Hounds of a lifetime: the best ones huntsmen have been privileged to work alongside *H&H Plus*

  • Every hound is special, but some are real stars. Frank Houghton Brown asks eight huntsmen to name the best hound they have come across

    Tiverton Goldfinch 00
    College Valley Governor 95–Charcoal 94

    MANY of the hounds in the Badminton kennel today go back to Tiverton Goldfinch, who former kennel-huntsman and then huntsman Tony Holdsworth brought with him from Devon, where he hunted the Tiverton.

    “I hacked to the meet on the first morning’s autumn hunting when Goldfinch was just a puppy and there were two deer in the field alongside. Goldfinch set off after them and, as we were standing at the meet with all the rest of the hounds, we could hear her hunting them,” says Tony.

    “Eventually she gave up, and at the end of the morning we had a hunt of about an hour and lost the fox. Goldfinch started to mark in a rabbit hole, but none of the other hounds were interested. Sure enough, Goldfinch was right.”

    At the end of her first season she had been quite exceptional. There were eight puppies in her litter and on one occasion Tony watched the pack come past during a good hunt and the first eight hounds were Goldfinch and her siblings. Tony took her with him to Badminton.

    Limerick Secret 00
    Primus 96–Charming 96

    The “intelligent” Limerick Secret 00

    SOME extraordinary traits make individual hounds stand out to their huntsman, and Secret was one of
    those peculiar hounds who stood out when Will Bryer went to the Co Limerick as huntsman.

    He says: “The Limerick countryside was littered with the ruins of old houses: often just piles of rubble with some of the walled garden still intact. Thick green ivy was draped over the walls and these would be ‘go to’ places to find a fox. Secret was so intelligent that she would disappear from the pack, survey the wall and find a place where she could scrabble her way up, climb along the wall and dislodge the fox.”

    Secret was in her first season when Will arrived at Limerick. Her mother, Charming, was “an outstanding bitch” from the Duhallow and goes back on the tail female to Carlow Deborah 32: “A superb line.”

    Holcombe Harriers Batman 10
    Badger 08–High Peak Query 08

    “BOTH in kennels and out working in the field, he was a gentleman among the pack.” says Holcombe joint-master and hound breeder Sue Simmons. “He was always sound and, like the best hounds, always just ‘there’.”

    As well as being brilliant in his work, Batman won his puppy show and “almost everything else”. Not only was he champion at Peterborough, but also an outstanding sire whose progeny, both children and grandchildren, have also won Peterborough championships.

    “Batman was bred at the High Peak kennels and given back to us as a whelp,” says Sue. “His dam has some Scarteen blood which has given this line a distinctive tan colouring. The sire, Badger, is a rare harrier tail male line in what is a small gene pool of harrier blood.”

    Sue points out that his near-perfect conformation gave Batman his athleticism and his longevity and that his portrait hangs in her dining room.

    “It’s a pleasure to see him live on through his offspring,” she says.

    Grafton Worker 99
    Eggesford Painter 96–Woodbine 95

    “HE was walked by Richard Cheshire on a farm near Winslow and he allowed them to hunt hares,” explains Mick Wills, who was the Grafton huntsman for 25 seasons.

    “It was a habit that was hard to break and because he had such a good voice it was a real nuisance. I caught him doing it one misty day and jumped off to correct him where I thought no one was watching. I was called in by the masters that evening and nearly lost my job. He never hunted hares again and proved to be a brilliant hound.”

    Mick has an abundance of stories illustrating Worker’s prowess in the field and can point out the numerous times when he put hounds right and helped to keep a good hunt going.

    “If he spoke you knew he was correct, and he would stand on his hind legs and mark foxes up trees.” he says. “I gave his litter sister to the Warwickshire and when I retired they gave me back one of her progeny. I hope she will be as good.”

