFOLK. 

Name of Decoy — Iken. 

Name of Owner — Mr. H. Boynton. 

Size of Water — 2 J acres. 

Surrounded by 12 acres of Scrubs and Bushes. 

Number of Pipes— 6. 

Is a Dog used? — Yes- 

Ducks taken are mallard, teal, wigeon, shoveller, 
pintail, and at one time it was fitted with nets for pochards. 
The best season's catch was just over 4,000 birds, and 
others varied from 1,250 to that number. This decoy is on 
the Sudbourne Hall Estate, and 7 miles east of Wickham 
Market, and 5 from Saxmundham. It is situated near 
the source of the estuary of the River Aide, and on its 
south bank. It is in a very quiet spot, quite 300 yards 
from any road, and that a country lane, and is well 
surrounded by the owner's land — in fact, a perfect place 
for a decoy. It is an old one, and is shown on a map of 
the estate in 1807. Chillesford Decoy, on the same pro- 
perty, has been done away with since Sir R. Payne- 
Gallyvey's book was published. 

IKEN DECOY, JULY 17th, 1918. 

I left Yarmouth and arrived at Wickham Market about 
u.30, where I found the carriage I had ordered waiting, 
and it was my privilege to have a lady driver. We soon 
passed Campsea Ash (The Speakers). There is a fine 
double lime avenue from the gates to the house, and in the 
park are some large oaks, Scotch firs, and elms. There 
are fallow deer here. About 4 miles further on we came 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



77 



to Iken Heath, and very pretty it looked, the heather being 
in flower, and on the grassy sides of the road grew buglos 
with its dark blue flowers, chicory with light blue ones, 
yellow ragwort and pink mallows and others of shorter 






j8 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

growth and varied colours. Soon after crossing- the 
heath we turned down to the right and came to the Coy 
Cottage, as it is called in these parts ; it is near the decoy. 
Leaving the carriage, I crossed a small grass field. Here 
was a wire cage with a dcg in it ; he acted as a vocal 
notice-board, for he gave tongue freely. Crossing the end 
of another paddock, I came to a high gate, and on going 
through I found I was close to the first pipe. There are 
only a few bushes and trees on this side. The rest of 
the pool has a much deeper fringe of trees. Beyond this, 
about half-a-mile away, is the River Aide, which forms 
a wide estuary, and looks the best of feeding ground for 
ducks. There are six pipes, not very long ones, all about 
60 yards in length, covered with wire netting on iron 
hoops with running wooden laths for support on sides 
and top; between the pipe-ends and the tunnel net 
is a wire-covered square box-shaped fixture 3 \ ards long, 
2 feet high, and 3 wide. This can be shut off from the 
pipe by putting down a board, so that when more ducks 
are taken than the tunnel net can can hold they are made 
safe and are prevented from getting back up the pipe. 
The screens are low, only 5 feet, and must be very 
awkward for even a man of moderate height. The pool 
is a very attractive-looking ohe, and there were a big lot 
of ducks on, early as it was, amongst them a drake 
wigeon in partly eclipse plumage. The decoyman was 
not at home, but has since written to me, and I give 
extracts from his letter : — 

Sir, — I was sorry to miss you when you came here to 
see Iken Decoy. The wigeon is a pricked bird, and 
remained after others had left. All the others are 
full duck, but we have teal, shovellers, and pintail in the 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 79 

season. I generally get between two and three thousand 
ducks. I have got 4,000 when the seasons have been right. 

1 get more when there has been an east wind blowing for 
some time. The most ducks I have caught at one take 
was 340. The most in one day 501. The most in one 
season 4,000. — Yours truly. 

James Wilkinson. 

These latter-day bags compare very favourably with 
some of the past years, for in the season of '7 l "7 2 only 
1,007 were taken, and during seven seasons from 1878 
to 1884 12,683 were caught I am very pleased to have 
seen this decoy, which is well placed. There are about 

2 acres of water, surrounded by wood and marsh of 
14 acres, and lies quiet and in a district where much food 
is to tempt ducks, and in a part with few inhabitants. 



8o BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



SUFFOLK. 

Name of Decoy — Brooke Hall Decoy Ponds. 

Name of Owner — The Lady de Saumarez. 

Size of Water — 5^ acres. 

Surrounded by a Wood of 225 acres. 

Number of Pipes — 4 now used, formerly 6 were used. 

Average number of Ducks taken in a season about 600. 

Is a Dog used? — Yes. 

The average number of ducks taken during the last 
thirty years 600. In 1884 and 1885 500 fowl were taken 
in one week and 1,700 in that season. There is also a 
shallow teal pond, with two pipes, about 400 yards 
from the main pond. Both these ponds lie low, with 
rising ground around covered with wood. Mr. Cobbold 
informs me he has been tenant for thirty years, but 
owing to their proximity to Ipswich it has been increas- 
ingly difficult to keep the place quiet, and during the 
war no ducks have been taken, as soldiers have been 
camped near and have a rifle range. Let us sincerely 
hope they will again be worked when things are normal 
again. These ponds are about 2\ miles from the River 
Orwell, and on its north bank. 



BROOKE HALL DECOYS (TWO). 

After seeing Iken Decoy I drove back to Wickham 
Market, and took train for Ipswich, and at 6 p.m. 1 
motored out to see these decoys, Mr. Dudding, the estate 
agent, having kindly sent one of his staff to show me round 
them. These decoys also go by the name of the Purdis 
Hall Decoys. One has four pipes, the other, for teal, has 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



81 



O 

u 

a 

j 

< 
X 

w 

o 
o 

pq 




82 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

two. They were worked till the war, but a large camp 
having - been formed near them they have stopped 
working, and soldiers are permitted to fish; but directly 
after the war they will be put into order and again worked. 
In the larger pool are four pipes. They are shortish ones, 
50 yards long, covered with wire-netting on iron hoops, 
and have strong wire supports on sides and top instead 
of the usual wooden ones. They are not so high at 
entrance or as wide as many I have seen. The second 
pool is smaller, hardly an acre, with two pipes, and is 
used for teal, and is, as far as I could see, perfect for 
that duck. Small in size, shallow, and well-treed round, 
as this duck will take to a small piece of water with high 
trees round more readily than will common wild ducks. 
About these ponds are growing the finest alder trees I 
have ever seen, and there was one very big oak. In 
years past there were six pipes, but two have not been 
used for some years now. Lady de Saumarez has now 
taken these decoys into her own hands. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 83 



SUFFOLK. 

Name of Decoy — Otwell Park (Duck Decoy). 

Name of Owner — E. G. Pretyman, M.P. 

Size of Water — 2 acres. 

Number of Pipes — 4. 

Average number of Ducks taken — 2,000 in a season. 

Size of Wood — 30 acres. 

Is a Dog used? — Yes. 

I have to thank Mr. Moorsom, Mr. Pretyman's agent, 
for the following most interesting 1 account : " The decoy 
is in a valley surrounded by woods, and is one of a chain 
of ponds fed by springs forming the bed of a small 
stream. The Great Eastern Railway Felixstowe branch 
line runs within about 300 yards of the nearest pipe, but 
the wood intervenes, and the fowl take no notice of the 
trains. There are four pipes for the various quarters 
of the wind. Dogs are used. The decoyman, L. Skelton, 
has been the decoyman many years, and succeeded his 
father at this decoy. The family have been decoymen 
for generations, and come from the Fen. The frontispiece 
in Sir R. Payne-Gathvey's book on " Duck Decoys " 
is a portrait of one of his ancestors. Something like 
50,000 ducks have been taken during the last thirty-five 
years, the catches varying from 1,000 to over 3,000 in 
a season. During the war the catches have been rather 
over the average, particularly of wigeon, which seem 
to remain longer on the East Coast through not being 
fired at by punt gunners or shore shooters. The main 
catch is mallard, wigeon, and teal. The last season, 
1914 and 1915, almost a thousand of each were taken, but 
usually a greater proportion of mallard are caught. A 



8 4 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 




ORWELL DECOY 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 85 

good few pintail are taken each season, and a few 
shovellers, and now and again a gad wall, a pochard, and 
a golden-eye and some odd crosses have occasionally 
turned up. No tufted ducks are ever seen in this decoy, 
and no sea ducks are caught except an odd scaup. But 
for its being necessary to shoot the woods surrounding the 
decoy twice each winter, the catch would be considerably 
larger. The ducks are never fired at, but are put away 
by the decoyman on the morning of the shoot. A large 
portion of the wild birds, and, therefore, those most likely 
to be caught, do not return. There is no doubt there is 
a good lead now to this decoy, and this takes many years 
to establish. During frosts the ice is broken at night, 
and in the morning, just before the fowl return, floating 
food is scattered on the open water. The tame ducks 
feed on this, and so prevent the ice reforming until the 
wildfowl arrive, which, under such conditions, they do 
in thousands. In the winter of 1899 an ^ I 9°° ov er 1,000 
were taken in one week of frost. The decoy is always 
closed on August 1st and opened at the end of March. 
Catching begins about the third week in September, and 
goes on till March 1st, but not much is done after 
January." 

ORWELL DECOY, July 18th, 1918. 

