Steeped in tradition and evoking images of wild, rugged moorland, the Glorious Twelfth is an integral part of the British Countryside Calendar. Marking the start of the shooting season for red grouse, the 12th of August is a pivotal date in the country sport enthusiast’s diary. But where did this tradition begin? We take a step back in time, to discover the history of the Glorious Twelfth.
1773 – Early Beginnings
The date of 12th August, can be traced all the way back to 1773. In this year the Game Act of 1773 was introduced, with the aim of “the preservation of the moor or hill game”. Enacted on the 24th June, this put into law that grouse could not be hunted or bought between 10th December and the twelfth day of August. So keen where the authorities to enforce this closed season, the Act stated a fine “not exceeding twenty pounds, nor less than ten pounds” to be given to anyone found in breach. Whilst the amount may seem trivial, it would today be equivalent of around £1,400 and £2,800!
Lagopus Scoticus “Red Grouse” – from The Birds of Europe c.1832
1831 – A Game Changer
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, game hunting was unlicensed and largely unregulated, except in what remained of the ‘Royal Forests’. However a new Game Act, which was reflective of how popular game shooting had become, was to change the sport forever.
The act, introduced in 1831, stated “Before any person takes, kills or pursues or aids or assists in any manner in so doing, or who uses any dog, net, gun or other engine for the purpose of taking, pursuing or killing any game, woodcock, snipe or coney or any deer must take out a licence to kill game.”
In addition to this, it prohibited the shooting of game on Sundays and Christmas Day, as these were seen as Holy days. This restriction is still in place today in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
At this time, it was however partridge that was the most popular game bird, with George Edie commenting in his famous work, ‘Treatise on English Shooting’ that partridge shooting was “the genteelest and best sport we have.”
1850’s – The Rise of the Grouse Shoot
It was not until the 1950’s that the biggest surge in popularity for Grouse Shooting was seen. The arrival of the ‘breech-loaded’ shotgun allowed for easier and faster re-loading on the shoot – a definite advantage when pursuing these speedy birds. Meanwhile, the widespread introduction of rail networks across the country during the Victorian era suddenly gave more people than ever access to the moors.
From then on, the Glorious 12th became the most important date in moorland calendar, and one that is still celebrated by many rural communities across Britain to this day.