Early in July it was a real privilege to be invited to judge the East Essex, a pack I have known for a considerable time, but never however, have had the pleasure of judging. This is a hunt which has only just started holding a Puppy Show again after a gap of many years, previously deciding rather than sending puppies out to walk, that any bred would better to be brought up at the kennels. Although some may say there is nothing like a good walk to give them the confidence they need, this never deterred them from breeding some top class hunting hounds and in fairness, finding a goodly number of walkers at that time was not always possible. This however I think, is certainly a very positive move in the right direction, as there are no doubts it helps create a deep and lasting interest in the hounds which are of course the central theme to any hunt, more of which we shall hear about later.
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It was a very busy weekend that lay ahead when I arrived in Suffolk on that particular Friday evening. I had made plans to visit five packs during the next couple of days, so timing was going to be extremely important! My first port of call early on Saturday, was the pack that in the 1980’s I was fortunate enough to hunt, the Essex and Suffolk. They were on bicycle exercise and the lanes around Hadleigh and the Layhams could not be a better place. So with this in mind I agreed with Oli Beckerlegge their Huntsman to meet them at Potts Farm Cross Roads. This was a spot where many of us who have hunted these hounds used to stop for a quick breather on our trip round. So it was here that I waited on a beautifully sunny July morning for them to arrive. Many memories of either exercising or hunting these hounds started to flood back. Those who we had bred, hunted or had a close affinity with began to stand out very clearly in my mind, Taunton, Timeless and Teazle, also Grocer, Grafton and Tetrach which had been bred by the previous Master Jeremy Pembroke and were particularly good in their work. As hounds came up the lane towards me I could visualise Duke of Beaufort’s Ticket hunting beautifully across the Essex plough. She had been a very generous present from His Grace and mother of the three “T’s” above. The list of them could have gone on and on, and I could quite easily have remained in a world of my own but for the sight which was now in front of me, thirty years later!!
Oli had with him a level pack of Essex and Suffolk hounds. However in amongst them were a number of new additions from the West Street Tickham who sadly disbanded at the end of the previous season. They all looked well and it appeared that the new incumbents fitted nicely into their new surroundings. I just managed to have a day with them towards the end of their final season and although it is always sad to see a pack disappear, I have learnt that the East Kent and the Ashford Valley have been hugely instrumental in not only keeping the name but ensuring that country where possible is kept open. This will be an ongoing problem that those hunting in the twenty first century will undoubtedly have to cope with. Back to the present and as they bicycled back towards the kennels I managed to take some decent photographs of a pack which are improving all the time. It will be nice to see them at work during the coming season and possibly showing at Peterborough next summer? Now the underdogs have started to upstage the big guns may be they will have a chance in the years ahead.
The Essex and Suffolk is a very sporting country with a great history of farming support. Well known local names such as Motion, Mason, Jiggens, Hitchcock, Paul and Weir were all successful Masters of the past, with agriculture and local business being at the core of their working lives. James Buckle and his present team of Masters are again a very good example of how in this day it still happens to be the case and that it continues to have great benefits for the hunt overall. Although situated not far from the urban conurbations of Ipswich and Colchester, the large part of the country is still very rural. It is a place where good hunting can still be enjoyed, and for anybody who has not been there, the villages of Suffolk are some of the most beautiful to be found anywhere in the country.
My memories of thirty years ago did not fade because my next port of call was to Roger and Fiona Clark’s East Anglian Bloodhounds.
Roger was a former Master of the Essex and Suffolk and Farrier to the Hunt horses. Twenty three years ago he somehow managed to find the time to form a pack of Bloodhounds and kenneled them on his farm on the Rowley Estate near Stoke by Nayland. This is the place where Admiral Sir William Rowley designed and built what was described at the time as the model of many foxhound kennels throughout the country. Sadly these no longer exist, however it was from those early beginnings that the Essex and Suffolk evolved and it was at that very site on the borders of the two counties, where they met on what was to be the last day of legal hunting.
Roger is a hunting man through and through and whilst his hounds hunt the clean boot, this has undoubtedly helped him develop the serious interest he has in scent, be it that from a fox, hare or human. It was therefore fascinating to visit him and not only hear about the bloodhound and its abilities but the skills it takes in handling them. This was nicely demonstrated when Roger’s wife Fiona asked me if I would like to walk them out with her, and it was then that I saw Fiona had those hounds exactly where she wanted them. I could imagine them being extremely headstrong but the respect they had for each other stood out a mile. Whilst we walked round the farm at what was a fair old pace it was also interesting to observe Rogers other main interest, fields of heavy horses which included Percherons and Suffolk Punches, many of whom will have forebears that won at various Agricultural Shows over the years. There are few tractors here. Until very recently all agricultural work was undertaken by horse, whether it be spraying, harrowing, harvesting or the other tasks. Returning from the East Essex Puppy Show that evening, it was therefore a real pleasure to see the Percherons busy at work, hay making.