I stayed the night of the 17th at the White Horse Hotel 
in Ipswich, an inn known far and wide as one which Mr. 
Pickwick stayed at, and a more comfortable one I never 
met with. The 18th broke fine and clear after the terrible 
thunderstorm of the previous night, and soon after 11 a.m. 
I left the train at Orwell Station and walked through a 



86 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

wood to the decoy about i mile or so. I found Skelton 
busy with some reeds preparing them for the screens, 
and I thoroughly enjoyed my walk round with him, for 
he is an artist at decoying, and everything spoke of a 
master-hand, and it was what orte would expect, for he 
is descended from a line of decoymen, the George Skelton, 
who was the first man to lessen the decoy pools, being 
his great-great-grandfather. The Orwell Decoy is by 
far the most elaborately laid out one in England, every- 
thing spick and span. Two ponds lie in a short deep 
valley, and the second one is the decoy. There are four 
pipes, very large in arch to the bend, high and wide at 
the entrances. They are covered with string netting, 
which Skelton told me lasts, if often dipped and looked 
after, for thirty years. The longest pipe is 70 yards, 
20 feet high at the arch, and 22 feet wide at the mouth. 
The other pipes are somewhat shorter. They all have 
a pronouncced bend. On the bank above each pipe is a 
rustic hut, approached up a trench, where through spy- 
holes the whole performance from start to finish can be 
clearly seen. Nowhere else have I seen this, and it must 
be most instructive and interesting to be an observer 
when a take takes place; from everyone the whole of 
the decoy pool can be seen, and what a sight it must 
be to a naturalist when there are, which there often are, 
several thousand ducks on the water. Skelton told me 
he had seen 8,000 on at one time, and no one is better 
able to calculate the number than he is. The screens 
are 6 feet high, and the running walls at the back are 
5 feet 6 inches. The pipes have very strong iron hoops, 
and have flat iron supports at the sides and top. The 
pool is 2 acres in extent, so if there are 8,000 ducks on 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 87 

it, it is almost one to the square yard. His best single 
take has been 112, and on one occasion he took 83 and 
82 at two takes with only a short time between. Last 
year was one of his best, and nearly 4,000 ducks were 
captured. After one of the most delightful hours I ever 
spent I walked on and saw the Deer Park, which made 
179 I have seen in England. I may add there was 
formerly a teal decoy beyond the decoy, but it is disused 
now; it looked to me a very good spot, where I have 
no doubt many of these little ducks could be caught, and 
it is a pity such a likely place should not be taken advan- 
tage of. 



88 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



WILTSHIRE. 

Name of Decoy — Hamptworth. 

Name of Owner — Mr. Harold Charles Moffatt. 

Size of Water — A Lakp of about 20 acres. 

It has a Wood on two sides and :s open at the Top and Bottom. 

Number of Pipes — 2. 

No Dog used. 



fljk. 




HAMPTWORTH DECOY POOL. 



Only the common wild duck are taken. The decoy is 
not often used, or the takes might be much larger, as 
only ducks are caught for the house and friends. The 
most ever taken at one time was 51 ducks, but this was 
some years back. As many as 1,000 ducks have been 
seen on the water at one time. The decoy was made in 
1882 by the late Mr. S. Morrison. It is n| miles south- 
east of Salisbury. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 89 

On Wednesday, September 12th, 1917, I left Salisbury 
by the 10 a.m. train for Downton, and motored from there 
to Hamptworth Lodge, about 4 miles. Mr. Moffatt was at 
home, and gave me a kindly welcome, and the decoyman, 
King, was waiting to show me the decoy. The surround- 
ings of the Lodge are delightful. The Decoy is a short 
distance away in the valley, surrounded by hundreds of 
acres of fir and birch wood. It is on the fringe of the 
New Forest. The open water is as nearly as I could 
estimate about 10 acres in extent (but there is a lot of slop 
and rushes), and has a pipe on either side, one called the 
Old Decoy, the other the New. Here ducks are taken 
as in no other decoy I know ; no dog is used and no decoy 
ducks. It is as follows : There is from the end of the 
pipe, about 60 yards away, a peep-house, with short 
screen wings on either side, so the decoyman can enter 
it unseen by any ducks in the pipe or on the pool. On 
looking through a small square hole a view of the water- 
end of the pipe is clearly seen, and the pipe as far as the 
bend ; if any ducks are in the keeper goes behind the 
screens on the side of the pipe and shows himself, and 
then follows the ducks, which rush round the bend and 
into the narrow end of the pipe. When the ducks are 
at the end of the wire (there is no trammel net as in other 
pipes I have seen) the decoyman lets a wire door down ; 
it is 6 yards from the end; this makes all safe. The 
ducks are now at the small end, and the man puts down 
two pieces of slate through the niche in the wire, and thus 
pens the birds in about 4 or 5 feet. Then he opens a door 
on the top of the wire and takes the ducks out. The pipes 
are about 50 yards long, 4 yards wide at the mouth, and 
about 6 feet high. The pipe of the old decoy is a little 



90 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

longer and about a foot higher, and more ducks are taken 
in it than in the new one. The screens are about 5 feet 
6 inches high, and made of bracken and heather; the 
hoops are of iron, and galvanised wire is used. I never 
saw a more attractive piece of water, and King told me 
large quantities of ducks were there all the winter, but 
only taken for the house and to give away. I was much 
impressed with the quantity of rhododendrons, which 
flourish in a wonderful way, and was struck by the long 
hedges clipped of this useful and ornamental shrub, and 
I thank Mr. Moffatt for his kind permission to see the pool 
and its surroundings and for showing me the beautiful 
house which he has lately built. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 91 



YORKSHIRE. 

Name of Decoy — Thirkleby Park. 

A Pipe Decoy. 

Name of Owners — Trustees of late Sir Ralph F. Payne- 
Gallwey, Bart. 

Size of Water — 1 acre. 

In a Wood of 7 acres. 

Number of Pipes — 3. 

Average number of Ducks taken — 50 of late years, but in years- 
back a much larger number were killed. 

Is a Dog used? — Yes. 

Remarks — A great proportion of Ducks killed are the common 
wild duch. 

I am sorry to say since I started to get information for 
this small book that Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey has died. 
So the greatest authority on decoys has gone, but he has 
left behind him a book published in 1886, " The Book of 
Duck Decoys." It is full of interesting information on. 
this subject, and will be a standard work for all time;, 
every subject pertaining to decoys is clearly and fully gone 
into, and leaves nothing to be desired, and I have learned 
much from it. Only a few weeks before his death he most 
kindly wrote me hints for my own small trap here at 
Rainworth, and I sorrow to think so good a sportsman: 
and kindly a man has been taken from us at a compara- 
tively moderate age. 

THIRKLEBY DECOY, JULY 30th, 1918. 

I left home on a beautiful summer morning, but as the 
day grew older the heat was overpowering. No wind 
and crowded trains did not make it any the more pleasant. 

o 



c> 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 




The Late Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, Bart. 
(A great authority on Duck Decoys). 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



93 



I travelled by Newark and York, and wherever we stopped 
there were quantities of soldiers coming and going — 
strong, fresh, cheery, young fellows. I arrived at Thirsk 




THIRKLEBY DECOY. 



soon after 3 by the clock, and drove out by the York 
Road, on the right-hand side of which, and close to 
Thirkleby Park Gates, stands the finest sycamore tree I 



94 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

have ever seen. I stopped and measured, and found it was 
just over 21 feet at 5 feet above the ground. Though 
hollow, its perfect-shaped top was well covered with 
leaves; it was, indeed, a grand specimen. About half-a- 
mile further on we turned to the right and drove down a 
grassy lane, and soon came to our destination. There 
were two plantations, one on either side, and in the right- 
hand one was the decoy. A tall pale fence ran along the 
roadside. Impervious to intruders, the pool is only a 
score or so yards away. It is an acre in extent, and has 
three pipes, but at present only two are used. They are 
70 yards long, have iron hoops, and iron stays at the 
mouth; they are 14 feet high, and 8 yards over the water. 
They are covered with wire. The dog-jumps are of wood ; 
this I don't like, as now and again the dog catches his 
hind feet on the top, and his claws scrape and rattle and 
disturb the ducks. The screens are of wood boards 6 feet 
high, and creosoted. The peep-holes are slits of 3 inches 
long and £ inch wide. It is a tempting-looking pool, 
but I consider the trees are much too near its edge and 
should be cut down farther back. This would give ducks 
greater confidence to settle down, and let more sunlight 
in. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 95 



YORKSHIRE. 

Name of Decoy — Hornby Castle Decoy — a Pipe Decoy. 

Owner — The Duke of Leeds. 

Size of Water — 1£ acres. 

In a Wood of 12 acres. 

Number of Pipes — 4. 

Average Yearly Number of Ducks taken — 257. 

Is a Dog used? — Yes. 

Remarks — The Decoy is surrounded on two sides by good 
agricultural land, of which a fair proportion is arable. 
Most of the birds taken are Common Wild Duck ; 10 per 
cent, of them are Teal and 3 per cent. Wigeon. 




HornBy 
hor :by castle decoy, yorks. 



96 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

The decoy is in the Park, and was made in 1882. The 
wood in which it is, is called the Bessington Plantation. 
It was made under the direction of Lord Fitzharding's 
decoyman from Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire. When 
first made the takes were much larger than now, and as 
many as 1,500 were taken in the best season. 250 fowl 
were caught in one day, and 50 to 60 duck and teal at one 
drive. 

HORNBY CASTLE DECOY, JULY 31st, 1918. 

