28th October 1949
On 2nd August, in the year of 1100, whilst hunting deer in the New Forest, King William ll, or William Rufus as he was better known was killed by an arrow from Sir William Tyrell’s bow. It is interesting to note that after his tragic demise hunting of the fallow deer continued to take place in one form or another every year right up until 26th March, 1997, an amazing 997 years. The New Forest Buckhounds had their last ever day’s hunting on that date when urban pressures culminated together and made it impossible to carry on and on 28th July they were disbanded. It was not only a truly sad occasion, but with their passing went a deep knowledge and understanding of the fallow deer and most importantly their welfare.
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The one person who probably knew more about the deer then and most likely still does today, is their former huntsman John Stride. Before 1997 the Buckhounds had been an integral part of forest life for generations of New Foresters. However as already hinted at, the pressure that was beginning to build from suburban thinking on many of the traditional aspects of this way of life, was seriously taking its toll. The changes witnessed over the years, have been phenomenal and as many have now found out, not been for the better. It is therefore extremely fitting as John was the last man to have hunted the fallow buck in the United Kingdom, we should hear his life story, which is truly fascinating.
Born into a New Forest family in Lyndhurst on the 28th October 1949, John was brought up at Blackwater Farm on the southern side of the Forest, between Denny Lodge and Beaulieu Road Station. This is where his parents still live today. However, when he was seven years old, he was moved back to Lyndhurst to live with his Grandparents for schooling purposes, as he was the only child out there in the wilds. The authorities felt they couldn’t justify the cost of sending a taxi all that way to take him backwards and forwards to school, so that was the only way the problem could be resolved! Once his brother and sister reached school age, John was allowed to return home!
It was during these early days that his father and mother taught him all the different aspects that make the New Forest such an interesting place to live and work. He learnt what makes it tick on a day to day basis throughout the year and to respect the different seasons. Probably more would have been absorbed during the holidays than at school and being from a family that had been there for several generations, this would have hardly been surprising. Many an hour was spent on an autumn evening watching the deer and just a day or two before the hounds were in the area, they would be observed a little closer, to see if there was a warrantable buck amongst them. This is what is called harbouring and it is all about finding the right animal which is at the right age and maturity, to be taken. The New Forest has for a long time now been a place where the general public have had open access so this makes the use of a high powered rifle very much more dangerous, thus the use of hounds was a valuable alternative, and very much safer.
John’s first memory of the Buckhounds came when his father had been asked to harbour a buck for the Monday. It was early autumn and he knew where there was an old apple tree in the middle of Denny Wood, which the deer liked to visit at that time of year. In fact so much so, they were like bees round a honey pot! Off they set to see what they could find and after a considerable amount of time quietly watching and observing, just before darkness fell, they picked out a buck that ideally needed taking out before winter set in. He was passed his best and not in good condition.
The next morning at the Meet, his father would report back to the huntsman, Stan Read, of the likely whereabouts of the harboured buck and the rest of the herd. All things being equal they should be lying up fairly close by, but the slightest bit of disturbance during the night could have meant they were long gone. After checking again as the sun rose, it was then over to Stan and the tufters to do the rest. This is where the exact science kicks in, for he might be in amongst a herd of up to a hundred others and it is the job of those few couple of old stagers to split him off from the rest of the herd. Once he was well away from them the pack would be laid on and the hunt would commence. On this occasion the buck decided that he was not going far and that he would visit the Stride family garden where more than likely he had been before after their vegetables. However this time he came face to face with the seven year old John walking up the path! Narrowly avoiding each other he decided to take up residence in the pig sty where he was promptly dispatched.
As John remembers the Masters traditionally came round at Christmas and thanked the Keepers and their families for their help and support during the season. They would bring a bottle of whisky for the husband and there would always something for the wife. This helped tremendously in cementing good relations with those who lived and worked in the Forest. It may have been just a small act which originated from the time when Sir George Thursby and latterly when the Sir Dudley Forwood’s were Masters, but it undoubtedly was greatly appreciated.
