1941 – 1994
Head Keeper to the Walcot Estate
Jeff Davey was someone who can be best described as a gentle giant. He originally came to farm at Mill Farm, Barnack near Stamford before becoming Head Keeper to the Dennis family who own and farmed a large acreage of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. Walcot Hall is in the Fitzwilliam Country and is situated between the Burghley and Milton Estates. It is also nearby to the picturesque village of Barnack, famous for its stone which was shipped down the Rivers Nene and Ouse to build Peterborough and Ely Cathedrals.
The main interest on the Estate is shooting but a healthy relationship has existed between that and hunting and the two sports have for many years run along side each other, with the hounds being allowed access during the early part of the season and then again in February. However in particular year of 1994 both the owner Darby Dennis and Jeff Davey had agreed for the hounds to draw the home coverts in November. It was in this Summer that my wife Lucy, along with our two boys Ben and Rowley, came to live in the neighbouring village of Southorpe . In the middle of our very first night there we were awoken by, believe it or not, foxes fighting on the front doorstep. This was something of a surprise to say the least, despite the fact we knew it was a reasonably well foxed area! Even more of a shock to the system was when Jeff called round at breakfast time the following morning to ask if I had brought some foxes with me! Three had shot out of our drive right in front of him, whilst he was out on night watch!
Sadly a couple of months later, Jeff died very suddenly whilst working in the Estate wood yard. This was a tremendous shock to everybody who knew and worked with him. He was a most kind and generous man who was very well liked and respected in the local area. As much as anything he will also be remembered for the odd practical jokes that he liekd to play on any poor unsuspecting local. The local MFH being one who he caught out on more than one occasion!
After Geof’s tragic death, discussions took place as to whether we should continue to hunt the Estate as planned for the second Saturday in November. It was decided that we should go ahead and that the hounds would meet in Southorpe. As it turned out the village people clubbed together and we were most generously entertained. A great crowd of yound and old alike attended that day. There was absolutely no doubt that Jeff was very much on our minds on and even more so after the extraordinary happenings that were to take place within an hour of the hounds moving off.
Walcot Big Wood was looking its best and there was a real autumnal feel to the day as George Adams put the Fitzwilliam mixed pack
into draw. Normally there would be a large herd of fallow deer in residence but today for some unknown reason they were absent. When the hounds got themselves into the box bushes on the Primrose Walk, they soon found a big old fox, who gave one the appearance of being around for a year or two. This was Jeff’s favourite part of the Big Wood and was where he would come and sit and observe the natural world around him. It was also the exact spot where only a month before his ashes had been laid to rest. They hunted slowly at first but as time went on the momentum picked up and hounds really began to gather up some speed. After a circuit of the Big Wood hounds were now heading fast down towards the Hall, so kicking on I decided to go and stand quietly outside the front door and watch the large area of lawn and gravel in front of me. Suddenly I saw him coming towards me. Hounds were beginning to fly but not this fellar! He knew exactly what he was doing and where he was going. He trotted on until he found himself right opposite me and then he stopped dead in his tracks and literally stared straight at me. I could not quite believe what I was seeing.
A minute is a very long time in a situation like this and it wasn’t until the lead hounds appeared on the lawn that he lolloped off at hisown pace down the front drive. He then jumped up onto the wall which surrounded the wood yard and ran exactly across where Jeff had died. Here he hesitated for a second or two as the hounds couldn’t quite jump the wall. He then came out on the back drive along which he ran for fifty yards towards the Southorpe road before turning right handed and disappeared under Jeff’s garden gate. Hounds hunted up to that exact spot and that as they say, was that! It was yet another example of our quarry deciding quite literally to disappear into thin air. George Adams cast his hounds right the way round, all to no avail.
I have often looked back on this particular day and the only thought I could come up with was, that old fox was sent by Jeff to remind me just how lucky we were to have been allowed to hunt the Walcot Estate in the middle of the shooting season! If not it was Jeff himself having the last laugh on all of us, who not only knew him but had great respect for this wonderful Countryman who had now gone on to the other place. We will never know!