After seeing Thirkleby I went on to Bedale, where I 
stayed the night, and as trains run so very badly nowadays 
I started at 7.30 a.m. to drive to Hornby, which is about 
4 miles away. I arrived at the meeting-place to the minute, 
8, and met the keeper, and we walked over a corner of 
the park to the decoy. It is in the Bessington Plantation, 
which is paled round 7 feet high. There are four pipes — 
north, south, east, and west; the south one is called the 
Boathouse Pipe, and is the most prolific one. The pipes 
are all about the same length ; the shortest is 70 yards, 
the longest 75, covered with string netting, which the 
decoyman thinks is much better than wire, for ducks often 
fly up against the wire and make a noise, but the cord 
netting is darker above them and they carry on better; 
the hoops are of iron, and the side and top stays of iron 
bands. The arch of mouth is 16 feet high and 14 feet wide 
on water. The screens are boards just over 6 feet at lowest 
parts and 7 feet at highest, and the peep-holes are round 
ones, with disks of wood on screws to cover them. These 
can be moved either side, and one gets a better sight 
than through the slits. The pool is about an acre in extent. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 97 

All the banks between itie pipes are boarded. The trees 
here are also too near the pipes, but not so near as at 
Thirkleby. About 6 yards or so from the tunnel net 
is a drop-net, which is let down and makes all safe, pre- 
venting the ducks breaking- back, which now and again 
they will do, not liking- to face the tunnel net. After 
walking round all the pipes I felt a proud man, as this 
decoy completed my visits to all those now worked in 
England. I had travelled many miles, seen many places,, 
and received great kindness from all — visits of great 
delight to me as well as instructive ones. 



98 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



IRELAND. 

Name of Decoy — Keliavil or Kelly ville, Queen's County. 
Name of Owner — Captain O. OcK. Webber, R.E. 
Size of Wood — 15 acres. 
In a Wood of 20 acres. 
Number of Pipes — 7. 
Is a Dog used? — Yes. 

This decoy is suspended during the war like Longueville, 
but as both are in order and will start again, I give them. 
Ducks taken are common wild duck, 'teal, wigeon, 
shoveller, and pintail. The lake is also frequented by 
pochard and tufted ducks. More teal are taken than 
other ducks. The largest take in one season was 2,500 
ducks. The decoy is on the borders of Queen's County, 
and was made in 1840. It is near the House, and is in 
part protected by canals from intrusion. In winter vast 
quantifies of wildfowl frequent it, and in December and 
January great Tots of foreign ducks arrive. They are 
known from the home birds by being slighter in body 
and tired after arrival, and more easily decoyed. One 
side of the water is open, but unless people stop to look 
the ducks take little notice of them 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 99 



IRELAND. 

Name of Decoy — Longueville, County Cork. 

Name of Owner — R. E. Longfield. 

Size of Water — About 4 acres. 

Number of Pipes — 2. 

Average number of Ducks taken from 300 to 400. 

No Dog used. 

Ducks taken are mallard, pintail, wigeon, teal, and a 
few gadwall. The decoy has not been worked during the 
war, but from a letter written to me by the owner, Mr. 
Longfield, he will keep it quiet, and probably start again 
after. The decoy is near Mallow. It is only about 300 
yards from the house on the south side of the parish 
and close to> the high road from Mallow to Kantwick. It 
was first constructed in 1750, when it had four pipes, two 
of which were enlarged in 1865 and two done away with. 
In 1875 Mr. Longfield made a new pipe on a large piece 
of water near the old ones. It is called the New Decoy. 
In Thompson's " Natural History of Ireland " (1851) it is 
stated that the most ducks ever taken at one take was 
seventy. This was in 1845-46; during that season 730 
were taken. 

There are no other decoys in Ireland, for Desart House 
Decoy mentioned in Payne-Gallwey's book has not been 
worked for many years now. 



ioo BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



SCO! LAND. 

Neither Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey or myself have been 
able to prove there was ever a decoy in Scotland. Major 
Chadwick years back started to make one at Moy, near 
Forres. It had about 2\ acres of water, in a large wood, 
but it was never completed. The number of pipes were 
four; it was on the estate of J. R. Murray Grant, of 
Glen Morriston, which Major Chadwick rented, and was 
about 7 miles from the sea. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS ici 

WALES. 
PEMBROKESHIRE. 

Name of Decoy — Orielton. 

Both a Pipe Decoy and Trap Deccy 

Name of Owner — Colonel Saurir 1 . 4 

Tenant — Mr. Praed. 

Size of Water — 15 acres. 

Number of Pipes — 4. 

Is a Dog used? — Yes. 

Size of Traps — 12 feet long, 12 feet wide, 6 feet high. 

This decoy is bounded on the north by a narrow wood 
of about 4 acres, and on the east by a wood of considerable 
size. Orielton Decoy is 2\ miles from Pembroke ; the 
carriage drive runs within 200 yards of one of the pipes. 
The lake lies from east to west, and is over a quarter-of-a- 
mile long, with a width of about 150 >ards, and a stream 
runs through it. No. 1 pipe is on the north side, No. 2 
at the north-east corner, No. 3 at the east-south-east 
corner, and No. 4 on the south side of the lake. No 
pipes could be placed at the west end, as there is a high 
embankment there. This is a disadvantage, as the 
prevailing wind during the season is westerly. The pipes 
average 12 feet in height. The average width of the 
mouth is 18 feet; Nos. 2 and 3 are 70 yards long, No. 1 
60, and No. 4 is 40 yards. The lake is artificial, and was 
made in the year 1820, and it was in 1868 that the decoy 
was started and one pipe made. No account was kept 
early on about the number of ducks taken, but a book 
was started in 1877. We find the largest number of teal 
taken at one time was 130; this was in 1879; an< ^ tne 
largest number of ducks taken in one day 202, of 
which number the 130 formed part, with 40 more teal, 
18 widgeon, and 14 common duck. From 1877-78 to 



102 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



1884-85 the number of fowl taken is as follows: 1,197 
common wild ducks, 4,150 wigeon, 2,975 teal, 28 pin- 
tail, 16 shovellers, and 67 various. These consisted of 




BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 103 

swans, pheasants, snipe, waterhens, coots, and two 
divers. A curious incident occurred on December 6th, 
1884. As the decoy man was entering No. 1 pipe to feed 
the tame ducks a heron, pursued by a peregrine falcon, 
dashed into the pipe; the man at once showed on them, 
ran them into the trammel net, and took them both. The 
decoyman finds the dog of the most use early in the season. 
Most of these notes are from Payne-Gallwey's " Duck 
Decoy Book." The following is kindly given by Colonel 
Saurin ; it is full of interest, and I thank him. It has 
added much to the interest of this small book. His letter 
is dated March 13th, 1917. He says : " In reply to your 
letter asking for information about the decoy at Orielton, 
Pembrokeshire, for the account of its establishment, 1 
must refer you to Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey's book, but 
I send you some later particulars which I think may be 
of interest. Two traps were placed on the pond in 191 3 
by Alexander McTaggart, gamekeeper at Orielton. The 
number of wildfowl of various sorts taken in these two 
traps during the first week was 70. The traps are formed 
of wire-netting, and are about 4 yards square and 6 feet 
high. The entrance to a trap starts on a slant from the 
full height, where it is about 2 yards wide, and decreases 
in size so that at the water-line an ordinary duck is able 
to enter. There is an outside trap about 2 feet wide 
extending right round the trap, in which are placed teal 
and wigeon as decoys. The traps are cleared at night 
by lamplight, after the wildfowl have left the pond, and 
fresh seed is placed in the traps in readiness for next day. 
The traps stand half on land and half in the water. The 
best haul in one day has been 47. The traps are not 
placed near the pipes in order to prevent the tame ducks 



io4 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

being caught. Of late years sheet-iron screens, which 
are considerably cheaper, have been substituted for the 
reed screens on the side of the pipes, and it is found that 
the wildfowl lie as well up to them as to the old ones ; 
but very great care has to be taken in working the pipes, 
as the slightest touch on the iron is heard by the ducks. 
A wire-net cage with a drop door has been substituted for 
the cord trammel net formerly used. This cage is about 
15 feet long, and has a small cage at the end, into which 
the wildfowl are driven, and are then taken out through 
a hole at the top of the cage. This airrangement does 
away with the annoyance of wildfowl escaping through 
holes cut in the trammel net by rats and rabbits, etc. This 
alteration has also been made by McTaggart, who hopes, 
with the addition of two or three more traps and an 
automatic seed distributor, which is now being completed, 
to greatly increase the number of wildfowl taken on this 
decoy pond." 

Wildfowl Taken in Orielton Decoy. 



Season. 


Duck. 


Wigeon. 


Teal. 


Pintail. 


Shoveller. 


Various 


. Total. 


1905-6 


• 73 


742 


411 


5 


9 


1 


1,241 


1906-7 .. 


• 34 


553 


542 


12 


11 





i,i5 2 


1937-8 .. 


48 


263 


572 


12 


15 





910 


1908-9 .. 


60 


501 


411 


7 


18 


2 


999 


1909-10 .. 


64 


239 


246 





1 





550 


1910-11 ... 


25 


242 


82 





11 





360 


1911-12 ... 


!3 


117 


171 








17 


3i8 


1912-13... 


5 


4 6 3 


93 








34 


595 


1913-14... 


