Whilst we had made a start, this young Huntsman was not finding life that easy in the early stages, as we were faced with the nightmare of cloudy mornings, not a scrap of dew and hounds looking at you as though you had totally lost the plot! Certainly, this was not good for the moral, as it is well known that scent is more than likely going to be abysmal on these occasions! So with a fair amount of grit and determination it was a matter of pulling oneself together, and being patient enough to wait for things to improve. Not easy for anyone at the sharp end, and even more so for one that was young, enthusiastic and wanting to prove that you and your hounds are the best! This meant that I had to prove to all the critics that more than anything, being totally chilled out and relaxed about these situations was my strongest point! There did not appear anything too wrong with the hounds, they were trying their hardest. All we needed was for the weather to change and by the middle of September it did. The rain arrived, ground conditions became more bearable and we soon got into our stride. What a relief! By the end of September hounds were beginning to hunt up together and their drive was improving. Although they were a rather mixed lot, it was rewarding to see them demonstrating that they could do the job rather well. About this time, out of the blue, we received an invitation from my father to take the hounds to Brent Pelham. To be asked to bring our hounds to hunt the Puckeridge country so early in my Mastership was quite something and to make the day more special it was to be followed by their Puppy Show. Due to some very late puppies and various other reasons they had not been able to have it earlier in the year. Happily this was the first of many visits with either with the Essex and Suffolk or the Fitzwilliam.
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Edgy nerves are I presume the norm on these great occasions and this was certainly one of those! As well as a large Puckeridge field and some visitors from afar, a large contingent came with us, so we had to be on good form. However before I even had got on my horse, I was firmly reminded that if I happened to catch one of his foxes I would be disinherited! This became normal after a while and great games were played in tying to dodge him, and if at all possible get the hounds in the right place at the right time to make sure I was disinherited! Unboxing at the Hall in order not to disturb their Hounds too much before the Puppy Show, we hacked two miles through the mist to the Meet on Meesden Green only to be met by three minibuses full of saboteurs! My heart sunk but then suddenly an amusing thought came into my head. Surely Father would not go to this length to save his Brent Pelham foxes from his youngest son! Would he?! We moved off quickly and soon found a good litter in Meesden Hall Wood. With a fair scent we kept on the move all morning, running from one covert to the next with a tremendous show of foxes everywhere and a holding scent, what more could we ask for? The most peculiar thing I remember about that day was that we never saw an anti again. They seemed to disappear into thin air! However the Boss was creeping about and whilst I did my best to avoid him inevitably we came face to face with each other! In his own way I really think he enjoyed that morning as the wonderful Charlie Barclay smile was very much in evidence, well until the time came when he had to disinherit me – twice, that is!
So after a great Puppy Show judged if I remember correctly by my Joint Master George Paul and Charmian Green of Warwickshire fame it was back to Suffolk to concentrate on the job in hand. Learning the country had been a priority during the summer, however there is no better way of learning it than from the back of a horse with a pack of hounds in front of you! So we got on with the job and over time I could see the hounds were really beginning to gel. I believe that because they had a naturally good cry it helped them run up together.
Towards the end of October I took a trip down to the West Country, firstly to the North Cotswold as Roy Tatlow who was hunting them at the time said he had something that he hoped would be of use to me! This turned out to be two third season bitches, Lilac and Gaudy, both of whom proved to be cracking in their work. I will always be grateful to Roy for his support and generosity. My next port of call that day came as a result of a letter from Badminton. The Duke, who had always been so kind, offered me a good sized lemon and white bitch called Ticket. She had won the championship at Peterborough a year or two before and His Grace thought she could be of use to me which like the other two I had just been given, she certainly was! More on this a little later as we are now coming up to the time of our two Opening Meets. The Suffolk side traditionally held theirs in Hadleigh Market Square and the Essex side was always at Horsley Cross, a pub on the A120 half way between Colchester and the Port of Harwich. The difference between the two pieces of country was most pronounced, with gently rolling hills behind the town of Hadleigh and Horsley Cross being stuck out in one of the flattest and most open parts of Essex imaginable, you wondered where a fox would even lie, but make no mistake they were there! George Paul always hunted them from Hadleigh and Horsley Cross was my responsibility with Joint Master Mary field mastering for me.
The name Jiggens is very well known in that part of Essex. Jonny was Master with Rowley Hitchcock and what a pair they were. Jonny hunted the hounds on his side of the Country with Charlie White as his First Whipper In and Kennel Huntsman. The fun they had between them is well recorded. If legend is to be believed Charlie didn’t only have the job of whipping in, he would be sent on well in front, not to get a view but to go to the nearest pub and ensure the Master’s flask was swiftly refilled with that brown liquid for which most Huntsmen have a taste! His son Jack in due course joined me in the Mastership but before that was a very able amateur Whipper In. He was the one who would go well ahead and get a good view and did not, I may add, have the responsibility of refilling this particular Masters flask! His then wife Jane always had a large piece of beef on the table at the end of each day and with a loaf of bread, a pound of butter and extra roast potatoes, she was responsible for keeping this young bachelor Master free from starvation!
Whether it was Suffolk or Essex mattered not, it was a tremendous place to be to learn the true art of venery. Unlike the Heythrop Hounds the Essex and Suffolk had to draw wide to find their fox and once going keeping with him was important for there were unlikely to have been many others in the area. It was on one occasion towards the end of November when I observed a beautiful piece of houndwork and it was Ticket who performed it to absolute perfection. We were in the latter stages of a long old fashioned plough country hunt which had been quick slow, quick slow all the way. The fox had run up a deep furrow right to the embankment of the Colchester – Harwich road, and initially looking at it you would have thought he had the time to go straight over, as this particular road was normally fairly quiet at that time of day and was only really busy when the ferries were in. Be that is it may, I watched Ticket very carefully as she put her head down and for at least two hundred yards ran straight back down whence they had come. It was at that point one might have been forgiven for thinking it was either heel or that he had actually been headed, but she kept going, speaking occasionally until she came to a single large oak tree and this is where she crossed a large ditch. Then with her very distinctive voice she hit it off with renewed confidence and took the whole pack now in full cry across a large acreage of winter wheat. On they went for another half a mile before marking in a land drain. This had been a fascinating hunt to watch and taught me a great deal about making the time during a hunt to watch and observe everything that is going on around you. Sir Andrew Horsburgh-Porter once described in the Field a very good hunt with the Puckeridge when Father was hunting the hounds. They had run well into a field of clover off some heavy plough. Sir Andrew could not work out that when on what was apparently clean ground they could only hunt slowly across it. My Grandfather who had been riding wide of them was asked at tea why this was the case. He told them he had observed a flock of starlings taking off from that very field as the fox had crossed it some ten minutes before. Starlings as everyone knows are very smelly and so would have disguised any scent of the fox! Thus demonstrating again the importance of accurate observation and the help it can be to a Huntsman on any day at any time. Quick decisions are vital but must be based on that one word – accuracy, better at times just to take a little longer and ensure the right one is made, especially in a bad scenting plough country!
More from the Essex and Suffolk in Ramblings Fifteen.