Miss L. H. Burns-Hartopp

Lettice Burns-Hartopp was born and brought up in Leicestershire and was the elder of two sisters who were daughters of Captain (later Colonel) Burns-Hartopp, of Dalby Hall. He was a Master of the Quorn from 1898 – 1905, during the time the legendary Tom Firr was huntsman.
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The two sisters – Letticia Honoria (always known as Lettice) and Dorothy were both educated at home, but were introduced to hunting at a very early age and spent much of their childhood in the hunting field. Soon after Colonel Burns-Hartopp gave up the Quorn, he established in 1906, a pack of Basset Hounds which became known as the Dalby Hall Bassets. From 1908 these hounds were hunted by Lettice (then 13 years old), with her younger sister Dorothy whipping-in.

The Basset hound had not then been in England very long. It was first recognised by the Kennel Club in 1883 and the Basset Hound Club was created a year later. Initially, the Basset hound was mainly used for showing and was regarded at first as a sort of canine curiosity. The first hounds imported tended to be used for showing and the breed became rather fashionable amongst the aristocracy, especially after HRH Princess Alexandra established a pack at Sandringham.

Captain Burns-Hartopp originally established the pack with drafts from the Greywell Hill and the Walhampton, but he and Lettice soon formulated a breeding plan of their own. They both became founder members of the Masters of Basset Hounds Association when it was formed in 1912 and, soon after, Lettice took control of the pack. She was then seventeen years old and very soon became quite an authority on breeding, as well as the hunting of a pack of Basset hounds – at a time when there were very few such women.

 

Letttice and Dorothy Burns-Hartopp with the Dalby Hall Bassets in 1911

Letttice and Dorothy Burns-Hartopp with the Dalby Hall Bassets in 1911

 

Unlike many similar packs, the Dalby Hall Bassets survived the First World War, but both Lettice and her sister Dorothy never married. In common with many such ladies of that time, they may well have lost loved ones in the trenches during a period when the flower of British manhood went away and never returned home. Lettice and her father were also instrumental in reviving the MBHA in 1925 and she, along with Godfrey Heseltine and Mr E. Pratt subsequently formed the first committee. The Dalby Hall was eventually disbanded in 1931 when Lettice was 36 years old. Lettice then took over the job of Editor of the stud book for the MBHA because she not only had a deep knowledge of the Basset hound, but also a prodigious memory.

She was made President of the MBHA on the death of Lord Dorchester in 1963 and was in that position when I first joined the MBHA in 1975. My immediate impression was of a very well brought-up Edwardian country gentlewoman who, although unmarried, was surprisingly worldly, courteous and kind. She had great generosity of spirit and was full of fun when the occasion allowed, with a great interest in many things outside hunting – including boxing, football and other sports. She had great dignity and welcomed all new MBHA members with a warmth and fiendliness typical of ladies with her backgound until she died in 1978.

David Hindle

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