James Roy Meads
9th July 1930
The legendary hunting photographer Jim Meads was born on the 9th July 1930 in Barnet, in what was then semi rural Hertfordshire and is now part of North London. His father, Frank, had flown Bristol Fighters at the end of the 1914 /18 War and his Mother Elsie was the daughter of the Chief Fire Officer at Barnet. Jim was one of three children, having a brother Roger and a Sister who was named Heather, as she was born whilst Frank had been away photographing Grouse Shooting and had returned home with some heather attached to the grill of his car!
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Whilst working in the family photography business, Meads and Payne, Frank also took on the role of Staff Photographer for Country Life. His time there was spent covering gardening in the summer months and hunting during the winter. In 1935 the family moved to Essendon in what was to become the Country hunted by Enfield Chace, following the disbandment of Major Smith Bosanquet’s Hounds. It was from here and during the Second War that Frank went to work as an aircraft Inspector at De Havilland’s in nearby Hatfield where they were building Mosquito Bombers. In 1944 their house and the village school was blown up by a German incendiary device leaving no option but for the all the Meads family except for Father to be evacuated to Aberdare in South Wales. It was whilst they were here Jim was sent to Aberdare Grammar School to enhance his education. After the War Frank left De Havillands and carried on life as a freelance hunting photographer and this was of course put the name of Meads very firmly on the map. In 1956 he published his first book, “They Meet at Eleven” with Jim of course later going on to produce many more along a similar theme.
On returning to Essendon Jim joined the Enfield Chace Pony Club and was taught to ride by the legendary Miss Middleton who was renowned for her expertise in encouraging the young, which included well known names as Tom Hudson, Raymond Brooks Ward and others. Between them they begged and borrowed ponies in order they could enjoy their hunting with Tim Muxworthy and Ted Cox who had come across from the Warwickshire. Although the Country was very close to London they never thought of it as suburbia, which sadly much of it is today. Memories of lawn meets been given by Barbara Cartland and famous names such as Lord Salisbury at Hatfield House and others who lived in the area is something that Jim remembers well. Leaving school in 1945 it was time to follow Father to De Havillands where he went as a trainee photographer. A lot of flying air to air work was on the agenda, with Jim taking eight flights in a Halifax Bomber with such great pilots as the legendary Group Captain Catseyes Cunningham. This was a memorable part of his early life which also had one major bonus and that was he did not have to work on Saturdays and this gave him the chance to become the “Hunting Photographer on a Bicycle”, again following in Father’s footsteps! In 1946 he attended his first Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show and has been fortunate to have only missed one ever since. That was in 1969 and was by default as he was asked to captain the Queen Mother’s cricket team, as David Nicholson had broken his leg! It was in 1967 that the last Hound Show was held at Eastfield Road, in Peterborough itself and Jim was there to record the Heythrop winning the Champion of Champions.
In 1947 Jim recollects having to line up my Great Grandfather, Grandfather and Father on the steps of Brent Pelham Hall to celebrate the season that all three were Masters of the Puckeridge together. It certainly looks as though my poor Great Grandfather was already dead and had been stuffed especially for the occasion ! However he was still very much alive and did go on for some while afterwards! I also have it on good authority that it was definitely Jim that took the photograph and Frank was the one that signed it! Jim also came to Brent Pelham in 1959 when I was born to take photographs of the new born child who he told me would not sit still! In the summer of 1989 his services were required again when our eldest son Ben was just a few months old and it is believed his behaviour was somewhat better than that of his father. It has been a great privilege for us that Jim has photographed five generations of our family. Then in 1948 it was time to join the RAF and Jim hoped that he might become a pilot or possibly even venture back into air to air photography but instead he ended up being a lorry driver for two years, after which he left the forces and went back to join his Father in the family business. It was at this time that Jim continued to take the photographs with Father Frank continuing to sign them whilst taking the money as well!
Jim was most fortunate to marry the lovely Nurse Pauline Franklin in 1956, she had been born in the East End of London within the sound of Bow Bells and as she says hunting was definitely not her cup of tea. However opinions changed, as they would have to if you were living with Jim and Pauline went on to be taught to ride, again by Miss Middleton before teaching and then the children coming along in 1958 and 1959. Jim describes Pauline as a more than tolerant wife of a hunting enthusiast! Having met her I think that remark is more than very true and may be very similar to that of numerous other wives of us who have been involved in the sport for many years.
Jim carried on his hunting from a bicycle for a while before progressing to a motorbike which helped to get him known further afield . He attended the first Badminton and soon eventing and point to pointing were also on the list of the subjects he covered. It was in 1958 that he became hunting photographer to the Field working alongside Andrew Horseburgh Porter, their very well known and respected reporter. This also helped him become more financially sound as at the same time he was also still working for his father from Monday to Friday and Saturdays were put aside for his hunting work. Sundays were spent from seven in the morning to three in the afternoon processing and captioning pictures before despatching them on the old Red Star train from Hatfield to London to beat Monday’s deadline. How times have changed!
