The behaviour of our Milton vixen on the evening of Lady Hastings Funeral was extraordinary to say the least. What perhaps is even more peculiar was for there to be another incident on the Family’s Wentworth Estate, just a few days later. Wentworth was historically the most senior of the Fitzwilliam Estates and is situated in the heartland of industrial South Yorkshire. It is no more than five miles from the outskirts of Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley. This was an area that was famous for and proud of its Coal Mining tradition and even until this day you can still see clearly the remains of long gone Collieries, reminding us clearly of a very important past.
It was of course coal which not only brought the Fitzwilliams their wealth but with it came the huge respect the miners had for their employers. It was a fact that those working for the Fitzwilliams became the envy of the miners working in other private pits in the area. In 1926 at the time of the National Strike, Lord ‘Billy’ Fitzwilliam, not only instructed his men to strike but to bring the Pit Ponies up to the front of the House for them, where they were to be taught how to play polo! During this time the Fitzwilliam (Wentworth) Hounds were kennelled in the village and hunted the surrounding area. It was indeed a private pack, however, it was also a Hunt that received considerable support from those, who when not working below ground, enjoyed all the pleasures the chase could bring them.
Later on in the early 90’s we brought the Fitzwilliam (Milton) Hounds up to Yorkshire to mark the 60th anniversary of the disbandment of the Fitzwilliam (Wentworth) Hounds. Amongst the huge crowd that attended the Meet in front of Wentworth Woodhouse that day, were Sir Stephen and Hon Lady Hastings and many retired miners and their families. They either walked, drove or came on the bus from nearby former Colliery villages such as Elsecre, especially for the occasion. Their memories were a pleasure to listen to and the real South Yorkshire welcome they gave Lady Hastings was something that was a joy to see and it will last long with all of us, who indeed were privileged enough to be there.
After the Hounds had sadly been dispersed, the kennels were converted into a fine dwelling that linked up to the Huntsman’s House and this is where Sir Stephen and Lady Hastings would reside when on Wentworth business. There was no doubt it was an unusual feeling, when staying there, as the bedroom I used just happened to be a beautifully converted hound lodge with pictures of the Wentworth Hounds adorning the walls!
If I have digressed, I apologise I feel in this case, it is important to build up a picture of the importance of Wentworth in relation to the true and most moving occurrence that took place that day.
David Randall was hunting the Badsworth at the time as it was they who had incorporated Wentworth into their country before handing it over latterly to the Grove and Rufford, on their amalgamation with the Bramham Moor. On this occasion the Hounds had met at the head keeper, John Ambler’s house in the Park. It was mid March 1997, just ten days at the very most after Lady Hastings death. David knew the country well and related to me in detail exactly what happened that day. This is where the link between a huntsman and his hounds becomes clear, as the country is far from easy and the trust of which we speak becomes of key importance. The outlying coverts were blank, however on going to the Trowes, a low lying thick place just off the Sheffield road they found. For the next two hours they pulled of something that can only be described as a good old fashioned hound hunt, which demonstrated some of the very finest examples of venerie to be found in the 20th century.
The fox started by taking a course which took hounds within half a field of the housing estates of Scholes before turning away left handed into Rockingham Wood. After hunting round here for a while they came away down to the lakes and then on into Morley Wood before crossing the big open fields into the Mausoleum and on to the Fox Covert. From here he made his way up to the main Rotherham road where the car followers swore blind that he had not crossed. It was here much time was lost as David then cast back through the Covert to no avail. Hunches are very important to a huntsman and they can be invaluable in difficult situations, especially when you could be in danger of losing your quarry. He took them over the road and cast them up the ditch towards Hoober Plantation and Hoober Stand and away they went as hard as they could go until they hit some ground which had been newly spread with muck and this was when true fox sense again had to be brought to the fore to see what he had done next. However just touching a line into Giles Plantation it was looking as though the end of the hunt had come, as scent had virtually given out, when one of the under keepers saw the hunted fox cross the road into Needles Eye.
This changed things and they really began to fly now. Running on into Kings Wood, they took a line down to the derelict site of Elsecre Colliery. They ran through the remaining outbuildings and on as hard as they could go to the back of Wentworth village and to the Wood Yard. It was thought here that the Fox had crossed the main road into the Deer Park, but he had been headed and Saintly was the only one who could hunt his line back into the field adjoining the old Kennels where they checked. Here David observed some of his older hounds were showing interest at a gate into Sir Stephen and Lady Hasting’s garden. A key was found and an exhaustive search began. After a while it looked as though it had all been fruitless, when suddenly the hounds lifted their heads and raced towards a large patch of rhododendrons. Outshot the fox and his end came in a matter of seconds, right on the front doorstep of what had been home to the last huntsman of the Fitzwilliam (Wentworth) Foxhounds and up unto literally just a few days before, the South Yorkshire residence of the Lady Master of the Fitzwilliam (Milton) Foxhounds!