The plan to go back to the Eastern Counties was made just a little bit more difficult than it might have been as James Bouskell very kindly offered me the Wilton at the same time, a most acceptable hunting country in Wiltshire, Dorset and part of Hampshire. This had been a far from easy decision to make and was one I still today occasionally look back on and say to myself, what if? However with no regrets whatsoever, it was the Essex and Suffolk where I was to go and cut my teeth for the next four seasons and, as an East Anglian born and bred, it more than likely made sense. However I often imagine that hunting hounds on the Radnor Estate must have been the greatest of fun!
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The Essex and Suffolk was indeed most fortunate in having Phil Wear as a Senior Master, since 1964. Phil, was from proper Suffolk farming stock, and although not hunting on a horse any more, her always reliable source of advice to us all was invaluable. Alfie Dyer had been hunting the Essex and Suffolk previously and along with Joint Master Jeremy Pembroke had bred a pack of very good working hounds. These were based on the Exmoor and Puckeridge with some lines to New Forest Medyg which had been brought in by my Joint’s George and Mary Paul; Mary being the daughter of Frank and Vector Mitchell of Hambledon fame. I think if I remember correctly there was also a touch of French blood which Sir Newton Rycroft had been responsible for! Alfie was one of the great characters of Hunt Service and had been at the Exmoor with Jack Hosegood. He departed for the Essex and Suffolk when Captain Wallace arrived, thus bringing with him hounds that were no longer required, and what good ones they were. This made room for the large influx that arrived at Simonsbath from the Heythrop with Anthony Adams. Back in the early seventies I remember Alfie being at the Hursley, a country where I just happened to be at school. My Maths teacher Colonel Drew and I thought I would learn far more about the subject by counting the Hursley Hounds than being stuck in some dingy class room, so I have a lot to be grateful to Alfie Dyer for! Much better for one than algebra?!
Alex Ford who had been whipping in had stayed on to become First Whipper In and Kennel Huntsman and Stephen Swan, a Yorkshire Miners Deputy’s son came from the South Herefordshire as Kennelman, so as May 1st arrived we were set up for a most pleasurable and worthwhile time ahead. Within a few days of my arrival at Layham we took note of the fact that we were short of a few hounds in the middle order. This had been brought about by the poisoning of about four couple of good hounds so with the help of the Duke of Beaufort, my Father and Martin Scott who was hunting the VWH at the time, we managed to fill the gap with some very decent drafts. We soon got ourselves into a routine that worked. This started at six thirty each morning and as my priority was to get to know hounds’ names as swiftly as possible, we were soon walking them out up the back lanes behind the Kennels. For the first two seasons George Paul and I hunted them three days a fortnight each and whilst we shared hounds, some of our personal favourites stayed with one or other of us. Coming from the Heythrop to the Essex and Suffolk was quite some change and I had to soon get used to the fact that the fox was not looked upon in such a kindly way in these parts as it had been there. So when not in kennels I made it my business to go out and actively visit our large number of farmers and keepers. Mary Paul looked after the Essex side and it was my duty to be responsible for Suffolk and whilst shooting was very important in both counties, they not only fitted us in but there was normally a fox or two somewhere in the vicinity. Working with a different system took a little time to adapt to as people’s lives here didn’t quite revolve round hunting the same way they did in the Heythrop or Warwickshire countries. The principals of looking after this part of the world were exactly the same and after a while, thanks to the good education I had received, results began to show. To me the visit after hunting was and is just as important as before. A quick call to see if all was well meant a lot and certainly seemed to make a difference.
The Essex and Suffolk Hounds were not of show quality. They were a solid pack of working hounds which I will remember for having a very good cry. The first stallion hound I used was a dog called Heythrop Lawrence who was by their Butler. He was a big pure English looking dog and certainly was not one destined for a life in the show ring! He left his mark on me in the way he would draw, cast and as well as those qualities he had a booming voice to which the other hounds would fly. So to get us going he was the ideal dog to use. However when he was brought out at the Heythrop Puppy Show with all the other Stallion Hounds there was a certain amount of ridicule for using him, but as I explained to the protagonists I was just starting and needing to breed something that could hunt and kill foxes and that was exactly what he and his progeny did best! It was a little later that we tried to get the combination of work and looks in some sort of order, but a start had to be made somewhere and till this day I do not regret that decision. They were hounds of brain and character and that to me what was and still matters most in breeding a pack of hounds.
I was one for making sure that hound exercise on horses started as soon as we could and this was normally achieved during the week before the East of England Show in mid July. I hated bicycles anyway but the fact was that by about the twentieth of August we would hopefully be hunting and not having been on a horse for some considerable time I needed to get back in the swing of it, sharpish! Luckily my early days at the Puckeridge had paid off and neither horse nor hounds seemed to object too much to having an inexperienced amateur Huntsman in charge of them! It was at this time that the bump of locality that according to my father a foxhound has, as well its memory for people, came back to me most clearly and there was on one particular occasion when it stood out. We had two old doghounds, Farrier and Fairway who were both in their sixth season and they reemphasised this in the charming way that only a foxhound knows how! They hated walking out, they hated hound exercise but they loved hunting and were rather good at it! It was in the last few days before cubbing that we decided to go and visit Mrs Gladstone who lived at the back of the Point to Point Course at Higham, a nice trip round of in all about three hours. As we reached the gates, the two of them who had been moping alongside me all the way suddenly came to life, picking up their heads and bouncing around like nobody’s business! The next thing I knew, as we proceeded across to the far end of the course, like a flash they were gone and there was no stopping them. When we arrived at the house, there they were on the doorstep waiting for Mrs Gladstone to appear, and when she did they leapt all over their walker like you would not believe! These two old doghounds had never forgotten the person responsible for them in their very early stages of life or where they were!
Where would a huntsman normally wish to go for his first morning? Some prefer a big block of woodland and let their hounds run off steam, whilst others take advantage of small thick coverts where it is somewhat easier for their young hounds. To go out to sea is not normally a place where one would expect to make a start, that is for certain, and Horsey Island a mile and a half off the Essex coast was perhaps an unusual choice, but it was mine! Unboxing just beside the causeway out to the island at five thirty on a misty morning was quite something to say the least but what was even more moving was hacking on across the mud flats with the tide going out around us. To soak up the whole atmosphere, with seabirds calling in every direction was an almost surreal experience known to very few. What a privilege it was. We had to be back on the main land on this occasion by no later than 9.45, otherwise we would be there for the day and knowing our luck, more than likely the night as well so as soon as we arrived we started to draw the thick brambly ditches around the island. Every nook and cranny was investigated, all to no avail but as the sun rose we observed something incredibly special. Although we had not found, there were the foxes, three of them out on the saltings between us and Skippers Island picking away at what was more than likely, oyster shells! Further visits there were more fruitful and are unlikely to ever be forgotten. I can picture now the large number of Arab Horses that grazed at their own free will across the whole expanse of the island some of which at a later date would have been hunted with the Essex and Suffolk by the owner Joey Backhouse’s sister Mary and brother in law Angus Bancroft.
Well we had made a start. Although not a very startling one we had all to play for, so more of that in Ramblings Fourteen.