It was in early December that I received a call from Captain Wallace to say he was coming up to the Eastern Counties and would like to have a day in the car with us. Well, as you can imagine, this put the fear of God up not only me but all of us! He happened to choose a meet which was probably the most difficult one on the card and was sandwiched between two main roads with Colchester not far away either! We prepared ourselves as best we could and hoped that we had put enough country together to give our visitor from on high a reasonable day. Coats were cleaned to perfection, boots polished until you could see your face in them and sixteen and a half couple drawn out for him to inspect. With everything ready I was just about to sit down to my evening meal when the phone rang and the very distinctive voice announced it was “Ronnie Wallace here” and that he was unable to come in the morning because it was necessary for him to attend an important meeting in London. Well, there was a certain amount of relief I have to say, but I also believe it would have been very good for us if he had come as maybe we could we have learnt a lot from him. Like many of his generation he was very supportive of us younger huntsmen and he kept a genuine interest in what we were all trying to achieve. As a result of this I was privileged for him to judge my last Essex and Suffolk Puppy Show in 1987. This was the day the young bitches coursed the kennel cat, Newman, round the field right in front of him! It was their normal party trick but was something we could quite well have done without on that occasion!
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Hunting three days a week kept us busy all round and did not leave a great deal of time for me to open up new country. Looking after our farmers was an absolute priority but it was also vitally important that the area we were hunting at the Essex and Suffolk was increased. I was particularly keen to do this as it would help to take the pressure off where we were hunting regularly. I began by looking at the country and saw two bits with potential. To the north there was a nice area which adjoined the Easton Harriers, although quite flat, it was wild and had never been hunted by foxhounds. How enticing for this young and enthusiastic MFH! The Shotley Peninsular was also worthy for further investigation. This is an area of land that sticks out into the North Sea, with the Stour estuary and Harwich on one side and the River Orwell on and Felixstowe’s massive container port on the other. It had been hunted a few times by the Sproughton Foot Beagles who then went on to amalgamate with the Colchester Garrison and become the Stour Valley Beagles. No mounted pack had ever been out on the Peninsular before, so with all to play for in both places, nothing could possibly hold me back, could it?
Looking at a map in the MFHA office one day I observed that the Essex and Suffolk Country was registered out to Aldeburgh on the coast and everything had been signed by Rowley Hitchcock and Johnny Jiggens to back it up. This was just what I needed to know and off I went to prepare. A week or two later we were stopped by frost and this gave me the opportunity to make a start. I had been led to believe there was a great character in that part of the world called Alfred Jennings. He farmed a considerable acreage at Winston Green near Debenham and so was the key to opening up all the land around him. Sure enough he was just as I had been told, and what a good friend he became. Word soon got around about our proposed plans and little did I realise that through my inexperience I was about to start playing with fire. Actually a raging blaze which was going to take some damping down! I had ventured into territory where the Essex and Suffolk Hounds were not welcome, not by the farming community but by the Easton Harriers, who made it very plain that this was a non starter! We were seriously treading on some toes and action had to be taken quickly to try and resolve it. Perhaps I should have been a little more diplomatic with them to start with but I presumed, probably somewhat stupidly, that if I looked after the farmers in that part of the world as I had been taught at the Heythrop, then all would be well and we could all work together happily. This was unfortunately not case as we were in the only part of the whole of the UK, where hare hunting had supremacy over foxhunting! What happened next became known as the Battle for Winston Green. This was named such because it was a key area for us but I had reckoned without the fury of Tony Harvey, long serving Master of the Harriers! He and I would sit in his Subaru truck and argue back and forward about our respective claims on the land! After long fruitless talks which went precisely nowhere, it was decided that arbitration was the only way left to go, so it was off to London to the British Field Sports Society Offices in Kennington Road. Lord Somerleyton and John Kikpatrick represented the Masters of Harriers and Beagles Association and Ronnie Walllace and Anthony Hart the MFHA. Eventually, after a long afternoon a compromise was found and the go ahead given to hunt a sensibly sized area around Winston Green, sadly this did not reach as far out as Aldeburgh! During the train journey with Tony back to East Anglia the misgivings we had for each other were put behind us and a great friendship began. This was despite the fact with gins in hand we got on the wrong train and led to us both getting home somewhat later than planned. Forgiveness I think if I remember correctly was found in the fact that we had worked hard all day for the interest of hunting in Suffolk!
I now had to concentrate, not only on opening up this part country but most crucially, making sure that the farmers had the same amount of confidence in us as they did in Tony Harvey and the Easton Harriers. It was also important at this time, to get to grips with what could be achieved on the Shotley Peninsular. The challenges were just beginning but what a pleasure it was when our first meet at Winston Green was finally arranged for early February. A week or two before I was summoned to lunch with Alfred to discuss in detail the plans he envisaged for the day. Lunch here was a gastronomic affair and always ended up with a Walls Vienetta for pudding, a great favourite all round which did nothing whatsoever for the waistline but showed what a character he was! Alfred, having been a shooting man all his life had decided that hunting was by now far more important to him. As a result he threw his weight behind the Essex and Suffolk and the Easton Harriers in a way which benefited hunting all round. This was hugely appreciated by all of us from both Hunts and we were assured if ever there was any discontent he was the first to help us sort it out.
So the scene was set. Every farmer had been visited and the draw planned to make the most of a day to which we had all been looking forward. A large crowd of inquisitive people turned up at the Meet to see what this Foxhunting game was all about! “Your Hounds are much bigger than ours” was one remark that amused me from an Easton Supporter! Anyway, we got on with the job in hand, and on looking for some outliers around Alfred’s hedgerows a fox appeared out of a thick brambly ditch and away our hounds went, as hard as they could possibly go and in a totally different direction to that we had planned! Running for forty minutes flat into completely unknown territory was nerve racking to say the least! Even more so when we caught up with them as the fox had disappeared under an old shed in the middle of nowhere and I have to admit, I had no idea whose land we were on! Finding a hard track I trotted the hounds as quickly as I could back towards the road only to be met by a very red faced and angry farmer. Oh my God I thought, how the hell do I get out of this? All I could do was to apologise profusely and tell him that the fox we were hunting had gone to ground under the shed. “Fox” he said. “Fox, you mean to say you are not the Norwich Staghounds”? I explained who we were and where we came from and in the next breath he asked me if we would despatch the said animal as he had been losing no end of poultry! We duly obliged but not only was the hunted fox in residence, there were three more besides! Two of which were allowed to live another day and catastrophe was narrowly avoided. For the rest of the day the hounds did their absolute best and I was extremely proud of them. However it wasn’t the only time the poor old things were mistaken for the Norwich Staghounds. This was not because they were seen misbehaving, it was because the Norwich Staghounds who had been very much part of life in that part of Suffolk, used turn up totally unannounced on one of their long straight hunts on a carted stag! This had more than likely been turned out somewhere way up in Norfolk and was making its way down to Shrublands Park near Ipswich where the hunt would come to an end. The stag would very often be left out there as he would have been difficult to recapture, thus avoiding his trip back and being turned out in the deer paddocks at the Kennels! It was a day which will last long in the many happy memories I have of hunting hounds both in Essex and Suffolk.
Hunting the Shotley Peninsular came next and whilst slightly more difficult to organise, because of a very intensive shoot, we made a start which with time became easier, more of this in Ramblings Sixteen. What an experience this all was for a young Master learning the ropes firsthand how to look after, open up country, and nurture a hunting country himself.