7th October 1946
Dedicated to Johnny Winner
Les Woolley is somebody who could only be described as one of life’s real characters. He is a person who if you were in trouble and needed help, would be there at the drop of a hat. Having said all that, Les quite rightly does not suffer fools gladly. I know however, I could put my family’s life in his hands in the knowledge I would have no reason whatsoever to worry.
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I met Les nearly thirty seasons ago, when I was Joint Master and Huntsman of the Essex and Suffolk. He would be the first to admit that he does not come from, a normal conventional hunting background. He was born and brought up deep within London’s East End and was born on the 7th October 1946 within the sound of Bow Bells. His Father was a greengrocer working the streets with a horse and cart throughout East London. He remembers one of the few areas to play early in his life was on the piles of bomb debris left from the Blitz. His mother died when he was nine and after what had been a tough start in life things became even harder. Les is proud of many things and recognising the fact that he was born strong enough to overcome his early challenges gives him great comfort.
At an early age and not that long after his mother’s death he went to work with his father. He did everything from setting up the stalls to selling the fruit and veg, as well as looking after the horse and maintaining the cart. It was around this time that Lucky, a wire haired fox terrier came on the scene, just as Les needed a bit of luck himself. His father had remarried and relations with his stepmother were at their worst. The old dog showed him great kindness and became a real mate. He would follow Les round the streets and if ever there was the slightest hint of trouble Lucky would instantly be there at his side. It was here that the great understanding and love of dogs began which we will find out more about later.
After an unfortunate but inevitable parting of the ways with his father, Les then decided to go off hop and fruit picking in Kent and Sussex during the summer. This was his first taste of what the countryside had to offer. Working as a labourer on a building site followed, before he went on to the Watney Mann Brewery behind the notorious Blind Beggar Public House on the Mile End Road. It was still very much survival of the fittest out there and Les had to watch his back, you never quite knew what might happen next. However, being the born survivor he was, he coped. Whilst working at the Brewery Les met and became the best of friends with a fellow East Ender Johnny Winner, and they remained that way, until his death just a few weeks ago. It is therefore fitting that Les has particularly asked for this piece to be dedicated to Johnny who I will be more than pleased to bring in a little further on.
After an unfortunate but brief spell in prison, Les’s life moved on and in 1967 he was happily married to Linda and nothing gave them more pleasure than when their two daughters, Dawn and Nicky were born. It was in 1979 whilst they were at school in Stepney that Les noticed the girls were beginning to experience a few problems. This prompted the family’s decision to uproot and move out of the East End to Dovercourt on the Essex coast. Les soon found a job working on the railways where one of his tasks was to ensure that the platforms at Dovercourt Station were swept on a daily basis. Progressing further he found work at the Port of Harwich and it was here, after starting at the very bottom he rose to the top of his profession when he became senior crane operator. He was responsible for loading and unloading ships coming in from all over the world.
Whilst having a day off he came across the Essex and Suffolk hounds who had just had a good hunt and marked their fox to ground in a very large pile of roots. He was fascinated by this. The old boy out of the East End had never come across an English Foxhunt before. So Les being Les decided to find out more. He very soon learnt that the fox being a predator, and an animal whose numbers had to be kept in balance, was better controlled by hunting than any other way and as this was the best method it suited him morally. Witnessing Kevin Grey, the part time Terrier Man and Countryman performing his duty most efficiently, by dispatching just one of the three foxes that were in that heap of roots that day, probably brought Les to this thinking. He also noted that day that the Farming community had a great affiliation with the Hunt, something he has never forgotten. As time progressed he started to help Kevin and eventually took on the responsibility, juggling the work with his official job of unloading container ships at Harwich! Les’s admiration for the fox is quite clear. The animal’s cunningness and cleverness in avoiding being caught is something which astounds him. He also looks upon the hounds and the terriers he has bred as part of a whole rural pattern in which he feels greatly privileged to have been involved.
Approximately fifteen years ago I happened to be travelling back from a British Field Sports Society Meeting in London and decided to stop for a sandwich at the Blind Beggar in the Mile End Road. I was inquisitive about the history of the area as it wasn’t very far away from where our immediate family had originated. I struck up a conversation with a chap at the bar who after a while asked me what I did. Slightly cautiously, I told him I was a Master of Foxhounds! “You mate, a Master of Foxhounds, God, I’ve got a pal that hunts, lives in ‘Arwich, ‘eard of it?!!” I replied that his friend wouldn’t by any chance happen to be somebody called Les Wooley would it? Well the old boy nearly fell of his bar stool. “How do you know my mate Les?” he said. I told him that Les had been my Terrier Man whilst I was hunting the Essex and Suffolk Hounds. For the next two hours or so the conversation never stopped and who had I been talking too for all that time, Johnny Winner?!!
There was an occasion fairly recently when it was brought to my attention that sadly Les had died. The Essex and Suffolk had a minute’s silence for him and although they had not seen him for a while, they grieved this great character’s passing. You can imagine the shock that occurred when later that year, who should appear in the Farmers bar at the Essex and Suffolk Point to Point, but Les. It was not him that had died, but I nearly did!
Hunting, the countryside and other Field Sports have made Les’s life and he tells me that they have all brought him and his family endless days of happiness. Les and Linda are now proud grandparents and are teaching their grandchildren to enjoy the countryside as much as they have done throughout their lives.