Following my invitation to judge the East Essex the day before, a swift turn round was needed the next morning to be ready to go to the Puppy Show of my family pack, the Puckeridge. However, a visit to the Suffolk Kennels had to be fitted in first. It was fascinating to see how these hounds have changed over the years. With a considerable amount of Welsh and American blood in them, as I was fortunate to witness later in the autumn, they are proving like their predecessors to be highly effective in their work, but their style of hunting is very different.
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Whilst I was fortunate enough to be Joint Master and Huntsman of the neighbouring Essex and Suffolk a lot of friendly rivalry existed between the two hunts. Their huntsman at the time was the ever popular Yorkshireman, Tom Batterbee who was one of the more senior members of his profession and what an interesting huntsman he was. Tom’s way with hounds was a delight to watch, always giving them time to work things out for themselves and as a result they had the confidence to achieve long plough country hunts of many miles. Their breeding at the time consisted of a considerable amount of Old Berks and Exmoor blood, with a touch of Dumfrieshire and Old Dominion breeding from America. I can remember clearly the distinctive deep voices that came booming out from their rather large doghounds. What made things even more fascinating was to watch them hunting alongside our Essex and Suffolk hounds, either when the two packs had inadvertently run into each other or from one of our Joint Meets.
Sean Hutchinson is now the man at the helm, who brings with him his own wealth of experience. A Northern Irishman by birth, he comes from a family who is equally deeply rooted in the traditions of Hunt Service and his success in breeding the Suffolk Hounds in the twenty first century is clear for all to see. Like the East Essex, for many years they did not send their young ones out to walk or have a Puppy Show, but their ability to hunt like their neighbours was equally effective. Perhaps this might have had something to do with the Batterbee influence, as Tom also hunted the East Essex for a number of years! With a Puppy Show now though firmly marked in the calendar, their hounds are now also being shown at the major hound shows. They are taking on the big boys and are certainly without doubt, snapping at their heels. It was after a kind invitation to judge them a few years ago, I had the great pleasure of telling Captain Farquhar of Duke of Beaufort’s fame, that the Suffolk Hounds were some of the nicest that I had seen all Summer.
So to visit them early on a Sunday morning and have the pleasure of walking out with them was a great treat. Their kennels are interesting in themselves, with everything, horses, hounds, tack room, flesh house etc all under one roof. It is a design that several of those now building new kennels are looking seriously at and is one which will undoubtedly help in keeping costs down. However whilst the Suffolk have got it right there are certainly some key factors that need taking into consideration in building this type of kennel and can if one is not careful be easily overlooked. Most of all the positioning of the flesh house!
As we walked up the lane from the kennels, the changes to the hounds became clear and had become even more so even from my last visit. The great thing is that they had not lost their size and the quality that you would expect to see had continued to improve. The Welsh and American influence had come through Beaufort Halifax, whose father Cottesmore Fairford we gave to Captain Farquhar whilst I was a Master there. He was bred by Captain Fanshawe during his time at the Cottesmore and was a star turn at hunting a line in very dry scentless conditions. His fox sense was tremendous and he and his sister Facing had a knack of knowing where a fox would be.
Despite the importation of this blood and combining it with the other lines in the kennel, the Suffolk are extremely level. The Masters and Sean Hutchinson should be proud of their achievements, however we must never forget the late James Aldous who was Master for many years and would have overseen the initial changes. On my next visit I was extremely fortunate to see them hunting beautifully out on the Norfolk Broads and what a great treat that turned out to be. There can be no better tribute to James than what I saw that day but more about that at a later date.