Brief History of the Hunt

Before 1845 the Isle of Wight was hunted by the Crockford Harriers which were kennelled at Marvel, near Newport. This pack was sold in its entirety in 1845 and became the Prince of Wales' Harriers.     The Hunt dates from 1845 when the pack was established by a group of gentlemen including Mr Ben Cotton and Mr Henry Nunn. Kennels were supplied by Mr Henry Nunn at Marvel. Hounds were moved to Appuldurcombe, Wroxall in 1864/65 and to Afton House, Freshwater between 1877 and 79 but otherwise remained at Marvel until they were moved to new kennels at Wootton by Mr Willis Fleming in 1920. They remained there until 1927 when new kennels were constructed in Gatcombe where they remain today. 


History, Isle of Wight Foxhounds.


It is a trite saying that there is no rule without exception; but if ever there could be one, one would think it would be found in the predominating causes which bring about the formation of modern hunts. The general rule is that what was originally done to destroy mischievous animals was afterwards followed for the reason that there was fine sport in the pursuit of these cunning animals, and when this became thoroughly recognised of countries and the formation of hunts on a sound basis which would last, followed as a matter of course. But, of the two hundred and upwards of hunts which hunt the fox in the United kingdom there is one in which the ordinary conditions of hunting are entirely turned round, and that is the Isle of Wight Hunt.

The Country

The difference begins with the country itself. It is the only hunting country over which the British flag flies which has no boundary. Whatever happens, the Isle of Wight can have no squabbles with its neighbours about drawing of coverts of digging of foxes.

The boundaries of the hunt, for technically of course, every place must have its boundaries, are "the sea, the sea, the open sea." The extent of the country is estimated variously. In Baily’s Hunting Directory we are told that the island is seventeen miles from north to south and thirty miles from east to west, and that the area consists of 93,342 acres. Another authority, "Chambers’ Encyclopaedia" to wit, gives it as twenty-three miles from east to west and thirteen miles from north to south, and the area as 92,931 acres. It also states that the island was formerly estimated as being much larger in extent. It is possible there may have been some erosion but as far as I can learn history has nothing to say about it.

The country itself is a varied one. In the north and south pasture and plough are found in about equal Quantities. The eastern side of the country contains the principle woodlands, and in the centre of the island are the downs. It is principally a bank and ditch country and some capital galloping is found on the downs. The principal centres are Ryde, Newport, Ventnor, Shanklin, Sandown and Cowes, all of them excellent places to stop at, both for comfort and convenience.

There is one great advantage the Isle of Wight Hunt has. Situated in a mild atmosphere and surrounded by the sea, frosts that bring a prolonged stoppage of hunting are of rare occurrence, which is a fact the hunting men of the district may congratulate themselves upon.


The Horse Required.

The horse for the Isle of Wight is of a short-legged, compact stamp. His shoulders and hocks require to be particularly good for he will generally be going up hill or down. At any rate a good deal of his time will be occupied in this way, for the Isle of Wight is a very undulating country. There are no stone walls and timber is scarce, but the banks and ditches require a clever horse to negotiate them. Of course, good breeding and stoutness are essential. In whatever country you hunt you will find that if you would be "there" when hounds run, you must ride a well-bred horse, though of course a certain type may suit one kind of country better than another. My own experience I may give for what it is worth. I have hunted with upwards of a hundred packs of hounds, and I have found that there is no really easy country when hounds really run hard. So the best of the type obtainable is what the keen sportsman should aim at.

The policy of saying "Oh, he’ll do," when looking at a moderate horse, is a foolish one. A sportsman, I take it, wants to be in a good position in a good thing, not left out in the good things and trailing on in the long drawn out "coffee housing" kind of days. And believe me, a man will get a lot more fun for his money if he buys good horses and hunts two days a week, than if he buys moderate ones and hunts four of five, and he will see more sport. and with this word of warning the question of horse buying may be left.

The Hunt History.

The early history of fox-hunting in the Isle of Wight calls to mind Cannings’ Needy Knife Grinder, and his astonished- "Story, God bless you, I have none to tell, Sir."

Fancy the great John Jorrocks set down in the Isle and fancy his indignation when he found there was not a fox in it. One can imagine his flow of language and his strenuous efforts to bring about a better state of things. There was hunting in the Isle of Wight, however, before there was ever a fox in the Island. The Crockford Harriers, which were kennelled at Marvel, had more than mere local fame. They showed very good sport and when their day was over in the Isle of Wight and they were sold as a complete pack and kennelled at Windsor, they became known as the Price of Wales’s Harriers.

