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So after a brief spell back at Brent Pelham, it was off to the Warwickshire, a place which was to become my second home and given the chance could so easily have been today!
My arrival, a few weeks before the Puppy Show, coincided with filling in the pot holes on the kennel drive, an annual event which took several days, so with a shovel flung into my hand we swiftly got on with the job. Stan Kitchen who worked in the nearby British Leyland plant at Leamington, was a great friend of my new boss Clarence Webster and he was put in charge of the operation. After several hours of hard graft and a lot of ribbing of the new incumbent, time was called so I could go off and locate my lodgings. These were with James Way, Master of the Warwickshire Beagles. He was business partner with Stephen Lambert who when they were not hunting either the hare or the fox, ran a firm of land agents in Kineton. It was Stephen, then Master of the Warwickshire who was the one responsible for persuading me coming to Warwickshire in the first place, something I will always be grateful for, and funnily enough, not only for the hunting.
Driving up Sun Rising Hill on the Stratford on Avon to Banbury road is quite an experience in itself, as I am sure others will agree. The view is remarkable and even now thirty five years later sitting at a computer in Lincolnshire, that very first memory is as vivid as ever. It also got me thinking, having been brought up in a very sporting part of Hertfordshire was one of the greatest privileges I could have ever wished for, however London and all that went with it was never far away. This never stopped the double act of Ned Paxton or latterly Ron Quarmby and Father pulling off some tremendously long and interesting plough country hunts in what was, and is still, an incredibly rural part of the world. I suppose that even in those early days I had the impression that London and its suburbs was where the trouble would came from, and this lay most of the time subconsciously on my mind. Later on when our opponents became more active, I was aware that it was largely caused by the total lack of knowledge that existed and realised that I wanted to try and address this. For now though I was in an equally sporting part of the world but at that time Warwickshire seemed far away from the urban rush.
However finding my base at the very top on Sugarswell Lane and settling myself and my dear old terrier Rusty in was the first priority, then getting ready for a new and most interesting part of my life came next. Two bachelors living in a small cottage both with a terrier each, was an experience to say the least, but on with it we got and good times prevailed.
It was at just after six the next morning that I descended Sun Rising Hill for my first day at the kennels. A good looking pack of Warwickshire hounds were there on their yards and it was easy to see even at this young age that I was going to be extremely fortunate to be working with them. In their midst was Grafton who only the year before had been Champion Doghound at Peterborough and according to Clarence he had already turned out to be very good. Clarence, whose brother Jim had been at the Belvoir for a number of years, had hunted the Warwickshire for a considerable length of time and was one of the most popular members of his profession. Working with him I learnt a lot about the good old fashioned management of hounds and also how decent manners were the key to the Hunt being an acceptable part of the local community.
Occasionally the Warwickshire were given raw flesh, however it was more often the case that it was fed cooked, mixed into a wheatmeal pudding. This was something that smelt more than appetising to us young chaps who were working under Clarence, indeed it was lucky that the wages we received were just enough to help us feed ourselves, otherwise it could very easily have been us with our snouts in the troughs! Instead we were all fed by the landlady of the Red Lion in Kineton who for just eigthty pence ensured we were given a proper meal at lunchtime. This was ideal and saved a potentially embarrassing situation from arising!
The Puppy Show came and went as did hound exercise and it was towards the end of August we made a start. However it was in those intervening months that I began to get to know the hounds and the country in a way which was to become extremely beneficial. Being one of the men who collected the fallen stock or in other terms, the knackerman, was to have huge advantages in getting to learn the ropes. The Warwickshire farmers and the hunt were and still are inextricably linked, and to meet and work with them was a privilege. The importance of the flesh round today is very often underestimated in the good that it can do. It is not just about the feeding of hounds, to me it was the beginnings of learning how to have one’s eyes and ears all about the place, as well as your fingers on the pulse as to what was going on. Not only did it help me learn my way around the country but I got to know the farmers. Births, deaths and marriages and all the gossip in between could be reported back and so if the Masters needed to act they could. So it was with a short wheel base Land Rover and a long flat trailer attached that I would set off on my rounds which covered from Banbury in the East to Stratford on Avon in the West, nearly to Rugby in the North and down to Moreton in the Marsh in the South. It is some of the nicest hunting country imaginable. As a nineteen year old just off the block, I was beginning to see more clearly than ever the benefits of the flesh round. It is my opinion that, believe it or not, the strength this link produced, is one of the many reasons why in one form or another, we are still here despite our opponents trying as hard as they can to dispose of us. It is where much of our ground root support has been cultivated and still is today.
Running something like this in the twenty first century is a huge headache and no one understands that more than me. However it does occasionally have its lighter moments and on a very hot Saturday afternoon in the middle of August, I nearly found myself in very hot water! Clarence asked if I would just nip down to the Shipston end of the Country and clear up a few smelly sheep before we shut up shop for the weekend. Off I went, and on my way back I thought I would call in and see my father’s old friends, Sir John and Lady Wiggin at Honington Hall. I duly pulled up outside the front door as I always had done in the past and walked in to the house and gave them a shout. It was as the smell of maggoty old sheep reached Sir John that I experienced his wrath. “Get that bloody thing round the back and hide it, we are due to open the house to the public in ten minutes”, he shouted, from the comfort of his armchair! Sure enough they were and as I sat in the kitchen ten minutes later with Sarah Wiggin having my lunch, the first coach rolled up the drive and a large group of pensioners from Wolverhampton disembarked!
The view from Sun Rising that I had so much admired those few months before, was now beginning to help bring the jig saw of Warwickshire life together in a way that was quite fascinating and I have to say in a way which is probably known to a few. The vast patchwork of farms that I saw below me that evening is exactly what makes our countryside tick. This was and is today a wonderful example as to how hunting has fitted completely naturally into many of their everyday working lives. It is also what makes one realise just what a privilege it has been, to be either a master, huntsman or just the humble knackerman.
Next instalment, hunting with the Warwickshire Hounds and on to my Irish exploits!
10th October 2013