46 


34i 


164 





9 


44 


6c 6 


.1914-15... 


25 


3i8 


3 6 9 


5 


10 


144 


871 


Ty*5-l6 ... 


7 


238 


163 


10 


4 


84 


506 


J916-I7... 


54 


256 


140 


7 


4 


85 


546 


I9I7-18 ... 


11 


290 


385 


5 


1 


95 


787 



The lists comprise moorhens, the largest quantity, coots, vvatertail, 
golden-eye pochards, tufted duck, smew, gadwall and scaup of Ja;e 
years ; moorhens and coots have been much more numerous on the 
water than previously. Formerly these were not taken any account of, 
but latterly they have all been counted and included in " Various." 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 105 



CHAPTER III. 

INTERESTING NOTES ABOUT DECOYS AND 
DUCKS. 

In 1799 ten thousand head of wigeon, teal and wild 
ducks were caught in a decoy in Essex by the Reverend 
Bate Dudley. 

Twelve thousand wildfowl were taken in one season in 
the " great Oakley Hall decoy " in Essex. 

In one season, 1714, there were taken in the Steeple 
decoy 675 wild ducks, 347 teal, 46 pintail, and 6,296 
wigeon, or, as it was then spelt there, wiggin — a total 
of 7,364 birds. 

And in the same decoy in thirteen seasons 4,576 wild 
ducks, 1,396 teal, 138 pintail, and 44,677 wigeon, and in 
one day 548 wigeon were taken. 

In the Ashley decoy, in North Lincolnshire, in one 
month 2,300 ducks were taken. And in 35 seasons the 
wonderful number of 95,836 birds, consisting of 48,664 
common wild duck, 44,568 teal, 2,019 wigeon, 285 
shovellers, 278 pintail, 22 gadwali; and in these years, 
though not counted in the above and caught in the 
spring after the season, 29 garganey ; the most in one 
season, 3 of these rare ducks. 

So many pochard or dunbirds have been taken at one 
pull of the net that they filled a wagon, and four horses 
were used to take them away. 



106 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

In another Essex decoy, at GoJdhanger, at one pull 
of the net so many pochards were taken as to fill a wagon 
and two carts. 

Six hundred ducks have been taken in an Essex decoy 
in one day, and not long ago Mr. Alfred Crossman tells 
me he took 75 teal in one of his small pipes at one take. 

Pennant, in his Zoology, Vol. II., page 595, writes : — 

' ' The account sent us of the number caught is amazing, 
for in one season, in ten decoys, about Wainfleet, Lincoln- 
shire, thirty-one thousand two hundred ducks were sent to 
London, and as teal and wigeon were counted two for 
one duck, the number was many more. Ducks were so 
plentiful that they were delivered in Boston, 15 miles 
from Wainfleet, at tenpence a couple." 

The following is interesting : it is dated 1754 : — 

" A sober man, either single or married, who can come 
well recommended and understands managing a decoy 
pond, by enquiring at Pond Hall, in Wicks, near Man- 
ningtree, in Essex, may hear of a place. He will have hus- 
bandry work found him after the catching season is over, 
and a house to live in if married." 

" Whereas the wildfowl coming and going to and from 
my decoy ponds have several times last season been 
affrighted by people shooting and making paths through 
my fields out of the ancient church or paths, I give this 
publick notice to prevent unwarrantable practices, that I 
will bring an action at law against any persons who shall 
presume to do any detriment to my said ponds for the 
future ; and as an encouragement to my decoyman or any 
other person who will make discovery of any one doing 
me damage in the above manner, or breaking of my 
hedges : I do offer upon the conviction of any one person, 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 107 

a reward of two guineas to be paid by me. — Tho, 
Hickeringill. " 

Lubbock mentions that in a Norfolk decoy two hun- 
dred and twenty teal were taken at one time. 

A spring of about four hundred teal visited the decoy 
at Mersea, in Essex, and in a few hours the greater part 
of them were taken. 

Coots are very difficult to take in a pipe decoy. Most 
decoyman like to take fowl when the wind is blowing 
up the pipe, but some few like a side wind, when, of 
course, they keep to the leeward side of the pipe and 
burn peat. 

Mr. Crossman, of the Sedgemoor Decoy, Somerset,* 
always locks the wings of the ducks before breaking their 
necks, especially if the pipe is not a long one, else the 
noise made by their wings when dying may disturb the 
fowl on the pool. It takes a smart decoyman quite an; 
hour to break the necks of 400 ducks. To the outsider it 
looks quite simple, but nevertheless it is an art to do it 
quickly and give the bird no pain. It is done thus : Take 
the head between the thumb and forefinger of the right 
hand and the body by the left ; twist the head round, and 
meet the twist by jerking the body by the left hand ; the 
neck snaps, and feeling is instantly destroyed. 

If a wooden duck, truly painted as to colour, with glass 
eyes, is anchored beyond the bend near the end of the 
pipe it gives the decoyed birds confidence, and they rush 
up to the tunnel net more freely. 

Years back Lincolnshire had more decoys within its 
boundaries than any other English shire. Essex was the 
second for numbers. 

There is an old saying, " You cannot eat your cake 



io8 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

and have it," but it is not so with a decoy or duck trap. 
You can take hundreds of ducks and still have the plea- 
sure of always having 1 quantities on the water, and if only 
the decoy is within sight of the house, which in some 
cases it is (and I may mention Park Hall, now 
not worked, as being so), you could sit in the 
library window there and see many hundreds of 
ducks on the water and banks and watch them 
sporting about, and notice lots coming and going; and a 
•delightful occupation it always was to me. Even on 
my small pond here I have seen forty wild ducks within 
shot of my writing-table. If you shoot your ducks, you 
get a certain quantity, but you drive the rest away (as 1 
write this I can see eight or more wild ducks not 20 yards 
away, and can see one or more in the trap). If I shot 
them none would remain on this small water, so I can 
catch more than I could shoot and always have some to 
look at. Quiet and food is a certain way to attract wild- 
fowl, and no bird I know sooner finds this out than does 
Anas Boscas, and not him alone. One day in last spring 
two tufted ducks came, and, finding quiet and food, 
returned, bringing others, till I had over thirty diving and 
feeding within a gunshot of where I wrote and read. A 
more delightful sight I never remember. 

On the East Coast January and February are con- 
sidered the most prolific months for wigeon. Mr. Cross- 
man, of the Sedgemoor, tells me December and January 
for teal. When old George Skelton made the first small 
<lecoy of 2 acres or so he was laughed at by the other 
decoymen, who worked pipes on large pieces of water 
of 20, 50, and in some cases 100 acres or more, but by 
the end of the season the laugh was on his side, for during 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 109 

November of his second season in six consecutive days 
he took 1,010 ducks, principally teal. 

Mr. E. Fountaine informed Sir Ralph Gallwey that 
15,000 wildfowl had been taken at Lakenheath decoy in 
Suffolk during one season years back. 

George Skelton (old George) in 1819 took in a decoy in 
Huntingdonshire 2,400 ducks in seven days. 

When a man named Williams had this decoy he was 
said to have cleared a thousand pounds in one season, and 
to have sent to London a ton of ducks twice a 
week. Two thousand six hundred and forty-six 
common wild ducks were taken In two days near Spald- 
ing. (See " Birds of the Humber District," page 163.) In 
these times a flock of wild ducks has been observed pass- 
ing along from the north to the north-east into the East 
Fen in a continuous stream for eight hours. Camden, 
speaking of the dwellers in the Fens, near Croyland, Lin- 
colnshire, says : " Their great gain is from fish and wild 
ducks that they catch, which are so many that in August 
they can drive at once into a single net 3,000 ducks, and 
they call these pools their cornfields, but there is no corn 
grown within five miles." 

Colonel Montagu, in his Supplement published in 1813, 
writing on wigeon, says : " The wigeon appears to be the 
most plentiful species of duck that is taken in our decoys ; 
more are caught in the decoys of Somerset and Devon- 
shire than wild duck or teal and all other wildfowl col- 
lectively, as we are assured by an old and experienced 
decoyman. The same person asserts that wigeon and 
teal rarely assemble together on the pool ; nor frequently 
with ducks, but when ducks come to the pool teal fre- 
quently follow." 



no BRITISH DUCK DECOYS . 

The tunnel net is of twine, and is fastened at the end 
of the pipe and laid on land. It is about 14 feet long - , and 
is taken off and the ducks taken out and their necks 
broken. Mr. Grossman tells me it is not the body smell 
of men the ducks smell, but the breath. He has tried it. 
If the burning peat is held low the ducks near smell him at 
once, but if held near the face they take no notice of him. 
He has tried it several times, and always with the same 
result. 

Yorkshire claims to have had the earliest decoys in 
England, and states one was constructed near Doncaster 
in 1657, but I must say that Norfolk holds the prior claim, 
as there Sir William Wodehouse made one in the reign 
of James I., and as that king died in 1625 they stand easily 
first. Still, there were several important decoys in the 
bogs and mosses on the north side of the Humber, and 
it appears that ducks were in as great numbers 
there as in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, for 
here are samples of it in an interesting entry in the diary 
of the Revd. Abraham de la Prynn, written in the seven- 
teenth century, and it runs as follows : " This day I have 
heard for a certain truth, and there are many that will 
give their oaths upon it, that Thomas Hill, fowler for 
Mr. Ramsden, did shoot thirty-two pair of duck and teal 
at one shot in the Devels Hatfield, near Doncaster. Dated 
November 20th, 1697." 

