The Marquis of Exeter KCMG MFH
1905 – 1981
During the 1970’s and 80’s it was customary for the Fitzwilliam Hounds to meet at the old Burghley Kennels on the Saturday after the Horse Trials. There could not have been a more beautiful place to go hunting in the early autumn. To observe the mist rising up from the lake in the early hours of the morning with the house seemingly appearing towards you like a ship out at sea was an experience never to be forgotten.
The late Marquis of Exeter was an extremely popular man in every sense of the word. Although I sadly never met him, it is well recorded that his enthusiasm for whatever he did in life was infectious to say the least. He became a World class athlete winning the gold medal for the 440 yards hurdle race at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. His hunting career was equally distinguished having been Master and Huntsman of the East Sussex and the Old Berks before returning back to his family home at Burghley in 1958 to reform the family pack which had been disbanded in 1938. The Country he hunted was loaned to him by the Cottesmore, Fitzwilliam and the Belvoir and the farmers who hunted with him held him in extremely high esteem and there was hardly a piece of land which was out of bounds to him.
His Lordship’s enthusiasm for the chase started at the early age of nine when like his Grace the tenth Duke of Beaufort, he started hunting his own private pack of Harriers. This was to give the pair of them the thorough grounding they required to hunt a pack of hounds successfully. With Sid Pepper, the Head Keeper at his side, the foundation stones of a lifetime interest in hunting were soon laid. It would appear that the Marquis’s popularity with every different section of society one could imagine, also most fittingly spread to his hounds. Bill Garrrett who later became his First Whip and Kennel Huntsman at the Old Berks and then the Burghley would bring the hounds on to the Meets and wait for the Marquis to arrive. On hearing his vehicle and without them actually being able see him hounds would suddenly put their heads in the air and start to sing! Maybe they had learnt this from their Master who it was said had a most melodious voice! Sadly at the end of the 1968 / 69 the Burghley Hounds were disbanded.
It was a Saturday morning in the September of 1989, just twenty years after the Burghley had ceased to exist when we were to meet with the Fitzwilliam Hounds at their old Kennels. The Park which was so carefully created by Capability Brown looked at its best. The sun rising across it from the east and with the Canada Geese already in full cry, there was no more perfect morning imaginable.
Immediately behind the Kennels lay the gardens and this was our first draw. Part them were ornamental and at that time the rest was a mass of brambles and snowberry bushes, an ideal spot to go and find a litter of cubs. The covert ran alongside the lake, approximately half way round and about fifty yards up into the covert is where the Marquis was laid to rest some eight years before. This is reached by a narrow path that runs down from the southern side of the Park and is where I would often go and quietly watch the action. It was not too long on this occasion before a hound spoke and then another and shortly afterwards the deep cry of the Fitzwilliam hounds was resounding around the covert and echoing off the lake. For the next two hours they hunted beautifully in and around the Gardens, Big Holt and the Butlands where eventually they worked their way up to a fox at the very top end.
The covert is a good mile and a half long but at the very most a hundred yards wide. In places it was very thick and in other parts hounds were really able to make the best of it. They were beginning to motor on and as I was not hunting hounds at the time, I was able to push ahead see the fox at regular intervals. He was twisting and turning, managing to keep a reasonable distance between him and his pursuers . However as they crossed back into the Gardens the gap had narrowed significantly and it looked as though it would all be over in a matter of seconds. I quickly made my way to the Graveside and within no time he was there. He jumped up on the stone wall and ran across the His Lordships Grave with Fitzwilliam Gavin just about to catch him. The rest of the pack, were just there too. Gavin and the fox jumped off the wall on the other side almost together but instead of seeing what I was expecting, there was this third season Fitzwilliam dog hound with his head in the up and no sign whatsoever of his quarry. Not a hound spoke again. Our fox quite literally had disappeared into thin air!
It was not long after this, that Lady Victoria Leatham, Lord Exeter’s daughter kindly gave me his hunting horn. Itis something that will always be treasured and a delightful reminder of this quite incredible experience.