John Woodcock Graves (1795--1886)We’re all familiar with “John Peel,” surely the most well-known foxhunting song of all time. We’re perhaps less familiar with the songwriter, John Woodcock Graves, who turns out to be a most fascinating and unpredictable character—rogue some might say—in his own way. We owe this insight into Graves' life to our Cumbrian friend, Ron Black, who sent us excerpts from A Ramblers Notebook at the English Lakes (H. D Rawnsley, 1902).
In an earlier article, Foxhunting Life describes that night in 1829 when John Woodcock Graves sat in his parlor in Caldbeck, in England’s Lake District, with John Peel. Peel was a farmer, horse dealer, and foxhunter whose hounds were highly celebrated by the local sheep farmers. From the adjoining room, Graves overheard his son's granny singing an ancient Irish melody to the child. Graves took that old melody and wrote a new set of lyrics to honor his friend, John Peel.
"I sang it to poor Peel," Graves wrote, "who smiled through a stream of tears which fell down his manly cheeks, and I well remember saying to him in a joking style, ‘By Jove, Peel, you’ll be sung when we’re both run to earth!'’
Just a few years after that cozy night, however, Graves became embroiled in a violent altercation with an employee, the aftermath of which induced him to leave England forever. His adventures were just beginning.