H&H investigates the mystery of Meysey Hampton, the Gloucestershire village that has produced no less than six renowned huntsmen
Here’s a riddle for you. What have the following huntsmen in common – Anthony Adams of the Heythrop; his younger brother Trevor, joint-master of the Duke of Buccleuch’s; David Gatfield, formerly of the Banwen Miners; Ken Hand of the Essex Farmers and Union; Ian Higgs of the West Norfolk and David Trotman of the Eglinton?
Answer: they are spread to the four winds now, but all six of them were either born in, or spent their boyhood no distance from the small village of Meysey Hampton, between Cirencester and Fairford, in Gloucestershire.
What a puzzle! What can be behind it? Was it something in the Meysey Hampton water? Are there radio masts thereabouts belting out rays? Shouldn’t suits with clipboards from the Ministry of Minding Everybody Else’s Business be scurrying round there to track down some dreaded germ, and stamp on it?
In fact, we don’t need to send for Miss Marple because the culprit is quite easy to unmask. If you follow the road south off the A417 through the village, leaving the church on your right and the pub on your left, within a few hundred yards after the last house, on your right, you will see the splendid kennels of the VWH. This is also the home of the Pied Piper of Meysey Hampton, veteran huntsman Sidney Bailey.
“We all knew one another,” recalls Anthony Adams. “Most of us were born in or around Meysey Hampton, we were all lads together and went to Fairford School. In those days, there wasn’t much entertainment in the villages, so the kennels was the place to go, and there we were always made very welcome… Always.
“Sidney was a young man then and there was an old kennelman, Syd Franklin. We’d get down there after school and he’d be in the boiler house skinning a calf or two. We liked nothing better than to get our hands dirty with him.
“On hunting days, we used to love to get in with the terrierman. If we could just get into the back of the long wheel-based Land Rover with him, we thought that we were made.
“Ours was a hunting-minded village and all our fathers were mad keen on the old hunt. That was the way to go, we thought.”
And that’s the way young Anthony did go. As soon as he left school, aged 15, he went to work in the hunt stables. Captain and Mrs Barker, joint-masters then, paid for him to have riding lessons and one day he got the chance to whip-in when Tony Collins was injured.
Before long, on Sidney’s recommendation, he joined Nimrod Champion at the Ledbury and started a career that has him now at the very top of his profession. Last season was his 16th, hunting one of the most renowned packs in the land.
Ian Higgs, huntsman of the West Norfolk on and off since 1981, was born in Meysey Hampton, like the Adams boys.
“We’ve known each other since up, the hunt was the focal point of our lives. You were forever seeing the hounds coming through the village on exercise in the summer.
“In the winter – they used to hack to meets much more in those days – at night you’d see them trot back down through the village and hear the huntsman’s horn as he got towards the kennels, warning the staff that he was about to arrive.
“When they met locally, away you’d go on your bike. Eventually, we started to go down to the kennels, as young lads do, and would ride up and down outside. Then all of a sudden we got brave enough to go in and it developed from there. Sidney always encouraged you, always had time for you, always invited you into his house.
“Unlike Anthony, I was never actually employed by the hunt. I did what little I could in the kennels – helping with swilling down and such – and I used to go out on the bikes with Sidney and the hounds at weekends.
“Sidney was always extremely kind to us. And so was the stud groom, George Soles, who would let us lads who couldn’t ride properly tag on behind the rest of the grooms and help exercise the hunt horses when hunting was stopped by frost.”
Like Anthony, Ian was to marry one of the girl grooms at the kennels before setting out on his own distinguished career in hunt service.
Ken Hand, by a couple of years the oldest of the group that used to haunt the VWH kennels, was born down the road in Fairford. His father, he says, was “what was called a hunting postman – bearing in mind that everything was a bit more relaxed in those days – he used to deliver round the local villages and if the hounds were about the post waited.
“Father used to take me with him on a Saturday or sometimes in the week before school. I remember being on the back of his bike one cubhunting morning, when I was about four, and getting blooded by Raglan Snell at a place called Deadgrove.”
Ken got into amateur terrier work with the VWH and then: “Funny thing, I was just reading through Horse & Hound one day and I saw ‘Terrierman wanted, to help in kennels and in stables’.”
This job turned out to be with the Puckeridge.
“Sidney no doubt put in a word with Captain Barclay,” says Ken, and that was the start of his long career in hunt service.
Next season will be his 18th with the Essex Farmers and Union.
David Trotman, who perhaps of all the Meysey Hampton gang has had, geographically, the widest experience of hunting hounds, is now with the Eglinton. He was born in Badminton and his father was a legend as terrierman to the late Duke of Beaufort, the only man ever to have regularly worn scarlet on a moped. The family moved to Cirencester when David was a boy, where, like the others, he came under Sidney Bailey’s thrall.
“I was never employed at the kennels, but we all used to go there when we were young,” he recalls. “I have very good memories of it and think of Sidney as the best huntsman of all time – I’ve always tried to do things his way. He’s a very brilliant man: I think the world of him.”
Trevor Adams, nine years younger than his brother, has the last word.
“From primary school age I used to go down there to see what life was all about round the hunt kennels – later on to chase the girl grooms, no doubt. We probably got in the way most of the time, but we young boys were made very welcome, we were all encouraged.”
Like Anthony, Trevor graduated via the hunt stables to whipping-in and hunting hounds, before “paddling my own canoe”, as he puts it, and going into mastership.
With the Duke of Buccleuch’s since 1989, his has been a central and much appreciated role, steadying the ship during the difficult times that have overtaken hunting in Scotland these last few seasons.