« PreviousContinue »
Early in the eighteenth century, George Montagu, second Earl of Halifax, lineal ancestor of the present Lord North, of Wroxton Abbey, was hunting the fox in the neighbourhood of Banbury. He it was who planted the covert of Warden Hill, still a famous preserve of foxes in the Bicester and Warden Hill hunt. Scott, in his great romance of " Rob Roy," gives a stirring picture of a Northumbrian foxhunt at this period (1715), in which Diana Vernon and her loutish foxhunting cousins, the Osbaldistones, are shown in the chase.
William Somervile, author of that well-known classic, "The Chace," which was first published in 1735, describes with wonderful accuracy all the various phases of hunting. He is another witness of credit to the fact that at this period foxhunting, as we know it, was already well established in English fields. Somervile, Squire of Edstone Hall, near Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire, was born in 1677, and died there in 1742. He kept hounds during the greater part of his life and hunted fox and hare near Edstone and in the neighbouring Cotswold country, where he also possessed the estate of Somervile-Aston. He kept "about twelve couple of harriers, bred chiefly between the small Cotswold beagle and the southern hound; six couple of foxhounds, rather rough and wire-haired; and five couple of otterhounds, which in the winter made an addition to the foxhounds."
In Mr. Charles Simpson's very handsome book, “The Harboro' Country "-published recently, with many excellent illustrations in colour and black-and-white by the author-the beginnings of foxhunting in Leicestershire are clearly shown. The father of Leicestershire foxhunting was undoubtedly Thomas Boothby, of Tooley Park, who was born in 1677—a good vintage year, which claimed Somervile also-and was hunting a pack of hounds in 1697, just fifty years after the battle of Naseby. Naseby Field, it may be recalled, lies in the very heart of the finest foxhunting country in England. Thomas Boothby hunted foxes, and foxes only, for 55 years-he died in 1752-and may be correctly described as the first master who hunted them in what was later known as the Quorn Country. "Foxes," says Mr. Simpson, "were truly wild and treated as vermin when Boothby began hunting, and they were in consequence scarce in places and widely scattered. The fox, in fact, would not have escaped the risk of being exterminated like the wolf-a fate which
would assuredly have been his had not the energy and enthusiasm of men such as Boothby and Meynell founded the sport of foxhunting in Leicestershire."
Boothby is credited by some people, including Mr. Simpson, with being the first inventor of the modern straight hunting horn. This is not quite correct. He shortened the long straight hunting horn then measuring some eighteen inches, which seems to have come into vogue a little before 1700* and to have endured until superseded by the great and unwieldy French horn. The old curved horn of the Plantagenets, Tudors and Stuarts went out of fashion by 1690 or a little later, and the awkward long, straight horn then had but a short vogue. It is curious to note that John Peel used an ancient curved metal hunting horn, probably dating back to Stuart times. The huntsman of the present Llangibby hounds still carries a horn of similar shape-a very interesting survival. The big French horn was invented by the Comte de Dampierre in the early part of the reign of Louis XV. The fashion spread quickly to England and remained for about sixty years, after which that cumbrous instrument was generally superseded by the modern straight horn. In a fine hunting picture by Wootton, at Longleat, painted about 1730, the Viscount Weymouth of that time is to be seen with his pack at the death of a fox, his brother-in-law, Lord Althorp, having just rescued the quarry from the hounds. An African boy-groom and English whipper-in are to be seen, each blowing triumphantly on huge French horns, which they carry over their shoulders. This painting is also good evidence that the country gentlemen of England were hunting fox pretty regularly at this period.
Another historic figure of early foxhunting days was Mr. William Draper, of Beswick Hall, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, in the present Holderness country, who, it is said, "bred, fed, and hunted the staunchest pack of foxhounds in Europe."
Upon an income of £700 (probably worth more than £2000 of our money) he brought up creditably eleven sons and daughters, kept a stable of excellent hunters besides a carriage with horses suitable for my lady and her daughters. He lived in the old, honest style of his
*The Holcombe Harriers which hunt in Lancashire, a very ancient pack with a history of more than 200 years, possess one of these long, straight horns; the foot huntsman, another curious survival, still carries it.
country, killing every month a good ox of his own feeding and priding himself on maintaining a substantial table, but with no foreign kickshaws. . . . He was always up during the hunting season at 4 o'clock, mounted on one of his nags at five, himself bringing forth his hounds, who knew every note of their master's voice.
In the evening, on his return, often with a brace of trophies, he entertained his friends with old-fashioned hospitality. Good old October was the liquor drunk, and the squire's first toast was : "All the brushes in Christendom." Mr. Draper began foxhunting in 1726, having, it is said, been goaded into it by the wholesale destruction of his lambs. He was liberally assisted by his neighbour, Sir Mark Constable, and his daughter, Diana Draper, aided him as whipper-in. Miss Diana had a rare voice, cheered hounds lustily and was invaluable in the field. "God bless her," adds the writer of the sketch of this sporting family,*" for a fine plucky Englishwoman." "This chaste Diana," it is added, “never married, died at a good old age and lies buried near her father at Market Weighton." Squire Draper himself flourished till the age of eighty, when, like old Mr. Roper, of the Charlton Hunt, he died on horseback in the open field.