    Morpeth Digby 98
    Fernie Crofter 91–Fernie Damsel 94

    “BRUCE DURNO gave me the only two puppies in a litter when I left the Fernie and went as kennel-huntsman to the Morpeth,” says Sandy Wilson who, after a long stint at the Morpeth is now huntsman at the Braes of Derwent. “Digby had a fantastic nose, was a real character, a fox finder and a loyal friend.”

    Sandy remembers his third season at the Morpeth as being “the best season’s hunting that I have ever had in my life.”

    He was hunting the hounds on a bitterly cold day.

    “I had got off my horse to pack up and I was frozen,” he says.

    The hounds jumped the fence beside him, started to speak and were off. The master wouldn’t let him get back on his horse, so he jumped on the quad with the terrierman. After a hunt of 19 miles and a six-mile point, the hounds were hunting in woodland in tighter and tighter circles.

    “It was dark and it all went quiet,” he remembers. “All the hounds came back to me except Digby. I walked down the wood and there he was, lying next to the dead fox.”

    South Herts Beagles Zeitgeist 01
    Slaney 97–Dummer Talent 95

    South Herts Zeitgeist

    “HE was typical of his family and of his get,” says master and huntsman of the South Herts – now the Trinity Foot and South Herts – Matthew Higgs, “in that he was the sort of hound that you never particularly notice in the field, but which provide the momentum to see a hunt through all its phases.

    “His pedigree is full of Dummer and Stowe blood, lines I have favoured for producing biddable hounds which strive to hunt together. His paternal great-grandsire, Rector 83, was given to my predecessor by Robin Leach from the Dummer. His mother, Dummer Talent, used to jump out of the kennels and wait for me at the gate each day.”

    This intimate knowledge of a hound’s forebear is what gives any huntsman or hound breeder such joy in the exploits of the progeny.

    “Fittingly, it was Zeitgeist who, on the last Saturday before the ban, drove through the ruined pepperpot lodge gates at Wrest Park to catch our final hare,” says Matthew.

    Dumfriesshire and Stewartry Saracen 12
    Blencathra Trimmer 07–Saviour 08


    “HE was the best of a litter of six,” explains his breeder and retiring joint-master and huntsman Andrew Cook. “The whole litter were exceptional workers. I remember him and his sister hunting a fox for more than 200 yards along the top of a stone dyke at the start of his second season.”

    Andrew has a host of stories about Saracen’s persistence, which was well known within the hunt.

    “I recall hunting in the hills one day and when we packed up in the dark we were missing 2½ couple.” says Andrew. “They were still missing the following morning and I received a call from someone who thought they could hear hounds speaking. I climbed out to investigate and started blowing. Several hounds came back, but Saracen could be seen with his back end protruding from the hole, still marking.

    “He was an incredible foxhound,” Andrew reminisces. “They don’t come along like that very often.”

    South and West Wilts Heretic 17
    VWH Saxon 12–Harmony 14

    South and West Wilts Heretic 17

    IF you are lucky enough to follow in the footsteps of a great hound breeder, you are indeed blessed in the hounds which you inherit.

    “Both Simon Clarke and Douglas Mann, two of our hound trustees, have sadly died in the past year, having bred the South and West Wilts hounds since the late 1960s,” says the present joint-master and huntsman James Andrews. “They always stressed the need to cherish the female lines in the kennel as they will produce good sport.”

    “Heretic is not only an exceptional hound in his work, but his family have been the backbone of this kennel since 1925, when Ikey Bell bought the Berkeley draft for 1,000 guineas – a vast sum in those days.”

    James points out that in the challenging chalk downland it is important to have hounds that suit the country and these old lines have been bred for that very purpose for nearly 100 years.

    With such aristocratic breeding, it is no wonder that Heretic is such a good doghound and James notes that “not only is he a superb hunter with a lovely voice, but his grandmother Heather was brilliant and one of the truly outstanding hounds in my 24 seasons hunting hounds”.

    This feature is also available to read in this Thursday’s H&H magazine (1 April, 2021)

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