The Coatham decoy, near Redcar, was renowned for 
the quantity of fowl taken in it, and it is stated that on 
one occasion nearly five hundred duck were enclosed in 
the net, which broke with their weight, and all escaped 
but a hundred birds. The following ducks were taken 
from time to time in it : Sheld-duck, shoveller, pintail, 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS m 

mallard, wigeon, teal, pochard, and occasionally a scaup; 
and once in 1850 a ferruginous duck. Even as late as the 
'seventies there were a lot of ducks, for Mr. Riley Briggs, 
the owner of -the Osgodley decoy, 3 miles from Selby, 
informed Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey that as many as 1,500 
ducks were on the water at one time. Yet this decoy was 
let fo run out in 1877. It was curious that more teal 
were taken in the eastern pipe than in the others, and 
more mallard and duck in the south pipe. 

I find that Cheshire had a decoy earlier by twenty 
years or so than the Yorkshire one, for I read in Coward 
and Oldham's " Birds of Cheshire " that Sir William 
Brereton, the Parliamentary general, had land in 
Cheshire, where he had a decoy, as when visiting a decoy 
in Holland in 1634 he describes a visit he made at that 
date to one Gabriel Direckson, of Delft. He says : " His 
coy is seated near his own and divers other houses nearer 
by much Doddleston Bridge or Findloes House is to my 
coy. His coy has five pipes, as mine." From this 
we may take it that his decoy was in being some 
time before 1634, and so over twenty years older than 
that near Doncaster. Writing about the numbers of ducks 
on pieces of water reminds me of reading in Pidsley's 
"Birds of Devonshire," where he writes: "I visited 
Slapton Lee on March 1st, 1890. This is the largest 
piece of water in the West of England. It is about 400 
acres. I was much struck with the large number of 
wildfowl swimming about on it, amounting to some 
io,ooo birds." 

There was a decoy in Surrey in 1681, from the follow- 
ing very interesting note of John Evelyn in his memoirs. 
He writes: " August 23rd, 1681, I went to Wotton, and 



ii2 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

on the following day was invited to Mr. Denzil Onslow's 
at his seat at Pyrford, where was much company and an 
extraordinary feast for any country gentleman's table. 
What made it more remarkable was that there was not 
anything but what was afforded by his estate as venison, 
rabbits, hares, pheasants, partridges, quails, poltrie, all 
sorts of fowle in season from his own decoy neare his 
house. After dinner we went to see sport at the decoy. 
I never saw so many herons ! " This decoy was in exist- 
ence for more than a century after Evelyn's visit. 

An old keeper who lived near Lakenheath declared that 
he once saw fully 3,000 fowl sitting in the fen outside this 
decoy waiting for those inside to be taken to make room 
for them, as the decoy was so full it looked as if one 
could not prick a pin in anywhere. 

William Hall, the Fen Poet, was born in 1748 at 
Willow Booth, a small Lincolnshire Fen Isle. Says he 
has been told by Fen men that ducks were so plentiful 
on a certain decoy pond of about 3 acres that an egg 
could not have been dropped without hitting one, while 
at a mile away the tumult of their rising from the water 
was like the sound of distant thunder. Those were grand 
days for the Fen fowler, of whose origin and habits Hall 
gives us some idea in the curious lines he wrote : — 

" Born in a coy and bred in a mill, 

Taught water to grind and ducks for to kill, 
Seeing coots clapper claw, lying fiat on their backs, 
Standing upright to row, and crowning of jacks 
Laying spring nets for to catch Ruff and Reeve 
Stretched out in a boat with a shade to deceive, 
Taking geese, ducks and coots with nets upon stakes, 
Riding in a calm day to catch moulted drakes." 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS iij 

The following is an amusing incident which took place 
the first time the Didlington decoy (Norfolk) was worked. 
Mr. Fountaine, who constructed it, was anxious that its 
reputation should be at once established by making a 
successful catch in it the first time. In the presence of 
the seventh Duke of Leeds he proceeded to work the 
decoy. 

In one pipe were some eighty ducks he had lured well 
inside ; all were driven up the pipe successfully, but, alas I 
the tunnel net had been omitted at the pipe's end, and 
every bird dashed through and away to freedom. Quoth 
the Duke : " Well done, Mr. Fountaine, now can you put 
them through again, may I ask? " 

At Dowsley decoy in Lincolnshire, now long disap- 
peared, there was caught between October the ist, 1765, 
and April ist, 1766, 17,180 ducks, which were sold for 
^386 6s. iod. Now-a-day prices would have made it 
well over ;£ 1,000. 

Early in 1800 it is estimated that in England, Wales, 
and Ireland there were quite 200 decoys in work. Now 
I can only make out there are 28, or about. Any pamphlet 
or paper about decoys, however short, would not be com- 
plete without some mention of the famous family of 
Skeltons. Old George Skelton was born at Friskney, in 
Lincolnshire, circa 1760. He, I may say, revolutionised 
the size of the decoy pond. Of course, before his time, 
there were decoys which had only small pieces of water, 
but they were, though small, naturally adapted for such 
work, but most of the waters were large. He started 
the smaller ones. He died In 1840, and was buried at 
Winterton Church, Norfolk, where he had worked the 
decoy there till his death. He left four sons — George, 



1 1 4 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

William, Richard, and Henry — who all acted as decoy- 
men and makers of decoy ponds This morning (Novem- 
ber 18th, 1916) I have received a letter from Thomas 
Gilbert Skelton. He, I am sorry to say, is spending the 
•evening of his life (he is about 84 years old) in Wells 
Union. He is a grandson of old George Skelton, and 
bears a name that will be handed down the ladder of time 
as long as ducks and decoys are written about. He laid 
out several, Lord Lilford's at Lilford being one of them. 

THOMAS GILBERT SKELTON'S LETTER. 

<( Sir, — I send you a copy of some of the decoys we 
have constructed, if you have any ponds frequented with 
wildfowl and wish something to catch them. I cannot 
advise without seeing the place. — From yours, 

"THOS. G. SKELTON." 

DECOYS PLANNED AND ALTERED. 

" Wells Union, Somersetshire. 
" 1839. By William Skelton and Son, Thos. Gilbert 
Skelton : Friskney decoy and Farm Depen, Fen ; two 
decoys and farm, Lincolnshire ; Grange decoy, Tilling- 
ham, Essex ; Marsh House decoy, Tillingham, Essex ; 
Lakenheath decoy, Suffolk ; Winterton decoy, Norfolk ; 
Earl of Craven's decoy, Combe Abbey, Warwickshire ; 
Earl of Caledon's decoy, Caledon Castle, Ireland; Lord 
Fitzhardinge's two decoys, Berkeley Castle, Gloucester- 
shire, and Hale decoy, Lancashire; Iken decoy, Suffolk; 
Colonel Saurin's decoy, Pembroke, Wales ; Major Chad- 
wick's decoy, Moy, Elgin, N.B. ; Lord Lilford's decoy, 
Lilford Hall, Northamptonshire ; Walton decoy, Sharp - 
ham Park, Somersetshire; Ivythorne decoys (three), Wal- 
ton, Marquis of Bath." 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 




The late Thomas GicBKRT Skelton 

{Grandson of old Ceor&e Skelton, the designer of the small 

decoy-pool). 



n6 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

DECOYS MADE BY THOS. GILBERT SKELTON. 

" Thirkleby Park decoy for Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, 
Bart. ; Hornby Castle decoy for the Duke of Leeds ; Holm 
Fen decoy, Minting, Fen, near Peterborough." 

" A thorough Lincolnshire decoyman seeks an engage- 
ment; well-versed in everything that appertains to a 
decoy — constructing and management. — Apply Thos. Gil- 
bert Skelton. My advertisement in the ' Field ' news- 
paper. *' 

I have to-day received a second letter from Thos. 
Skelton, and as anything is of interest from him, who is 
most probably the last designer of decoys, at any rate of 
the old school, I give it : — 

" Wells Union, Somerset, 

" Nov. 26th, 1916. 

" Sir, — These are a few more of the decoys planned by 
us. Lord Ilchester's decoy at Abbotsbury Castle, Dorset- 
shire, and Towlesbury decoy, a fine place in Essex ; and 
Mersey Island decoy, near Maldon, Essex, and Nacton 
decoy, near Ipswich, and two decoys between Hull and 
York ; but as it is more than 20 years since I visited 
these, so I cannot say anything about them. George 
Skelton" was my grandfather, at Winterton. My father 
went there in 1841 or 2 ; from there he went to Combe 
Abbey, the late Earl of Craven's, where he was steward 
for seventeen years. 

" Any gentleman wanting anything erected, I am here ! 

" From yours truly, 

"THOS. G. SKELTON." 