This took place about 1845 and it is only from this date that the history of the Isle of Wight Fox-Hounds dates. That there is any foxhunting at all in the Isle is due to the energy and perseverance of Mr. Ben Cotton, who did so much to stock the country with foxes, in which difficult task he was ably assisted by Mr. Henry Nunn.

Those who know something about re-stocking a country which has been shortened of its supply of foxes by mange or other causes may have some idea of the difficulties which beset the path of Mr Cotton and his able assistants. Where foxes are to be found running wild in the same land in which the country is situated that is under going the process of stocking, it will go hard indeed if some of them do not wander into that country. The fox is a travelling animal, as it is needless to insist, and on the mainland any country in which foxes are preserved and looked after will get a good deal of assistance from foxes from a distance.

But in an island in which not a fox exists, there is no assistance to be obtained from wandering strangers; everything must be bought in open market, as it were. It is a pity that there is no record of Mr Cotton’s transactions for stocking the island with foxes, for they would have made interesting reading. Some of his stock would doubtless come from the unhunted hill countries of the mainland. Some of them might even come from those fell countries whence vixens and their litters are exported to countries short of foxes. Then again the continent might supply a few of them. We know that foxes of Spain and Portugal afforded fine sport for the Duke of Wellington and his officers, and it is possible enough that some of the Isle of Wight foxes might hail from the forests of France and the Peninsula. Then no doubt Mr Cotton would have his own difficulties with the fox smuggler, who is ubiquitous, and who like one Joey Bagstock, is "tough and devilish sly." Still, I think, he would not be able to sell Mr Cotton one of his own foxes, as I have known done on occasion to a Master who was replenishing his stock of foxes.

However, whatever difficulty, Mr Cotton got his country stocked with foxes at last, and it is greatly to his credit that he managed to do so, for as has been shown, his task was no light one. And it should be pointed out that the difficult task would have been an impossible one had it not been for the sportsmanlike spirit which prevailed in the island and which made everyone pull together in the laudable object of providing for it the best sport possible.

Having got a stock of foxes into the country the next thing was to get a pack of hounds into the country to hunt them. The early history of the pack is not very good to come at. I think there can be no doubt that the pack was originally made up of drafts from the various packs, for if any pack had been purchased or even a large part of a pack to form a nucleus, as it were, there would certainly have been some record of it. The record of the pack in the "Fox-hound Kennel Stud Book" commences with an entry of 1898, when the country had been for fifty-three years in existence. The Bramham Moor Hercules, the V.W.H. (Lord Bathurst’s) Crustu and Garnet, the Hambledon Cruiser, the Pytchley Potentate, the South West Wilts Rambler, the Belvoir Pirate, and the Puckeridge Wellington are sires whose names are found in the pedigrees forwarded to the Rev. Cecil Legard, when he was editor of the "Fox-hound Kennel Stud Book." There seems to have been a draft from Cumberland, and it is possible that there were more than one. At any rate, in the 1900 entry, I find Bachelor by Mr. Salkeld’s Meddler- His Beeswing. I hunted a good deal with Mr. Salkeld’s hounds in those days, and a very good and killing pack they were, but I must say it came rather as a surprise to me that they contributed to the forces of the Isle of Wight Hunt.  It is, however, quite within the range of probability, that some of their neighbouring Fell packs, fifty-five or six years previously helped Mr. Ben Cotton out of his difficulties about the fox supply. It is worth while noting that in this first list of the Isle of Wight Fox Hounds, the names of some notable staghounds appear as sires, amongst which may be mentioned Her Majesty’s Vernon, the New Forest Deerhounds’ Ringwood and the Severnake Deerhounds’ Dashwood.

The country stocked with foxes and a pack of hounds got together, the great question was to be the first Master presented itself. It was, however, not a difficult one, for in the face of what Mr. Cotton had done in the way of making fox hunting possible in the Isle of Wight, it would have been inconceivable to go past him.  So in the year 1845, he became the Master of the Isle of Wight Fox Hounds. He carried the horn for five seasons, showing good sport and then he retired in favour of Mr. J. Hervey, a name with which the history of the Isle of Wight Hunt is inseparably connected. Mr. J. Hervey was at the head of affairs during the three good scenting seasons which ensued and on his retirement Sir John Simeon, Bart., took office. He was only at the helm for a couple of seasons and then the Hon. Henry Petre took office for a single season. This brings us down to 1858. (There is some little difficulty about the dates of the Isle of Wight Masterships, but it is perhaps not difficult of explanation. In Baily;s Hunting Directory there is apparently a hiatus of a year on each change of Mastership down to 1898 with one exception. For example we have Mr B. Cotton, 1845-50; Mr J. Hervey, 1851-53; Sir John Simeon, 1854-56. Obviously it should read, Mr B. Cotton, 1845-50; Mr J. Hervey, 1850-53; Sir John Simeon, Bt., 1853-56.)