On the 13th Sept 1962 something was to happen that was to change the Meads life forever. Pauline went off that morning with a friend for the day to London and left Jim in charge of the Children. Jim decided that it was a good idea to take them to watch the planes doing their routine exercises at Hatfield. He never normally took a camera on these occasions, however on this day he did. One minute the family were watching a Lightning Jet flying perfectly normally when suddenly it decided to drop vertically out of the sky! Quick as a flash Jim grabbed the camera and took a photo of the whole event, which included a rather startled man on a Fordson Major tractor mowing grass and with the obvious shock as to what was happening around him was standing up and looking the wrong way round! Little did Jim realise at the time that this was to become Photo Of The Year throughout the world, that year! The Pilot and the Navigator both were lucky enough to eject safely and other than a written off aeroplane all was well and no lives were lost. However in another strange twist to the tale, Jim’s neighbour, whose wife had gone to London with Pauline, was due to be flying in that particular plane, but had decided for some reason at the last minute not to do so. Pauline and her friend were most concerned as they had already seen newspaper hoardings at Kings Cross Station that there had been a bad plane crash at Hatfield. However, they were met by Jim running up the platform gesticulating with his thumbs up that everything was ok. Not only was there a satisfactory ending to this near tragedy but the whole event made Jim’s financial situation much easier and allowed him from then on to go it alone and set up on his own, something that had always been his ambition to do.
In 1965 when the boys were still young, the Meads family moved to Westbury in the Grafton country, mid way between Buckingham and Brackley and it was at this time that Jim took up the position of weekly columnist to Shooting Times and Country Magazine. This was a good move. Amongst the interesting topics Jim covered was hunting and shooting looking at the effects the two sports were having on each other and how they could benefit from working more closely together. Experiments took place on both the Batsford Estate in Gloucestershire and the Thurlow Estate in Suffolk. These proved to be very successful and much was learnt from them which turned out to be of benefit to both sports. A trip out to Tunisia to photograph wild boar shooting was another of his more exciting excursions.
In 1973 Michael Clayton, who was hunting with the Old Surrey and Burstow at the time was asked to become Editor to Horse and Hound and it was from then on a great working relationship between them started to blossom. The two off them quite literally travelled all over the World visiting packs large and small with their weekly exploits being reported in Foxford’s Hunting Diary, a column which was created by Michael when taking on his senior role. In 1974 Jim had saved enough money to buy a ticket for himself to travel to the States. The mutual respect that they have for each other is remarkable in its own right. Over the years he has photographed many of the greats and their hounds. Now at the age of 83, Jim tells me that he has visited the States 183 times. Wherever Jim goes, whether it be here or in the States he is welcomed with open arms. If ever there had been an ambassador elected to the sport of hunting Jim Meads would certainly have received a very large percentage of the vote! Working hard up till 1985 Jim then decided that a move was to be made, not to where they had initially planned – Charleston in South Carolina but Carno in Mid Wales in the heart of the David Davies Country! It is here that they settled and have become key members of their local community.
If taking it easy is what Jim intended to do then think again! Since 1990 he has never stopped travelling and he continues to write for our own as well as the American Sporting press which includes, In and around Horse Country with a regular article titled, From across the Pond. As well as this he has not been slow off the mark in in producing a number of books which are to put it bluntly are stuffed full of his photographs from wherever he has been in the World. These include, They Still Meet at Eleven, They Will Always Meet at Eleven, My Hunting World, In Full Cry, Going Home, and Good Night Masters. Jim was honoured to have had the forwards for two of these books written by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. If that is not enough, in 2010 he went on to achieve something that no one
has ever done before, and that was to have hunted with 500 different packs. This shows that he really is somebody completely out of the ordinary! The 500’th pack was the Louden West in the USA and it is believed that great celebrations took place both before and after hunting and I am sure they did. In 1996 Hunt Staff from all over the World presented Jim at the Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show with a wonderful Joy Hawken picture of himself crouching down and taking a photograph of some winning hounds. In 2009 he was presented by the Americans at Virginia Hound Show with a marvellous bronze for services to hunting worldwide.
Jim has many memories which stand out, however his greatest will be achieving the 500 packs and the wonderful part about this is, he knows that he could not have achieved any of it without the love and support he has received from Pauline. This is quite some remarkable lady in very many different ways. Pauline we salute you. You have both had to overcome quite substantial hurdles in your lives and the respect and admiration that you are both held in is plain for all to see. So as we look back on Jim’s career we can see in our minds eye this tall gangly fellar finding his way across country like no other, knowing when to stop and put himself just in the right place to get the next good shot! This is the hallmark of Jim. Here is a man who in the 21st Century has total disregard for digital photography and computers and still till this day processes all his Fuji film himself. Jim tells me the secret of it all, is that it is all about dedication, anticipation and concentration. He is more than likely right but where else in this day and age are we going to find that form of enthusiasm? What I have not doubt about however, is that the day James Roy Meads was born, they threw away the mould!