Ramblings Ten

On leaving Agricultural College next stop was the Heythrop. This resulted from Stephen Lambert coming to visit my father after he had received serious leg injuries in a car crash. Inevitably my future was to be discussed and Mr Lambert thought that it may be a good idea to offer me some further employment, having already been with him in Warwickshire. Firstly though I had to prove my worth and as I was still allowed to hunt what we described as the “London Country,” a Meet at Wadesmill Park was organised for him to weigh up whether this was a good idea or not! This is just off the busy A10 that runs from London to Cambridge. Planning the hunting in this part of the world would have been a very good test for anybody but particularly for this young fellar who had just left college and wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Between the meet and the dual carriageway was a large Convent called Poles Park which now happens to be a well known hotel named Hanbury Manor after Sampson Hanbury, one of the early Masters of the Puckeridge. To ensure a reasonable morning could be put together it was important for there to be good communication between the Puckeridge Hunt and those at the Convent. So, one afternoon before Mr Lambert’s intended visit, in I went to bat! No appointments made, I just managed to pluck up enough courage to arrive at the rather large front door and introduce myself to the first available nun who happened to be coming in from the garden! I said I was James Barclay from the Puckeridge Hunt and carefully asked if it was possible to meet Mother Superior. I was duly taken down miles of corridors to her office where I was given a chair and a cup of tea and made to feel most welcome. Mother Superior then proceeded to ask in a most courteous manner, what she could do to help. I explained that we were hoping to meet at the next door farm and could we possibly draw the Park with the obvious important considerations to them. Please remember this was one of my first experiences of this kind. I had been used to visiting the great sporting farmers that Hertfordshire and Warwickshire produced and now I was asking Mother Superior if we could hunt over land owned by the Convent! Well the smile said it all. In a soft Irish accent, she pronounced that she would only be too pleased for us to do so and how she held some wonderful memories of hunting in Ireland as a child!
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Well if that wasn’t good enough for Mr Lambert what was? I hoped that I hadn’t lost any of the tact both he and my father had drummed into me, so when we were discussing potential further employment, I gave him the evidence as to what had actually been done to provide him with a morning with the Puckeridge Hounds. Still, he felt it was important for him to observe more closely how I performed on the day, before making a final decision! This was interesting as it was not me that was going to be hunting the Heythrop Hounds that was for certain! I thought I was just going to be the boy of no consequence, as I had been in Warwickshire! Never mind the following morning, whilst it was still dark we headed down the A10 as if we were going straight into the northern part of the Capital. The orange glow of London’s lights were there right in front of us and I think the potential new boss might have wondered for a moment where the hell I was taking him! However, not many miles short of the metropolis, we turned off at the wonderfully named pub, the Sow and Pigs at Thundridge, and went down the side of the Convent to the Meet at Wadesmill Park. Here we were met by the charming Hodge family who farmed there and could not have been more supportive. Putting a morning’s hunting together between a dual carriageway, a gravel pit, a waste disposal site, a Convent as well as another main road or two was interesting to say the least! However we achieved our aim. This was largely due to the local backing that we received from many but especially two brothers whose enthusiasm for the chase stood out. They were Derek and John Jones. Derek farmed at Chapmore End near Hertford, and was always a great help to us. John had left the family home to end up as Head Keeper to Lord Dulverton in the Heythrop Country. This is where he became renowned as someone who was hugely sympathetic in keeping both foxes and pheasants. His experiments were well worth taking note of then and could be hugely beneficial now. Although John was not out on this occasion he very often came up from Batsford to meets in this part of the world, something I shall always remember with gratitude as the local farmers and keepers were always pleased to see him.

Well, to hunt a pack of hounds in the best of hunting countries in front of a field full of critics is one thing but to do so in front of the new Master and Huntsman of the Heythrop was even more daunting, especially when you are trying to hunt a fox round the edge of a rubbish tip just north of London! Well enough must have gone right and I was given the job, so off to Chipping Norton it was. This was just two years after Captain Wallace had left for Exmoor, so it really was like going from the frying pan into the fire as I knew how high people’s expectations there were. This was a country that had ticked like clockwork for the last twenty seven years. Fences, gates bridges and fox coverts were all beautifully maintained and hounds had been bred to the highest of standards both in their looks and their ability to hunt.  Although our standards at Brent Pelham were just as high, it was still daunting to set foot on a place like this. I can assure you there was a fair amount of fear and trepidation on that Sunday afternoon in the middle of October 1980. The first person I needed to call on was Tony Collins who had whipped in to the Captain and had hunted them since his departure. From the beginning of the season of 1980/81 Stephen hunted the bitches and Tony the Doghounds. It was three o’clock when I arrived at his back door with a brace of pheasants that my father had asked me to give him with his compliments. That was the first mistake! I was all but ordered from the door and was only allowed in when I promised to take them away! “They are vermin, Tony pronounced, never bring anything like that here again otherwise we will soon fall out!” That was a good start, but things soon improved and it was a pleasure to observe the wonderful rapport Tony had with his hounds. They were treated as if they were his family and their welfare was of paramount importance to him.

From then on and for the next two seasons, there were many happy days and like Warwickshire, I could not have been at a better place to learn the trade. Life being spent just over the border was made all the more interesting when the Heythrop Hounds ran into Warwickshire Country and many times I was on hand to see the Warwickshire Hounds hunted by Tony Collin’s former Whipper-In, Anthony Adams, coming in from the opposite direction. Occasionally the inevitable would happen and they would join up and then sparks would soon start to fly! Now more about my job description, well basically, it was varied! I started as the number two assistant to Geoff Tomlin, the highly regarded fencing man from whom I too developed a huge respect for and learnt much from him. Geoff was a true countryman who quietly got on with his job in a way that astounded me. I spent many an hour with him and his knowledge of the Heythrop country was phenomenal. He knew each area of the country like the back of his hand and worked at a pace which ensured all the daily tasks were undertaken before returning home. There was absolutely no point in flying from one job to another. There was always a structured plan, he prioritised what needed to be done and either repaired or improved the access points for the future. This was more than likely over a cup of tea, a sandwich or just a fag! In those first few days I remember thinking that our work was exasperatingly slow, but how wrong I was, Geoff knew exactly what he was doing and his popularity amongst the farmers of the Heythrop Country said it all. Whilst helping him, I was also seconded into working closely with Stephen over the organisation of the hunting day which as we know is absolutely vital, but as we are also aware, it is not only what goes into the before, it is the afterwards which is so key to a Hunt’s success. Please is one thing, but not to say thank you was and still is a criminal offence in our eyes. We had no right whatsoever to ride rough shod over anybody then, and we certainly don’t now!

James Barclay
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