John’s mother was very keen on New Forest ponies and they also became very much part of his upbringing. So much so that when the Beagles met locally he would make sure there was one handy for him to leap on , so he could go and enjoy the afternoon’s activities. As well as John’s family being enthusiastic supporters of the Buckhounds and the Beagles, this extended to the Foxhounds whose kennels were and still are till this day at Lyndhurst.
In 1963 Sir Newton Rycroft was elected their Master and before long he left his mark on John and his brother Richard, as these two examples will clearly demonstrate. His hound control was quite something to be believed. On one occasion his hounds had marked a
fox to ground on a bank side. He walked across to them and quietly collecting them said “come on boys and girls, now you come with me”. He took them to the opposite bank and patiently asked them to stay there whilst he went off to investigate further. Not a hound put a foot out of place and a whip was never used! At the New Forest Show at New Park, he took them to one end of the ring and left them there. He would then walk to the far side and call individual hounds out to come to him, and they did, with no deviation whatsoever! Sir Newton was a renowned naturalist and there was hardly anything he didn’t know about the New Forest. His knowledge of birds, as well as the deer, fox and badger populations that occupied this large area was second to none. It was therefore a great pity that those who tried so hard to strip the Forest of its traditional activities didn’t take more notice of this kind and most intelligent man. What a privilege it must have been for the Stride Brothers to have learnt so much from him.
This they did to fine example with Richard taking up a position at the Foxhound Kennels and John going from working with the Forestry Commission and to whip into the Buckhounds from 1966 to 1968 before returning back to the Commission. In the early 70’s Mr Donald Egremont put John on to whip in to Stan Read before he was offered the position to hunt the hounds in 1989. It was during John’s first few seasons Sir Newton would very often turn up at the kennels having as a point of principal, always sought the Masters permission first. He was fascinated to hear about how they had been getting on and appeared to be as keen on the breeding of their hounds as he was his own! It was his understanding of the deer and the mutual interest he shared with John of the New Forest that helped enormously in John’s first few seasons.
There were numerous times as a huntsman John would have to think hard and quick as to what his hunted buck might do next. It was whilst whipping into Stan, that he recollects hounds had run into a gorse brake and Stan saying to him, “now stand quietly and watch and see what happens”. With that he noticed the buck going in and out of the gorse pushing up the prickets (young bucks) with his antlers. Not only did he do this but he kept them moving along, when suddenly he turned and jumped three or four of them and then clapped down like a hare. From what we believe, this is very much a trait of the Fallow Deer. On another occasion the hounds had run down to Dockens Water and had lost their buck. John was one side and Stan the other and after a considerable amount of searching, out of the corner of his eye, John noticed the very tip of his nose and the top his antlers showing above the water. Both these incidents highlight the intelligence of the hunted animal and the respect man has for him.
One of the best hunts in John’s career came again when he was whipping in, this time from a Meet at Denny, that great stronghold for the deer. Unusually the tufters were not required as Johnny Francombe had harboured two bucks in Pond Head. One was soon split away and hounds soon settled down to run well over the Beaulieu road to Longwater where they turned and pushed on across to Matley Wood. From here they went on over the main road without a check into Denny New past Ranmoor Cottage to the Bournemouth Lymington road which they crossed into New Park. Passing the kennels they went on as hard as they could go to Queen Mead Field to the Bournemouth Brockenhurst road where the buck jumped the new fencing into Knightmoor Enclosure and then on he went to Woosons Hill. The buck then decided to make his point for Minstead Manor by crossing the Bolderwood Road and going on through Holm Hill Enclosure and Acres Down before reaching his destination. This is where he was given best. Without any doubt this was a very tough fallow buck, who found himself greatly admired by all who were out that day! Later that evening, he was observed cooling himself off in the ford on the Minstead Road, seemingly totally unscathed and unfazed by the whole performance.
