2nd Sept 1908 – 2nd Jan 1990

 

Baron Paget of Northampton QC otherwise fondly known as ‘Reggie’, was born on the 2nd of September 1908 into a renowned Shires hunting family. He and his brother, who died at a young age, were brought up at Sulby Hall near Welford in the heart of the Pytchley Country. It was at the time when the great Frank Freeman was hunting the hounds and Reggie’s childhood would have been spent hunting with there and having odd days with the Fernie. Not only was this during the golden era of foxhunting, but also being in a galloping grass country, there could not have been a better time and place to cut ones young teeth against those stiff Northamptonshire / Leicestershire hedges.
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Reggie’s early working life was spent practicing as a barrister in London before being called to the Bar in 1934. He was married in 1931, aged twenty three, to a Miss Sybil Gibbons, who became fondly known to everybody as Nancy. During the War he served with the RNVR and then lived for sometime afterwards on the Isle of Wight where he much enjoyed sailing. He moved back somewhat later to Leicestershire where he hunted mainly with the Fernie and the Quorn but also managed to fit in days with the Cottesmore and Pytchley.

His Father, Guy, was a man of staunch Conservative beliefs and had tried hard to ensure Reggie followed his example. However, this backfired and resulted in some rather serious disagreements which led to Reggie deciding to join the Labour Party. At the time, this must have caused great alarm in certain circles, however, he stuck to his principals and in the post war election of 1945 was elected as MP for Northampton. He was greatly liked by his constituents and he will long be remembered for being cheered on by the crowds of tannery workers in Northampton as the Pytchley hounds left their Boxing Day Meet. It was a solid Labour seat and he was described by one Party Official as the “Foxhunting Squire that came from a good family and who had been educated at Eton.”

This particular Foxhunting Squire was most proud of the fact that when he was elected to the Pytchley Mastership in 1968, it was certainly one with a difference! It consisted of a Peer of the Realm – Lord Wimborne;  a senior member of the Medical Profession and a former Master of the Atherstone and the Westerby Bassets – Dr Eric Morrison; a businessman and farmer – James Mackaness and himself, a Labour MP and QC! This lasted for three seasons.

After serving as an MP for thirty one years , he became a Life Peer in 1975 and it was here in the House of Lords that he met one day a delegation of Trades Unionists, whilst still dressed in his muddy hunting clothes. This I am led to believe, would not have been in the slightest bit embarrassing to him. It would have been quite the most normal thing to do!

After a distinguished career, Reggie retired and living at Lubenham near Market Harborough in the heart of the Fernie Country, he continued to hunt regularly with both them and the Pytchley. This popular Labour Peer always hoped that his end would be met in a similar way to that of his father who was killed out hunting. It didn’t. However he would always say, in his deep gravelly voice “All I got was a broken neck!” Reggie Paget died on the 2nd January 1990. It was his wish and very typical of this generous man, that both Hunts should be given most hospitable meets, with the port provided from the proceeds of his Estate.

So, it was on the 13th of January that Bruce Durno brought sixteen and a half couple of bitches to the meet at Saddington. The breeding of the Fernie Hounds at the time mainly went back to Heythrop and Beaufort blood. There was also however an interesting touch of American in them through the Green Spring Valley which was brought in by Col Murray Smith when he left the Quorn in 1960 to join the Fernie. The day commenced with senior Master Joe Cowen giving a wonderful tribute to Reggie in front of a field of a hundred and sixty people and a very large crowd of onlookers. A minute’s silence was held and just before they moved off, the car followers reported to Bruce that they had spied a fox curled up asleep in the next field. Bruce took hounds straight to the spot where they had seen him last. Not one hound spoke. He had done a total vanishing act. This was the first peculiar happening to take place that day. Later after achieving a twisty hunt of an hour and a half in the morning from John Ball, Furnivals and Kicklewell were both drawn blank. There was also no success in looking for outliers along the Laughton Brook however hounds found a fox in Mr Cowen’s, Laughton Brake and Mrs Durno was one of those who saw him slip away. She thought there was something unusual or even strange about him. He was a very large animal with a woolly coat that almost resembled an Alsatian dog. This was something that didn’t ring true to the normal Fernie fox!

Hounds came away running hard to Spring Hollow where they turned left handed and crossed the Laughton to Theddingworth road to Kicklewell. They then came back left handed along the roadside and recrossed into Laughton Brake and went down to the canal, swinging left handed over the gated road back to Spring Hollow and into Bunkers Hill. Out from here they went, by the canal, over the gated road across the Lubenham road into Reggie’s garden at Lubenham Lodge. Joe Cowen described this as “most peculiar, it was almost as though the fox had made a point of going to look for him”.  After a circuit or two around the house and garden he decided to make his course along the canal and then he turned down right handed to the Lubenham, Mowsley road close to the village of Lubenham. Here he ran the old railway straight without hesitation to Reggie’s Folly. This was a covert he had planted and again the fox behaved in a way that he was still looking for him. With the Boss not found, either at home or here at the Folly this most interesting customer decided to press on and set his mask for Gumley. Crossing the Theddingworth, Gumley road below Bunkers Hill, he went on over the Canal again back through Laughton Brake, over the Mowsley road to Laughton Lodge, the Belts and Gumley Covert. Here they went out at the top end to Holloway and across the Gumley, Saddington road over Mr Rammells holes and hounds were stopped as they ran into Gumley Wood at 4.45pm.

This had been a top class afternoon hunt. It was almost as though this wonderful cheerful man, who was well known for having his own ideas, had maybe orchestrated the whole thing. From the port at the meet, to the vanishing act of the first fox, the peculiarity and size of the second, the trip round the garden and then it would seem the deliberate visit to Reggies Folly. It was something that has left many in the Fernie Country and beyond, more than somewhat bemused ever since!

This fox was never seen again.

James Barclay
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