Amongst some of the earliest writers of sport and nature 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 117 

Willughby gives a short account of decoying ducks, 
and gives a sketch of a very primitive decoy, which I 




PLAN OF DECOY 
Given in Willughby's Ornithology. 1678. 

here give. He says, and he takes his information from 
Markham, from the pool you can make as many ditches, 
or pipes as they are called, as you like, though there are 
only three on the sketch, and those quite straight, so 
perhaps some of the early writers were not far wrong 
when they say the dog drives the ducks into the net at the 
end, and, naturally, they would be loth to face the tunnel 
net at end of a straight short pipe ; so after being enticed 
in by the tame ducks and food, or by the dog, the decoy- 
man and his dog getting between them and the pool, 
might frighten them into the net at the end. Probably 
Willughby may have seen decoys in Holland, for he 
travelled a lot, especially for one in those days. Evelyn 
mentions that Charles was making a decoy in 1665, which 
would be one of the earliest English ones; and from what 
I have seen of Houghton, Notts. I am quite certain it is 
also one of the first to have been made, as between the 
two traps the soil taken out was piled up in a great heap, 
and on the top grows an oak tree, either planted or has 
come up from an acorn dropped there; but there is no 
doubt in my mind and in others that have seen it that its 



n8 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

age is not less than 250 years, or about that, from its size 
now ; and probably the Earl of Lincoln of that day copied 
the King's example. I regret that during the last few 
years this very old duck-catching trap has not been 
worked, and it is a perfect mystery to me that those who 
own a decoy or trap on their properties should let them 
die out, for decoying of wildfowl is an art in the practice 
of venary, and to outwit a wild duck is a feather in the 
cap of any sportsman, to say nothing of the delight of 
being able to watch the hundreds of different fowl which 
collect day by day in a decoy. Since writing this I 
have been given an old print of Houghton taken in 1698, 
and it very clearly shows the decoy pond with two pipes. 
This has interested me, so I went over, and you can still 
see where the pipes were. Mr. Fawcett's uncle, Mr. 
Wightman, remembers this decoy seventy years ago, 
and then there was only one pipe and one trap. 

I have lately come across the following taken from a 
book published in 1853 : " Wittlesea Mere in 1786 was 
3^ miles long and 2\ broad; it was shallow; in 1835 it had 
become much shallower, but it was frequented by a vast 
number of wildfowl, and at the Holme decoy as many as 
fifty dozen ducks were commonly taken in one day." 

Thomas Gilbert Skelton died in Wells Workhouse, 
January, 1918, in his eighty-fifth year. 

Not only were ducks in such vast numbers, but also 
geese. Mr. Thos. Kemble, of Runwell Hall, speaking of 
Bradwell, in Essex, in his " Sporting Reminiscences of 
an Old Squire," says : — 

** I am now going to relate what sportsmen who go there 
at the present day wildfowl shooting will not believe. I 
have seen the sky darkened with wild geese, covering a 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 119 

space of half a mile by a quarter of a mile, as thick as 
manure spread upon the ground, making - a noise which 
only could compare with fifty packs of hounds in full cry. 
I have also seen 7 acres at low water covered with 
wigeon and ducks making a noise that I could not hear 
my brother speaking a few yards off." 

The following list of wildfowl will be read with interest, 
as to the large quantity taken and the low price made of 
them in comparison with the abnormal price nowadays, 
for common wild duck last season, 1917-18, made as much 
as ten shillings a couple, and this year, 1919, in February, 
sixteen shillings a couple. These birds in the list were 
taken in the Steeple decoy, Essex : — 



An 


Account 


OF W 


ILD FOW 


. Ketcht 


att Steeple 


Deckoy. 


Wild ducks. 


Teal.* 


Pyntail. 


Wiggin.* 


Burds. 


H 


burds. 


£ s. d. 


1714... 


675 


347 


46 


6,296 


11 









150 


1715... 


459 


5i8 


42 


6,088 












143 04 r 4 


1716... 


39-2 


154 


15 


5,8 . 7 












147 04 « 2 


1717... 


3 2 9 


30 


1 


5.207 


5 




1 




130 (8 09 


1718... 


193 


40 


6 


3.138 


10 




1 




78 13 c8 


1719... 


207 


M 


2 


825 


ir 




1 




27 15 06 


1720... 


81 


7 





2,789 


1 




1 




62 co 03 


17.21. .. 


267 


H 


3 


3,317 












q4 ib co 


1722... 


568 


17 


8 


4,5'4 


2 




1 




164 is f 8 


1723... 


4-49 


70 


7 


3.260 


3 




1 




142 c*8 (8 


1724 .. 


498 


145 


4 


1.306 


3 









81 16 c6 


1725... 


2C2 


19 


4 


1,671 


4 




1 




6q iS co 


1726... 


266 


n 





449 


7 









33 00 CO 



4.576 1,396 138 44. 6 77 1.326 1 6 

* When sold, two teal and two wigeon counted as one wild duck. 



THE WIGEON. 

We see in many of our older nature books the 
name is more often than not spelt widgeon, and 
some few to this day still do so. I once asked a learned 
friend why it was so, and he replied, people do not 



120 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

spell pigeon with a " d " why should they do so with 
wigeon ; but this is wrong, for now and again we find 
educated men spelling pigeon with a " d " — pidgeon. 
The Reverend John Mulso in one or more of his letters 
to Gilbert White does it. 

The drake of this species is another of our ducks of 
beautiful plumage. His ruddy head, with its yellow 
crown, is a striking and charming combination of colour. 
He has a wild, whistling pipe, " Whee-yow-Whee-yow. " 
One day in the middle 'seventies, when fishing on the 
Gauer, in Perthshire, I put no less than three wigeon off 
their nests when crossing bits of heather in the bends of 
the river; and this was the first time they had been noticed 
nesting so far south in Scotland. Now they have 
extended their range, and I have seen many pairs breed- 
ing on the big island in Loch Leven, and once, many 
years back, a pricked duck remained on a piece of water 
in this county. She was joined by a drake, and they 
brought up a brood of young ones. On August the 5th, 
1883, when I was walking round the Rain worth water 
with Messrs. Aplin and E. Bidwell, we saw a drake in 
full breeding plumage. It was about for several days. I 
need hardly say we were all much astonished to see one 
so far south at that time of the year. Twenty-five years 
ago, during the winter, wigeon were fairly common in 
these parts, but it is not so now ; in fact, I have only seen 
two wigeon on the ponds here during the last ten years or v 
more. Years back, after a foggy night, the Cave Pond 
was almost a certain find, and when waiting for flight 
at Rainworth Water the old keeper always said if you 
stand at the top end of the lake by the poplars you will 
get a shot at the wigeon, and we generally did. I have 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 121 

seen numbers feeding on the grass near the decoy at Park 
Hall, and suggested to the late owner if he encouraged 
a growth of grass by covering a patch with thorns and 
then placed a clap net he might capture a lot, but it was 
never tried. I have now and again seen an adult wigeon 
dive quite under for some tit-bit, but not often. Varieties 
of this duck are even rarer than in teal, and it was many 
years before I got one shot in Essex. It is a pale- 
coloured bird. When wigeon are flying the white on the 
wing of the drake is very conspicuous. 

When wigeon are on the water they generally sit well 
out in the middle. When one stands for flight the whistle 
of the drake is generally heard well before the birds are 
within shot. Wigeon are very suspicious, and fly round 
over the water several times before they pitch, and directly 
they do so all the drakes give out their calls. Ducks 
generally arrive at the pond they come to in the follow- 
ing order : Tufte3, teal, common wild duck, and, last of 
all, wigeon; whether it is that they come further, start 
later, or fly slower, I do not know. 

TEAL. 

Teal stand second in quantity in the list of ducks taken 
in our decoys. This is a bright and agile bird. Agile 
seems rather a curious term to apply to a duck, but 
those who have seen them spring from the water, going 
up almost straight for yards, will, I am certain, agree 
with me that this word is well applied to this beautiful 
bird, neat in shape, charming in plumage, and swift of 
flight, to say nothing of being considered by many to be 
the most delicious table duck we have, its one and only 
fault being it is too small ; its shape when cooked and on 



i22 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

the table leaves nothing to be desired; it is indeed a 
tempting morsel. When on the water it sits high for 
its size, and floats like a cork, and is far away the most 
buoyant of any of our ducks, and it delights the eye to see 
several dashing down towards the water, twisting about, 
swooping and gliding from side to side, then settling 
with little splash, an example of the power of flight 
which is not surpassed by any bird. The note of the 
drake teal is a whistle, and in early spring, when they 
are pairing and many are calling, the sound is very 
striking when heard from a distance, as it rises and falls, 
with now and again the sharp " Quack-quack " of the 
female, making quite a wild music and well in keeping 
with the surroundings of rushes, water grasses, and alder 
bushes. Teal nest later than wild ducks. Nests are some- 
times made near the water. I have never seen one on the 
edge; sometimes a long way from it, especially where 
there is heather, to which they seem to be very partial. 
This last June I found one placed on the top of a root 
of old water grass, often called Hassock's, because in 
olden days they were dried and clipped short and used 
as basses to kneel on, and even now I hear are so used 
in a church in the county of Rutland. The bird was on, 
and it was only her eye that caught mine. I was within 
a yard of her, and a pretty picture she made, surrounded 
by yellow grjass and covered all over with her own 
clown, only her neck and head showing; and it was only, 
when I touched her with my stick that she flew off, 
showing nine eggs, which were close to hatching, and I 
was pleased to find that, on looking a couple of days after, 
she had taken all off. If you shoot a duck teal on a small 
pond the drake will return shortly after, and, if not killed, 



BRIT IS H DUCK DECOYS 123 

will return several times during the day. Varieties of 
this duck are very rare as to numbers, and I only remem- 
ber having seen three or four; I have one which is of a 
pale slate colour. This duck prefers small ponds and the 
shallower parts of them, and you rarely or ever see them 
out in the open water of a large pond. In such places you 
find them near the sides, and if trees hang over the water 
often under their shade. Some waters are more attrac- 
tive than others. We have one pond here I never remem- 
ber seeing one on, and then there are others which are 
almost always a sure find, though to the eye they both 
look very much alike. This is more a fresh-water duck 
than are either the common wild duck or the wigeon. 
Now and again we shoot one that has ferruginous stains- 
on the breast, probably from frequenting water with a 
large proportion of iron in it. Swans' heads often show 
this stain, probably from the same causa. 



