The Association was founded in March 1891, a Beagle Section being added to the already existing Masters of Harriers Association. In 1891, the Association registered 107 packs of Harriers and 40 packs of Beagles. In 2009 there are 62 packs of Beagles and 22 packs of Harriers.
It is clear from the minutes of the early meetings that the primary interest of the Beagle Committee was the improvement of the beagle as a hunting hound by the establishment of a stud book and the inclusion of beagle classes at the Peterborough Hound Show. At first meeting of the Beagle Section (under the Chairmanship of Sir Marteine Lloyd Bart) it was resolved that “All hounds bred in a Harrier Kennel be ineligible for the Beagle Stud Book”. The strict adherence to measurement standard of 16 inches was affirmed.
Up to WW II and beyond, the business of the Beagle Committee was concerned almost exclusively with the membership of the Committee, the election of new Members and the approval of the entry of individual hounds to the Stud Book. Even at the beginning, not all was plain sailing, in 1884 the minute book records that “Mr Johnson (A committee member) explained that he did not intend the letters in question (to the Field) to cast any reflection on the judges at Peterborough; but what he asked was that some instruction as to points should be given by the Committee to the judges.” In 1899, the Committee rejected the whole list of hounds proposed for the Stud Book by the Earl of Hopetoun “none were eligible”.
In the Harrier world, this period saw the demise of many privately owned packs, hunted by the owners of large estates - many turned to Fox Hunting. In the Sporting Gazette of 1898, we read of the “Annual Leicester sale of Harriers” at which the entire pack of 34 couple belonging to the late Mr Carleton-Cowper were sold for a total of £550.10s. A further sale only a week later offered for sale 39 couple of hounds form three different packs. Such Harrier sales and Beagle sales continued with the backing of the Association until soon after the end of WW II
It was not until more than ten years after the war that the work of the Association began to expand into wider fields. With support of the Kennel Club a firm stand was taken to ensure that, in terms of breeding, there was a clear distinction between the two interests, i.e. those bred for the purpose of hunting, and those bred for the bench shows and for the pet owners. The administration of the Association’s affairs became more formalised in response to growing public interest in ‘good management’. A Registrar of Countries was appointed to help sort out conflicting claims to hunt country. An annual conference was introduced.
Subsequently, The AMHB, in association with the Master of Foxhounds Association, introduced Codes of Conduct for the Hunting Field and tightening up the rules for the conduct of hunting to further reflect the fundamental precept that fox and hare hunting by recognised packs involves the hunting of the quarry in its wild and natural state.
In the 1990s, the Association became closely involved in matters of public relations, and politics, in response to the efforts of the Animal Rights movement to bring about a law prohibiting all ‘hunting with dogs’. The voluntary acceptance by the Hunting Associations of an ‘Independent Supervisory Authority’ to oversee the Rules and practices of hunting required new procedures, and placed increased emphasis on the role of hunting in the management, welfare and conservation of the quarry species.
Following the introduction of the Hunting Act on 18th February 2005 the Association had to fundamentally alter its Rules and Procedures as all member packs changed their activities to comply with the new legistlation.
From 2006 the over-riding role of the Association is, as it has traditionally been, to act as the Governing body of packs of Harriers and Beagles in Great Britain.