Getting back to the Bloodhound, it would appear the breed has found itself in one or two foxhound pedigrees in the past. The well known naturalist and Master of the New Forest Sir Newton Rycroft always said that he thought it appeared in the breeding of the Fitzwilliam Hounds way back at the beginning of the twentieth century, as the Huntsman George Carter would never admit to how his hounds were bred! They were big strong hounds and at the time bloodhound trials were being held at Bythorn in the heart of the Fitzwilliam Country, so there could have been some truth in the rumour. It certainly was in the breeding of the New Forest as Sir Newton introduced it himself! I well remember Paragon who was a fifty/fifty cross. He had a booming voice and when I was fortunate enough to see him in action back in 1976, he was the lead hound across a forest ride with the fox just in front of him. I believe I am correct in saying that some of his progeny may have preferred the hunting of the deer so went on the New Forest Buckhounds.
For those who have a real interest in hound work and all the peculiarities of scent we will be having an in depth look at this subject at a later date.
So at last to the East Essex! It is interesting to note that like the Essex and Suffolk , the East Essex is a Hunt where those from a previous generation whose primary role was to feed the nation, also found time to devote to look after the affairs of their local hunt. There are numerous names on the list of those who have gone before who were staunch members of the Essex agricultural profession, many of the families of whom are still in the county today. Their commitment to the rural way of life in this part of the world was immense and has certainly rubbed off on many of us younger ones. When you hear names such as Gosling, Motion, Sherwood, Shand, Porter, Nott, and Lyster you know there has been and still is, a serious amount of experience under their belts.
No pack of hounds can operate without a good man at the helm, and whilst the only amateurs I can remember who hunted the East Essex were Mike
Gosling and Nat Sherwood, there has been a lengthy list of very good professionals. Largely a plough Country, “the skill of hunting a fox in this part of the world is what it is all about”, is how the late John O’Shea would describe it, when I came over as a young amateur from the neighbouring pack to see how it was done properly! Looking back at the experience of the likes of George Tounge who went on to hunt the Belvoir, Will Grammar, George Turnbull, Tom Batterbee and latterly John, gives you a true indication of their knowledge. There have been many times I have seen an East Essex fox almost lost, when suddenly John pulled off a cast that no one would have thought possible. As a result of this quick vulpine way of thinking he would very often bring the hunt to a successful conclusion.
Sadly John O’Shea died much younger than he should have done, taking with him fox sense, hound sense and a great deal more that so many young amateurs and professionals till this day would love to have been able to tap into. I had the privilege to have learnt a lot from John, and I will leave you with a quote from him. It was when we were having a sticky time next door and couldn’t do much and the East Essex were flying which made things even more frustrating! I rang him up on a Friday evening and asked for some much needed advice. The answer was clear in his typical Irish way. “Firstly don’t worry about it. If you do you will end up making matters worse for yourself. Secondly enjoy it, relax and remember we all have bad days and it will come right”. This was just what I needed to hear and from someone who knew the job backwards, it well and truly sunk in. The very next day from Semer Mill we had a flier and continued to do so for the next three weeks!
To be asked by the present Joint Masters to judge their Puppy Show was, as I have already described a pleasure. It also happened to be a day where I learnt a tremendous amount more about the East Essex in the twenty first century. To say hunting anywhere in Essex at the present time is easy would be over egging the situation somewhat! However, the key is, it is what you make of it, and this lot certainly seem to have the enthusiasm to overcome the problems they have had to face. On arriving at the Kennels at Earls Colne you soon realise they are situated right on the very edge of a rather large and expanding Essex village. Not exactly the place where you would expect a pack of Foxhounds to be welcome in the twenty first century I can hear people say! However contrary to public belief, they have a great lot of neighbours on the nearby housing estates and very rarely have a complaint. I think this tells me that we may have something here that we could look into at another time.
So having digressed slightly, I return now to the Puppy Show and a key part of it, the lunch! These are either reserved for just for Masters and judges or it is opened up to Puppy Walkers, neighbouring Masters, Farmers as well as other key people within the hunt . This I have to say is the format I most enjoy. Meeting those who do so much in their own individual way for that particular hunt is always a pleasure and there is so much to learn from such an experience. The smaller affair is understandable in the current financial climate but can be looked upon as somewhat exclusive if we are not careful. Like all things to do with the running of a hunt, it is all about getting the balance right. This, one has to say as many of us have found out over the years, is certainly easier said than done!
So we now progress to the most important part of the afternoon, the young hounds and their walkers. The East Essex for some years had a considerable amount of Welsh blood which went back to Duke of Beaufort’s Monmouth and then further to Plas Machynlleth Miller, via the famous old stallion hound New Forest Medyg. As this has been so valuable to them in the past, the time has come round to reintroduce some Welsh influence back in again but from the Cotswold. My co judge that afternoon, Andrew Smith from the neighbouring Essex and I certainly felt that the result was not disappointing to the eye, and were equally convinced they would be pretty efficient out in the field as well. There is also interestingly enough some pure English in amongst them, which again should bring some very positive results in the ability to hunt the Essex plough. All in all what an enjoyable occasion it had been. To visit a hunt which I have known for a considerable number of years and to see them still producing a very active and workmanlike pack of hounds was a particular a pleasure. However to see this coupled up with a most enthusiastic group of puppy walkers, all now doing their bit made it even more worthwhile and is just what hunting needs to see. Congratulations must go to the Masters and to the Huntsman, Gary Thorpe. Well done the East Essex.
My next Summer Visit was to the Suffolk and then onto the Puckeridge.