With dear Mother having sadly gone on to another place, our idea about the Rabbit Hounds continued to go from strength to strength and I can only hope she would have been proud. After all she had laid the foundation stones for a future Master. Something I shall always be eternally grateful for, but I don’t know if the pocket has been!
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Great inspiration at the time also came from Jack Ivester Lloyd who wrote regular articles in the Shooting Times about the exploits of the Bagley Rabbit Hounds who hunted in Shropshire. Meanwhile at home the Country was opened up, and during the school holidays we were out on the three days in the week that the newly amalgamated Puckeridge and Thurlow were not out. This included the Sunday, after Church of course! New Masters were appointed, and Hunt supporters events planned. The BRH received much encouragement in a way which was highly satisfying to all of us mad keen young hunters! To call them Rabbit Hounds was probably a misnomer, as we all know there is no such thing as a Rabbit Hound, so we used anything from the local mongrel to the most highly bred Labrador with anything else in between! They were trencher fed and all individually owned. We would go round the local villages gathering them up and then set sail for our 11.30 am Meet, either at a Pub or some big Country House where the poor owner had been press ganged into entertaining us!
Although we called ourselves Rabbit Hunters, if we were in existence today we would probably have been called Law Breakers, as the odd Muntjac, Fallow Buck, hare or even a Puckeridge fox occassionally succumbed to this highly efficient pack of Hertfordshire cur dogs! As a result keeping Captain Charlie Barclay MFH on side as to where we could hunt was not always the easiest of tasks. Anyway the memory of a Meet at Walkern Hall near Stevenage will last long. A pack of seven and a half couple of our mixed hounds had been brought together from all around the county and were accompanied by a field of seventy five! I dare not mention what the tally consisted of that day, but the assembled company seemed to enjoy the proceedings to the extent that it is still talked about today. In fact it wasn’t long afterwards that the Duke of Beaufort came to stay. He was keen to know how we were progressing with our season and how the lurcher he had given us was working out. I duly told him that all was well and our tally was twenty five brace to date. He said it wasn’t too bad, but a certain very well known person he had been staying with in London, who hunted a pack of Corgis and Dorgis, (Dachsund x Corgis) had accounted for more than we had. I have to say I think I remember coming up with a reply which went along the lines that, I thought it was probably easier for them, as they were hunting a country which was surrounded by rather high walls!
So, back to school it was. This time it was a new one in the heart of the Hursley Country near Romsey in Hampshire. A place where every effort with other kindred spirits, was put into forming a pack of Beagles, but this Headmaster was having none of it! We were there to work and achieve good results in our O levels. Some did exactly that, others were not so successful! A way of ensuring that hunting was kept very much on the agenda had to be found. It was our Maths and German teacher Colonel Drew who came to the rescue. What a wonderful man he was! He instantly recognised that private tuition would greatly assist in aiding good results in both subjects. Therefore, learning to count hounds or speak German on the way to meets of the Hursley, New Forest Foxhounds, New Forest Beagles, Hambledon, Meon Valley Beagles, Palmer Milburn Beagles etc, would help enormously! The only pack we never did get out with was the New Forest Buckhounds which I greatly regret. They hunted on Mondays and Fridays, both days which sadly, try as I might, I never did manage to get off. The venery behind hunting the Fallow Deer must have been fascinating to say the least.
Looking back at it, the three and a half years after Mother’s death to leaving school at sixteen must have gone quickly. I think if I remember correctly, I also narrowly avoided my family giving up on me altogether!
So, what next? The Pytchley required a Huntsman. My application for that was turned down for being too young. Understandable really! So off to the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale in September 1976 as a rather inefficient 3rd Kennelman / Earth Stopper/ Valet. Tony Austin was hunting the Hounds. He was someone who would not suffer fools gladly but crossed the Country like nobody’s business. With Tony Herring whipping in to him they showed great sport, be it over the fly fences of the Sparkford Vale or the huge bullfinches of the Blackmore Vale. (I think Ken Anyan had just retired after many years service). They were in their first season and had a rather mixed lot of hounds to play with, one of which I remember was a huge mottled dog called Crowbar who was by Duke of Beaufort’s Crowner. I learnt a lot that season. More than anything to keep your eyes open and wits about you at all times, and as a rather green sixteen year old fresh off the block, to know when to shut up and look sharp! Good advice to anyone who wants to go on and hunt a pack of hounds, it has to be said. So, on it was to pastures new!