Since 1854 the New Forest Buckhounds were served by Masters who could not have been more dedicated to hunting and most importantly the Fallow Deer. The names of Thursby, Forwood, Daresbury, Buchanan Jardine and latterly Millar, Compton, Marshall and sadly too many more to mention all by name, played a most valuable and important role in the survival of the species. Without their expertise and that of their huntsmen over the years, it is more than likely the fallow deer of the New Forest would not be in such a strong position as it is today.
John, you come from a very old and respected forest family. You are the last man in Great Britain today to have hunted the fallow buck. Be proud of a job very well done, in what was extremely difficult times for you and your hounds. We salute you and all your colleagues, be they keepers, harbourers or your loyal supporters for your most courageous efforts. Without this form of dedication some of the further incidents that occurred whilst John was huntsman would not have been witnessed. I am therefore indebted to Mrs Chris Compton who was Master right up until the end and served the hunt for ten seasons, for letting me have these fascinating pieces.
For those who hunted at that particular time in the New Forest, either with the Buckhounds or the Foxhounds many would never have known there was a large herd of wild fallow deer that lived around the kennels in New Park. Very often hounds would be walked out past them and would have learnt not to go near them. There were many very experienced hound men who thought this would have never been possible, but this was a true fact! On one memorable day in the 90’s John was hunting the hounds and hounds had hunted their buck well when he decided to come down into New Park and join the herd. It was at this exact point that every hound stopped absolutely dead in its tracks. A keeper then came and carefully walked the buck out of the herd and the hounds were taken round and laid on his line again and away they went. Quite a remarkable piece of hound control to say the least and just may have come from John quietly observing Sir Newton Rycroft in his younger days!
On another occasion two followers were sitting quietly on their horses waiting for a large herd of Red Deer to cross the ride in front of them. The deer were in no hurry and hounds could be heard hunting towards them and at the time were not far away. Then suddenly one of the riders seemed to notice steam coming from the middle of the herd. On closer inspection there was the hunted buck right amongst the Reds, just meandering along at their pace! It was very often the case that during a hunt the buck would run to a herd of does and it was fascinating to see them pushing the male out as if to tell him he was not welcome there bringing danger to them and their offspring.
Lastly as the very subject of this book is honouring the living and the departed, I would be very remiss by not mention this rather strange but moving incident, which tells us again that these events after a death, are not just restricted to foxes. We already have one about the unusual behaviour of the Red Deer on Exmoor after Frank Dallyn, the harbourer to the Devon and Somerset staghounds died. We now have the Fallow Deer of the New Forest behaving in a rather peculiar fashion exactly a year after the death of David Marshall, one of the last Masters of the Buckhounds. David was a giant of a man in size and heart. He was born and grew up in the depth of London’s East End and never could have seen what his future would have been. When he purchased a property in the New Forest he started riding and with his daughter Tina they became subscribers to the Buckhounds. Always one to help, David joined the Mastership in 1988 and became much loved by both followers and forest folk alike. Tina went on to hunt the New Forest Beagles for many years.
After the Buckhounds had disbanded David hunted with the Quantock Staghounds and it was whilst Chris Compton and he were out with them one day that he died. David was buried at Burley in the heart of the Forest, and it was on the first anniversary of his death that the vicar reported that the deer were invading the churchyard and taking flowers from the graves. After much investigation it transpired that the only two that were being vandalised were David’s and another great supporter of the New Forest Buckhounds!
Having recently attended the funeral of Jane Hill, a former secretary of the New Forest Foxhounds at Burley Church, I can see why the deer may like to travel through the churchyard. However why they should have only devoured the flowers of David’s and another hunt supporters grave does appear to be rather odd! The answer may possibly lie in the middle of what a very kind Church of England vicar told me and a fascinating observation that I was given from a Muslim Iman in Nottingham. What I have deciphered from them is something like this. They believe that an animal, be it wild or domesticated, is sensitive enough to feel the soul of a departed person, who would have had a considerable involvement in their lives.
You will be able to read more of this in our series of true and fascinating stories which are on this website under the title of Final Curtain.