COMMON WILD DUCK. 

The duck 'most frequently taken in decoys is the 
common wild duck. I mean this, that in all the decoys 
the number of wild ducks, if added together, would out- 
number teal or wigeon. Of course, in some individual 
decoys teal predominate, and in one or more near the 
coast wigeon are taken in big lots ; but of ducks taken in 
existing decoys and traps the common wild duck would 
as to numbers head the list. To my mind, the males of 
many of our ducks, both fresh-water and sea ducks, are 
quite the most beautiful as to plumage amongst all the 
different species that frequent our island, and none are 
more so than the male or mallard of this species ; a perfect 

1 



124 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 




Q § 



2 Q 



2 S 

K Q 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 125 

picture is he, with his vivid green head and neck, his 
beautifully checkered grey back, the pinky chestnut of 
the lower part of the neck, and the velvety black curly 
feathers over the tail; these, set off by his bright pink 
legs and feet, form a combination of colours which, 
though so striking, blend as a whole; then his shape is 
pleasant to look upon; and lastly, but not least, he is 
quite one of our best birds when partaken of as food, 
especially the decoyed ones. Shot ones, when being 
roasted, the juices in the body run out through the 
holes made in the skin, and are lost to a great extent. 
This duck pairs early, long before some of our others, 
and may be seen in pairs in January, if the weather is 
not very severe, and in an early spring there are young 
ducks early in April, but, of coarse, this entirely depends 
on the weather. I have found a nest in the big wood here, 
several hundred yards from the nearest outside, and a 
long way from any water. Now and again they will nest 
on pollard willows here. The young ones jump down 
into the grass or water without the least harm to them- 
selves. Young ducks of this kind often dive till half- 
grown for food, and I have many times watched them 
do so, but when full-grown they rarely or ever do so. 
When these ducks are paired and are flighting, the duck 
always leads. Flighting varies according to the light ; 
they come sooner on a dark night than one when there 
is a moon, but so punctual are they that a time-table 
made by my son some years ago holds good year after 
year. Each evening has its time on dark nights, mode- 
rately dark, and moonlight ones, and I always consult 
it when I go to try for a shot, as it saves one waiting 
in the cold longer than is needful. These ducks, like all 



126 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

others, leave the waters where they have been during the 
day for other ponds or feeding places, and return at day- 
break. They are fond of going to barley or bean stubbles, 
and one night here I counted over ninety come over me 
into a large field, and probably there were as many.more 
on the other sides too far away for me to see. I consider 
the wild duck an easy bird to shoot, though he flies fast, 
but rises much slower than teal or pintail, and he has 
not the rush of the pochard, tufted, or teal at flight. 
They are easily tamed, and I have succeeded in getting 
pure wild ones to eat out of my hand. During the last 
few days — November ist and after — I have seen mature 
wild ducks diving for food in 3 feet of water, going 
right under and keeping down five to seven seconds, 
coming up five or six yards from where they went under. 
I have never seen this before. 

At the great feast given by Archbishop George Neville 
at York (1465) 4,000 mallards were served at a cost of 
twopence each. Curiously enough, at this time teal were 
valued at fourpence. Many years after a mallard was 
worth two teal. We see in some books on birds the 
name mallard applied to both sexes of the common wild 
duck, and in others it only applies to the male of these 
ducks. I myself think the latter name right, and it dis- 
tinguishes the one sex from the other; in all the other 
ducks they are termed drake and duck. I notice the ducks 
that feed in shallow water are much more noisy than 
those feeding in deep water both during the daytime and 
night, and they flight more regularly than do the diving- 
ducks. Teal, wigeon, and common duck when flighting 
often call, but tufted and pochards seldom, though tufted 
do when they rise and when they settle on the water. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 127 

*' Oft as the sun's last lingering ray 

Gleams faintly o'er the fading scene, 
By some still lake I wend my way, 
Where decked in plumage brown and grey 

The mallard oft is seen ; 
With glossy neck of emerald hue 
And wings barr'd with the deepest blue 
That sapphire gives ; and ruddy breast, 
By the clear dimpling waters pressed ; 
In sedgy covert near the mere, 
Upon her nest of rushes made, 
His mate in humbler garb arrayed, 
Broods o'er her eggs with anxious care." 

The catches of wildfowl in past days were so great 
that people nowadays can scarcely believe it possible, but 
we have it handed down on the highest authority, and 
there is no shadow of doubt that the statements are per- 
fectly true. 

Daniel writes : "A decoy in some seasons is astonish- 
ingly lucrative. In 1795 the Tillingham decoy, in Essex, 
at that time in the occupation of Mr. Mascall, netted, 
after every expense, upwards of eight hundred pounds, 
ana the only birds taken were duck and mallard. Eight 
hundred pounds at that time represented twice the amount 
it does now. 



i28 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



CHAPTER IV. 

DUCKS TAKEN NOW AND AGAIN. 

The three kinds of ducks aforementioned are the staple 
produce of a decoy, but now and again others are cap- 
tured, but only now and again, because some will not 
decoy, and some are so rare that it is at only long periods 
they are caught. 

POCHARD. 

These ducks, which for eating are first rate, curiously 
enough, are bottom-feeding ducks, and are by some 
only to be compared to the canvas-backed duck of 
America. They are no doubt very good, but I myself 
prefer a teal or a common wild duck. Pochard are some- 
times tempted by the dog to enter a pipe, but almost 
invariably dive back to the open water when the decoy- 
man shows himself between them and the pipe mouth. 
Now and again, if there are many ducks, one or more is 
hustled up the pipe by the rush of the other birds, but this 
is rare. So where pochards were in quantities in the 
olden days nets were made, and were placed on four sides 
of the pond, sometimes between the pipes, and here and 
there ponds for pochards alone were kept. These ducks 
when taking flight rise very slowly, flying close to the 
surface of water for some distance, so when they were 
well on the wing the bolt was drawn and the net rose, 
and into it many of them flew. It was so timed that a few 
went above it, so as to give the others a good lead, and in 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 129 

this way hundreds were taken at one time. At the foot 
of the nets were trenches dug into which the pochards 
fell, and so, piled on each other, could not escape. We 
read that so many were the birds in them that the bottom' 
ones were squashed flat by the weight of those on them, 
and a wagon load, with four horses to draw it, was taken 
at one pull, as mentioned in " Wildfowler," by Folkard, 
page 96, written in 1873. The birds were often so 
numerous as to thickly cover all the surface of the pond, 
and 500 to 600 taken at a pull was not considered more 
than a fairly good draw. The county of Essex was 
renowned for the vast quantities of pochards to be found 
there. 

Now and again they venture into a duck trap, and if 
the fowler is about, and the door lowered, there is no 
escape, as in a pipe decoy. Some years back a big lot of 
these ducks frequented the lake at Park Hall, but nothing 
in the way of food would induce them to enter the trap. 
A bright idea entered Captain Hall's head, and was 
carried out. Thus, a half-grown kitten was put in a 
hamper, and before the morning flight time it was placed 
in the trap, and in the decoy house the man waited. As 
day broke ducks came from all sides and settled on the 
water. Soon the pochards arrived, settling near the 
island, where the trap was. In a little the kitten, feeling 
lost, set up strong and piercing calls. This very soon 
attracted the attention of the pochards, who swam to 
the entrance, and, with heads held well up, listened. 
Their inquisitiveness soon overcame them, and one or 
two swam in, followed by others. The watcher was 
anxious to get all he could; he waited, but, noticing some 
turning, lowered the door, and when the trap was entered 



J3Q 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



at night he found he had captured over a score. After a 
few days it was tried again, but not a bird was persuaded 
to go in. This was the first and last good take, only 
an odd one now and again being got. The pochard has 
a very beautiful eye, much the colour of port wine which 
has been in the wood a long time. They nest in this county 
but rarely, and I have only known them to do so on the 
ponds here once or twice. 

THE TUFTED DUCK. 

I often feel I ought to raise my hat when I see tufted 
ducks, because it is through that species I have made so 
many friends who but for this duck I should never have 
known, and it has been my privilege to entertain almost all 




Borough Fen Decoy, Winter, 1918. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 131 

the well-known nature lovers here — men whose names 
will be handed down through -the years to come to the 
nature lovers of future generations ; and this was how it 
happened. In the spring of 1873 a letter was written to 
the " Field " saying that a pair of tufted ducks were 
nesting in a certain county, and the editor's note said, if 
I remember right, that it was only about the seventh 
authenticated nest found so far in Britain. I at once 
wrote, saying we had twenty or more nests on the waters 
here, Where they had bred in numbers since the 'thirties. 
The consequence was my letter-bag for days was plump 
with letters from bird-loving men, and those letters led 
to my asking them here, and friendships made for life. 
Many since then have passed the Bar, and sad it was to 
me; still I have some left whom I delight to hear from 
and see here, and we cherish the memory of those gone. 

