Four talking hounds

Tucked away in a quiet, shady courtyard near to the bustling city centre of Leeds are four lovely hounds sat around a large and ornate bowl. The hounds form part of a fountain and the water spouts in their mouths almost make them look as though they’re smoking! Not only do these hounds form part of a water display, they can also talk!

The Talbot Hounds (picture: Jackie Buckle)
The Talbot Hounds (picture: Jackie Buckle)

The idea behind talking statues seems to have taken shape in Copenhagen when the statue of Hans Christian Andersen was given voice in 2013. Now there are examples all over the world. In the UK, the project was masterminded by the arts project Sing London along with Antenna Lab and the University of Leicester. The organisers wanted to make it really simple to interact with the statues – scan a code with your phone and prepare to take a call from a stone hound or other historical figure. (I can confirm that the process is indeed idiot-proof having successfully used my phone to converse with Hodge the Cat in London!) The statues have been animated by a host of well-known actors and they each have a different story to tell.

But what of our hound dogs? How did they come to be in Leeds? In fact, the dog fountain was initially made for a mock-medieval mansion called Castle Carr near Halifax. Sadly the story behind the mansion is not a happy one.

The architect Thomas Risley was commissioned to build the house by Captain Joseph Priestly Edwards and construction began in 1859. The mansion really was huge, with a 60ft long banqueting hall and a giant fireplace guarded by two stone Talbot hounds. This breed of dog has long been extinct but it is thought that they were an ancestor of our modern day beagle. In medieval times “Talbot” was a common name for hounds, as can be seen in various old hunting books, and to this day pubs still bear the name “Talbot” or “Talbot Arms”, with their inn-signs often illustrated by a hound dog. Certainly Edwards seems fond of the breed as he also had the stone fountain we now see in Trevelyan Square created as part of Castle Carr’s impressive water gardens. But sadly Edwards never got to see his grand home in all its glory since he and his eldest son were both killed in a railway accident before it was finished.

The Talbot Hounds (picture: Jackie Buckle)
The Talbot Hounds (picture: Jackie Buckle)

After Edward’s death another of his sons saw that the building was completed but although the house functioned as a hunting lodge on occasion, it seems never to have been used as the Edwards family home.

In 1949 Castle Carr was put up for sale. This amazing old house failed to attract a single buyer and so fell into disrepair. In the early 1960s, unloved and unwanted, it suffered the final indignity of being demolished for its materials. However, once a year the beautiful gardens are opened to visitors and at least, as we have seen, the four Talbot hounds were rescued from the rubble and given a new home.

More talking animal statues can be found in the book – Monumental Tales