These are the notes made by Nicholas Butler who interviewed Mr George Paul of Blue Gates Farm, Wherstead, Suffolk in the mid 1980s as part of his research for his book “The Story of Wivenhoe”. These notes have been re-typed by Ann Jones from Nicholas Butler’s original notesand posted here by Frances Belsham.
Before Mr Paul arrived back from work his son and daughter produced a map of Essex and Suffolk Hunt, which I (Nicholas Butler) was allowed to borrow, also Baily’s Directory of Hunting for 1975-6. Nicholas Butler also made a note of a book they showed him “The History of Hunting” by Roger Longrigg, published by MacMillan.
What Mr Paul told Nick Butler.
The Essex and Suffolk Hunt has about 250 full members. These are people who pay the full subscription and are entitled to come out as often as possible. There is also a Hunt Supporters Club, numbering roughly 300 or more. There are also many people who follow the hunt on foot. The Hunt and the Supporters Club, though of course linked, have different secretaries and committees.
The Hunt hunts three times a week in season, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. The opening meet is on 1 November. A hunt may last from 11am until dusk. An average field numbers about 50 horses. Very few people hunt 3 days a week. More people turn up on Saturdays than on weekdays. The hunt does not go on to Mersea Island.
In the last season (1980-81) the hunt killed about 31 brace of foxes. There are more foxes now than there used to be. This is partly because of the “urban fox”, which lives on the perimeters of villages, especially after the harvest has been gathered in.
The local beagles are the Colchester Garrison and the Sproughton.
Charles Gooch was Master for a couple of years. In those days the hunt used to meet at Wivenhoe New Park but that area is getting awfully difficult now. Originally, the pack used to hunt 4 days a week (including Thursdays). It is sometimes difficult to find places to go 3 days a week. The same piece of ground is hunted only once a month.
The hunt area depends on the time of the season. It gets longer as the season progresses. At the end it could cover six to eight miles. Later in the season there is less cover about and the foxes tend to become difficult to find. At the end of the season they have almost disappeared, but at the start of the next they are back in larger numbers than before. They have probably retired to the urban fringe.
We normally kept 8 hunters. A hunter at livery costs about £40 a week to keep. The cost of a hunter is never less than £1,000 (nearer £2,000 in this country). In Leicestershire more like £2,000 to 3,000. That county has more fences.
This is very easy country to get across. The only obstacles are drainage ditches. Once horses have been schooled to cross them, they will. Very easy for children.
The Hunt has more members than before the war. The numbers here have been fairly static over the past 10 years or so.
The people hunting with us include a garage mechanic. We never like to turn away a genuine person who wants to come hunting because he’s short of money. Often 2 people share a horse. Having said that one has to be awfully careful or everybody would want a reduced rate.
Regarding dress, all we ask is people look reasonably tidy. One can look perfectly tidy in a bowler hat and tweed jacket and a pair of breeches. Hunt staff still put on pink coats.
Some people come in horse boxes, some on horseback. We discourage people from driving to a meet in a trailer. People are encouraged to ride the last mile or so.
Great Bromley is the nearest meet to Wivenhoe. Even that has a new road going through it. We meet at Brightlingsea and Great Bentley. Not out at Wivenhoe for 5 years or more. Wivenhoe is now off the hunting map. No way we will ever go there again. Got to keep away from the A12, it carries so much traffic. Got to keep off a 1 mile strip either side.
There are about 24 meets in our area. The areas overlap.
Our Senior Master is Mrs Weir she has been joint master since 1964. That is by modern standards, a long period. One of the problems of modern hunting is that MFH don’t last that long. Short masterships are a problem.
Hounds at Layham, near Hadleigh are brought in a trailer. Total number is kennels 35-40 couples. One of the reasons for that large number is that there are two people hunting the hounds. Alfred Dyer, a paid huntsman, and me. What we’re doing is keeping two very different packs.
There is a social side, Hunt Balls, Dressage instructions and Grand National Sweepstake Evenings.
Higham is the nearest point-to-point to Wivenhoe.