In the good old days of duck-decoying the tufted was 
a rareish bird, and I do not remember seeing one in the 
list of taken ducks in any decoy of those days. Of course, 
he, like his cousin the pochard, is a bad one to catch, as 
he, too, dives out and will not be driven up, but now and 
again he is captured in a duck trap, and quite a few were 
got in this way in the one at Park Hall. Captain Hall 
gave me several, which I pinioned and turned up on the 
water in front of this house, and I found that the males 
which had their wings cut never changed into eclipse 
plumage, which is interesting. These ducks get almost all 
their food in deep water, and in doing so remain under 
on an average of fifteen seconds ; but if food is plentiful 
they are under a shorter time. Naturalists place our 
ducks under two heads — surface-feeding ducks and diving 
ducks — but this is very misleading, for all our ducks get 



x 32 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



their food from the bottom, and a better distinction would 
be — ducks that feed in shallow water and ducks that feed 
in deep water. The so-called surface-feeding ducks — teal, 
common wild ducks, shovellers, etc. — get the greater part 
of their food from the bottom, which they reach by putting 
their heads under water, and when they cannot thus get 
at it they tip up to do so. Pochard, golden eye, tufted 
ducks, etc., get theirs in the deeper water, going quite 
under and never tip up or feed in shallow water. I say 
these hardly ever do so, for even ducks do curious things 
now and again, but I have never seen them, and perhaps 
no one in England has a better chance- to observe their 
habits than I have. There is not a day in the year when 




Fitting the Foxskin Coat and Brush on to the Decoy-dog. 
The late Mr. Barrett (Decoyman to His Grace the Duke of 
Leeds) and " Rover." Hornby Castle Decoy. 
Copyright] [Photo by Oxley Grabham. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 133 

there are not some on the ponds here, and very few when 
there are not some on this pond. Within shot of my 
writing-table there are two to-day, and I have seen over 
thirty one day this year, so I have every opportunity. A 
handsome bird is the tufted duck. The contrast of his 
black-and-white plumage is very striking, and shows up 
well on the water and at flight. No duck flies faster. 
Many do not care about them for the table, but I do not 
think a young bird is to be despised. I saw a pretty sight 
here one June day. A tuftie had just hatched off her 
brood on the island here, and I happened to see them as 
they got on the water. After a few minutes she dived. The 
young ones were surprised and lost, and swam about 
wildly. Up she came, and they rushed to her. Presently 
down she went, and again they swam round looking for 
her. After another dive or two, two or three tried it, and 
shortly all were diving in fine style. I wrote and told my 
friend Mr. Millais, and he mentioned it in his fine work 
on diving ducks. When these ducks are paired nothing 
will induce the drake to fly till his partner rises. I have 
always seen this so. The following is interesting. One 
day, years back, myself and some friends were walking 
round the Rainworth water. It was spring, and we 
flushed from a spit of sand washed in by thunderstorms 
a common sandpiper. It flew down the lake towards the 
bend, which as the banks elsewhere are steep and rush- 
clad, was the only other place where it could land ; but a 
keeper being there, it flew to the end, and returned ; find- 
ing us near the spit, it turned and flew to a pair of ducks 
which were floating on the water, and tried to settle on the 
back of one. The tuftie dived at once, so away flew the 
piper, and then returned and tried the same thing again. 



134 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 



Both ducks dived, so having no other settling place it left 
the lake and flew away. We were, I need hardly say, 
much amused. 

The following is remarkable, especially for what I 
may term a water duck to do, for I may truly term 
them water ducks, for they feed and sleep on the water 
and rarely come off it except to nest, whereas common 
wild ducks, wigeon and others spend a good lot of time 
sunning and sleeping on land, and they often feed on it in 
the way of corn, grass, etc. Some years back 
when a keeper was trimming the banks of the 
decoy at Park Hall (this is done for the ducks 
to plume and rest on, and the shorter the grass the more 
they like it) he mowed over a nest in the fringe of the 
rushes on the water's edge. He took the eggs to the 




Thickleby Decoy. 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 135 

housekeepr (a clever hand at rearing poultry of all kinds), 
who put them under a hen, and succeeded in rearing 
seven, feeding them the same as common ducks, worms 
being also given to them in a tin of water to dive for. 
In the autumn, when full grown, they left the yard and 
joined the wild ones of their own species on the decoy, 
and were lost sight of, the housekeeper being congratu- 
lated on rearing such tender birds, and no more was 
thought about them. However, one day the next June a 
tufted duck was seen by some of the servants to fly over 
and settle in the yard at the back of the house and try 
to get in at the kitchen door and also the hencoops. On 
the housekeeper being told, she went out, and, giving the 
same call she had been in the habit 01 using when feeding 
the young ducks the previous year, it immediately ran 
to her and followed her into the kitchen and ate out of a 
saucer and from her hand. This it did for several days, 
until one morning it appeared followed by eleven young 
ones, all of which after being fed returned to the lake for 
the day. This daily visit continued until all the young 
ones had died — no doubt from being draggled through the 
long wet grass, the lake being fully a quarter of a mile 
from the house. 

This is the first instance (and last) which I ever have 
heard of a tufted duck of its own free will leaving its 
wilder brethren and bringing its young to the poultry yard 
to be fed ; but no doubt it was influenced by kindly recol- 
lections of the good treatment it had received the year 
before. I could write much more about my favourite 
duck, for when I see them I always think of the pleasure 
I have had in watching them and of the many true friends 
they have been the means of my knowing and entertain- 



136 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

ing. This summer (1918) I had two lots of young tufties 
on this pond, and I was surprised to see one several times 
on its mother's back, where it remained for some time 
preening itself — a pretty sight and new to me. 

THE SHOVELLER. 

Another beautiful-plumaged duck, by some thought the 
most beautiful. The old wildfowlers called them spoon- 
bills, not only, I fancy, from the shape of their bills, 
but from the way they sometimes feed — scooping up the 
small floating seeds, etc., as if with a spoon. In the 
spring the drake flies after the duck, following every twist 
and turn of her flight, all the time calling " Tuck-tuck " 
in a short, quick way. They nest here, and have done 
so for many years. Some years we have only one or two 
pairs and others ten or more. They nest generally away 
from water in a hedge bottom or in a patch of nettles. 
Not bad birds for the table, but not so good as teal or 
fresh-water wigeon. 

I shall never forget my wife's delight when on June 
21st, 1885, she found the first authenticated county nest 
in the meadow hedge here, and, curiously enough, the 
drake was on. It was about a hundred yards from the 
brook. 

Now and again a decoy is visited by more of the scarcer 
ducks than usual, and in the season of 1917-18 it was 
the case at Borough Fen Decoy. Mr. Williams took 
over 200 shovellers in that season. 

GADWALL. 

Nowhere is it but rarely found except in Norfolk, 
where years back Mr. Fountaine, of Narford, turned up 



BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 137 

several pairs on the lake there, and these increased and 
spread. It is only now and again in the list of ducks we 
see one of this species taken in a decoy. The duck might 
be passed over amongst females of common wild ducks, 
but the white speculum is always a distinctive mark, being 
the only British duck that has one. 

PINTAIL. 

Beautiful in shape and colouring and called by some the 
sea pheasant. At Ashby and some other decoys they 
are taken now and again. This bird is a very near 
relation to the teal. This is proved by its call note and 
general markings of its plumage. Drakes vary much in 
weight. The heaviest I ever knew was shot in Inverness- 
shire, and weighed 2 lbs. 10 ozs. I have read of a goos- 
ander being taken and a scoter. Of course, other ducks 
not mentioned by me may have been caught, yet I have 
never heard of them. 

GARGANEY TEAL. 

This pretty duck has been taken now and again, but has 
generally gone South before decoys have started working, 
or arrives in the spring after the season is over. 

OTHER CAPTURES. 

We read of many curious captures in decoys, the taking 
of most unlikely birds. That a peregrine falcon pursued 
a heron up a pipe, and the decoyman rushed them into 
the net and took them both; and amongst strange birds 
owls, hawks, crows, partridges, pheasants, and others 
have from time to time been caught. 

During the autumn and winter the decoyman has the 



I3 8 BRITISH DUCK DECOYS 

pleasure of watching the wildfowl that frequent the pond 
and the sport of taking a certain quantity. All these 
weeks the decoy is alive with fowl, and other birds come 
and go. Woodpigeons sun themselves in the bare trees ; 
flocks of starlings stream over from time to time ; num- 
bers of rooks pass on their way to roost; the hedge- 
sparrow hops about the screens; families of tits search 
the boughs ; and when the red sun is setting robins sing 
their Vesper hymns. Then, in spring and summer, 
though the bird life is different, there is something very 
interesting about it. Swallows skim about over the water, 
and the grating notes of sedgebirds come from the reeds. 
The whitethroat flutters up from the boundary hedge and 
sings his jerking notes. The stormcock's song sounds 
loud in March, and blackbirds flute to the rising sun ; and 
even in the baking days of July the yellowhammer calls 
for his " Bit-of-bread-and-cheese." No, there is no period 
of the year in which there is not something to interest the 
nature lover on or about the decoy, something to learn and 
something to remember. 

THE END. 



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