Some say that hunting is nothing more than a sport for the idle rich. Well tell that to a man from the North East who has a love for his dogs and he will tell you a totally different story! Whilst the foundation stones of many of the Hunts were laid by those whose wealth either came from coal, steel or other forms of heavy industry, the underlying support that has kept them going and still does today, comes from those who will have worked for them, many at the pit face. A large number of landowning families had a great rapport with their colliers, however after nationalisation, even though there continued to be a great mutual interest in field sports, the stability of that underpinned it had all but disappeared.
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South Durham Hounds

South Durham Hounds

The County Durham Hunt was formed by Mr Ralph John Lambton in 1804, long before a former well known MP for Sedgefield and then Prime Minister was born. After forty years at the helm, Mr Billy Williamson took over followed by a succession of Masters until 1872 when the Country was split and the North and South Durham Hunts were formed.  In latter years the North Durham dissolved and the Hunt then just became known as the South Durham. In a part of the world which has not stood still, the South Durham Hunt has not only continued to survive but to flourish.  However when the above mentioned Prime Minister stressed on Question Time that there was to be a vote on the banning of hunting, a touch paper was lit. From then on buses and trains converged on the Capital bringing people in their masses from every corner of the Kingdom, and no more so than from County Durham itself. He was not going to be allowed to forget the error of his ways and I was fortunate to be one of the few to remind him of it.  After over seven hundred hours of debate, the fate of hunting was sealed, or was it?

 

 

Gary Watchman left Joint Master and right his son Gareth, Huntsman of the South Durham with Hounds from their Meet at Auckland Castle.

Gary Watchman left Joint Master and right his son Gareth, Huntsman of the South Durham with Hounds from their Meet at Auckland Castle.

The South Durham like every Hunt in the Country felt this was their darkest hour but had to look very carefully to see if there was a way to survive or not. Well survive it did, not only that, the South Durham has flourished ever since. The legislation passed has been examined in detail and hunting in one of the many different forms available, is still here today. So whether it is by using a bird of prey and a full pack, or just two hounds, whilst it is far from a sensible solution, hunting is still here.   With this particular Prime Minister no longer in office and him now recognising that it was rather a big mistake to take on the countryside in this way, we now have to wait patiently until the equilibrium can be restored, but you can rest assured the South Durham are not sitting still.

 

By kind invitation of Jonathan Ruffer we were able to witness their hounds meeting at Auckland Castle, for the first time in very many years. This has been a tremendous boost to the Hunt and maybe it is an omen to the future of hunting in County Durham. Lincolnshire’s famous poet Alfred Lord Tennison once wrote the wonderful poem the Babbling Brook in which he says “Men may come and men may go, but I go on forever”.  It is with apologies to him that I believe the following is most appropriate, “Babbling Politicians may come and Babbling Politicians may go, but hunting will go on forever”.

 

Hounds arriving for the Meet at Auckland Castle

Hounds arriving for the Meet at Auckland Castle

With most grateful thanks to Jonathan Ruffer as well as the Masters of the South Durham Hunt that I have been able to enjoy the privilege of being at Auckland Castle for this most memorable occasion and I believe the pictures taken will tell the story in a far greater way than a thousand words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Barclay
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