Mr Hervey then took hold again and held office for a couple of seasons. It is quite possible that Mr. Hervey’s second spell of office was undertaken to keep the hunt going, for there is not much doubt that it was wading through somewhat troubled waters in those days. It is therefore possible that occasionally there was a season in which there was officially no hunt; that is to say that the blanks in the dates to which reference is made in a note, might occasionally be literally descriptive of what really took place. But if every time this discrepancy appears in the dates a hiatus of a season occurs in the hunt’s history, there were a dozen of them, and that a hiatus of a season should occur at every change of Mastership, but two in forty years, or that they should amount to a dozen all told seems impossible. After Mr. J Hervey’s second term of office, Mr. A. Dyson became Master and carried the horn for a couple of seasons, showing capital sport. Then it was said there was some difficulty about subscriptions. What the difficulty was does not transpire, but it ended in his resignation. He was succeeded by Mr. A. Davenport, who hunted the country in style for a single season. Up to the time of Mr. Davenport’s Mastership, the hounds were kennelled at Marvel. Mr Davenport went to the trouble and expense of making kennels at his country seat at Appuldurcombe- and then gave up the hounds.

Now ensued Mr. J. Hervey’s third period of Mastership. A committee was appointed to assist the Master, who was succeeded after he had held office for four years, by his son Mr. J.G. Hervey. For years more the committee and he ruled the country, the arrangement having lasted for ten seasons, this being the longest period that the hunt had been under one management since its formation On retirement of Mr, Hervey in 1874, Mr. J. Bellamy was appointed his successor, but he only carried the horn for a couple of seasons, when he was succeeded by Mr. B.F. Cotton, whose rule lasted three seasons. Then came Mr. J.G. Hervey’s second term of office, which, however, was cut short at the end of two seasons. Mr J.G. Hervey, who was a good sportsman and a very fine horseman, was offered the appointment of huntsman to Her Majesty’s Staghounds, which he accepted.

Mr. Hervey was succeeded in the Mastership of the Isle of Wight fox hounds by General Sir Henry Daly, K.C.B., who is perhaps the only officer who ever rode in action in a velvet hunting cap. He obtained leave to do this at the storming of Delhi, which was one of Sir Henry’s professional experiences. His term of office last eight seasons, during which the hunt prospered exceedingly and it’s prospects improved. But failing health compelled him to resign and he was succeeded by a committee who carried on and kept the game alive for a season or perhaps two. Capt. Peacock then took hold for a short spell and he was succeeded by Mr. Shedden and Colonel Howard Brooke. The partnership lasted for four seasons, at the end of which Mr. Shedden retired and Col. Howard Brooke carried on single handed for eighteen seasons, the longest Mastership since the establishment of the hunt. On his retirement Major C. Anderson Pelham was appointed Master and he ruled for four seasons. On his retirement in 1920, Mr. J. Willis Fleming succeeded him. The Kennels are now at Cothey Butts, Wootton (1920).

A Few Hints.

The man who casts in his lot with the Isle of Wight Hounds will find himself to a certain extent "cabin’d cribbed, confined." He will not be able, if they are at a fixture which does not suit his fastidious taste, to put his horse on a train and go to the favourite fixture of some neighbouring pack. This is sufficiently obvious. It is also needless to insist that this hunting will be practically limited to three days a week. What he has to do then is make the most of the hunting that comes his way. To do this he must adopt something like a policy embodied in the old earth stopper’s remark that some beer is better than other beer, but that there is no bad beer. He must first fix in his mind the fact that there is no bad hunting country where it is possible to keep more or less in touch with hounds and see them at their work.

Having once recognised this, his policy is much simplified. If a man would see what hounds do in a rough woodland country he must be all attention. He must keep his mind on what is before him, leaving the coffee housing out of the count altogether, after hounds have moved off to draw. A good start means a great deal of rough country or in the woodlands, provided you make the most of it.

I have always maintained that the man who gets to know the hounds, to recognise their peculiarities of working, and to understand the niceties of hunting hounds, gets infinitely more satisfaction and pleasure from the sport than the man who merely rides when they run and spends the remainder of his time in idle gossip. So I would advise the man who hunts to get to know the hounds and their ways; he will never regret it. And in a country like the Isle of Wight, where, if he hunts three days a week, it must be with the same pack, he will more easily learn to know the hounds than he will if hunting in a country where he can join a fresh pack every day. If he does get to know them and know them thoroughly he will get ample satisfaction for his hunting, even if he only does get two days a week.