We have now seen some of the beginnings of modern foxhunting. From the middle of the eighteenth century great strides were being made. In 1750, Earl Spencer was hunting the present Pytchley country. The fifth Duke of Beaufort, who had up to that time still maintained a pack of light-coloured staghounds, changed to foxhunting about this period, having, it is said, been converted by a chance run with a good fox from Silk Wood, in 1762. Lord Townshend and Mr. Coke, of Holkham, were pursuing fox in West Norfolk from 1756 to 1810. The Earls of Berkeley had for centuries hunted a vast country extending from Berkeley Castle to the confines of London, and probably changed from deer to fox towards 1750. It is certain that the famous Tom Oldaker, immortalized in the painting by Ben Marshall, was hunting fox with that pack from 1774 to 1793.
Sir Thomas Gascoigne was hunting in Yorkshire from 1764 to 1773, when he sold his pack of foxhounds to the Earl of Egremont, who hunted them from Petworth, Sussex, till near the end of the century. The Duke of Rutland began hunting fox from
*From an old number of " The Sporting Register."
Belvoir in 1762, and the Pelham family (afterwards Earls of Yarborough) were at that period busy with the ancestors of the present Brocklesby hounds, which date from 1700. Mr. William Bethell was pursuing fox in Holderness from 1765, and Mr. Osbaldeston, of Hunmanby (father of "Squire " Osbaldeston), and Mr. Darley, of Aldby Park, were at work in a part of the same district of Yorkshire from 1746 onwards. In South Notts, Mr. John Musters was hunting a wide country from the year 1775. The Fitzwilliam family were maintaining foxhounds at Miltonstill the headquarters of that famous pack-by the year 1760; while the great John Warde and Mr. Wrightson were, in 1778, busy with foxhounds in the present Warwickshire domains. In the New Forest, Mr. H. V. Gilbert was pursuing the fox from 1781 to 1800. The Middleton Hunt, Yorkshire, dates from 1759. In 1778, Mr. John Corbet, afterwards master of the Warwickshire pack in one of its most glorious periods (1791-1811), having changed from hare to fox in his native Shropshire sometime before 1778, was at that date busy with reynard in the Meriden district of Warwickshire. In many other parts of England foxhunting was being pursued by country gentlemen with packs whose records have not always come down to us.
Foxhunters undoubtedly owe much to two striking figures of that period. Of these, one was Peter Beckford, of StapletonIwerne, Dorset, the author of the ever famous "Thoughts on Hunting"; the other was Hugo Meynell, of Quorndon Hall, Leicestershire, who did probably more than any other man, save Beckford, to improve the methods of foxhunting and the breed of the foxhound. All authorities agree that in the care and management of hounds, the pursuit of the fox, the duties of huntsmen and whippers-in and feeders, the precepts of Beckford are as valuable at the present day as when they were first published in 1781. Beckford's book is still delightful reading, full of humour as well as of sound hunting lore. His description of a foxhunt, in Letter XIII, is even better than "Nimrod's " much vaunted account of one in Osbaldeston's time. He is wonderfully modern, and his precepts are undeniable. Thus :—
It is the dash of the foxhound which distinguishes him, as truly as the motto of William of Wickham distinguishes us. A pack of harriers, if they have time, may kill a fox; but I defy them to kill him in the style in which a fox ought to be killed; they must hunt
him down. If you intend to tire him out, you must expect to be tired also yourself. I never wish a chase to be less than one hour, or to exceed two; it will seldom be longer, unless there be a fault somewhere; either in the day, in the huntsman or the hounds. What Lord Chatham once said of a battle, is particularly applicable to a foxchase; it should be short, sharp and decisive !†
In the fine old house at Stapleton-Iwerne there hung, at any rate recently they may still be there several paintings of Beckford's hounds, by Sartorius. These hounds are of excellent character, but somewhat lacking in size and bone compared with those of the present day. This characteristic is easily to be realized by a survey of paintings or prints of eighteenth century foxhounds in the collections of great houses such as Goodwood, Longleat, Althorp, Welbeck and elsewhere. In Beckford's and Meynell's time the foxhound was in process of evolution. You may see the finished product by the early years of the nineteenth century. In Weaver's picture of Mr. John Corbet and the Warwickshire hounds, for instance, painted in 1812, the hounds are, as has been pointed out by that famous sportsman, the eighteenth Lord Willoughby de Broke, as good in every detail as hounds of the present day. Perfection, as modern experts regard it, was reached probably by 1890.
Since then, breeders have tampered a good deal with the make and shape of hounds and have produced a large number of foxhounds standing much over at the knees, with malformed forefeet and shoulders and a too great redundance of bone. Specimens of such hounds reached the extreme limits of mischief in hound shows, at Peterborough and elsewhere, between 1905 and 1914, and have re-appeared since 1918. Some of these hounds were no better than magnificent cripples which a season or two of hard work would suffice to break down. The mischief has at length been realized, but it will take several generations
*I would qualify this by stating that in these days (1927) at least two packs of harriers, the Cotley and the Axe Vale, can kill a fox in perfect foxhound style. These are light-coloured, West Country hounds, which hunt hare and fox alternately and with equal success.
+Mr. Otho Paget, in his excellent edition of "Thoughts on Hunting" (Methuen, 1900), points out rightly that modern hounds are faster than in Beckford's time, and suggests not less than 35 minutes or more than one hour and forty minutes, in a grass country, as a fair estimate for these days.