John Holliday: Fun, feasts and frivolity [H&H VIP]

  • For many people, Christmas occasions a well-earned holiday. Those who don’t visit the local football derby may well choose to attend that other great British tradition, the Boxing Day meet. The Feast of St. Stephen, when foxhunters hope the snow is not too “deep, crisp and even”, is the only day many people see both hound and horse on the doorstep. Most packs will have hundreds, if not thousands, of people attending.

    The Grantham Boxing Day meet was resurrected in 1893 after a 40-year absence by Lord Edward Manners, as a compliment to the town’s mayor, Captain Arthur Hutchinson, “an excellent sportsman and follower of hounds” and brother of the hunt secretary.

    They thought it would be a good thing with which to entertain the good burghers of Grantham. Local farmers and hunters were treated to a lavish breakfast in the Guildhall beforehand, and liberal amounts of sherry at the meet. We still receive a warm welcome and, as long as we are invited, then it
    behoves us to attend.

    In the more rural parts of the realm, the only privation for the hunt on Boxing Day is a longer hack to the first draw. However, Grantham has expanded and we have to compete with the Boxing Day sales and the large amount of traffic that they bring. The field of 1893 would have a shock if it met there today. Horse, hound and traffic chaos is not a healthy mix.

    A local bobby to assist would be appreciated, but nowadays such a request would probably give rise to a bill. The meet is held on a quiet piece of lawn outside the Guildhall. Above the throng a statue of Sir Isaac Newton glowers down on the place of meeting, reminding everyone — without the need to be hit by falling fruit — of how gravity is rarely the horseman’s friend.

    Painting the town red

    Melton Mowbray, the accepted capital of hunting England and the town that was once painted red by boisterous Meltonion hunters, hosts the New Year’s Day meet. Melton no longer has Rowell’s boot-makers, but you can still find Melton pork pie and Stilton cheese.

    Having satisfied the inner man, a brisk walk to the Carnegie National Hunting Museum is well worth the effort. The three “Shire” packs — the Belvoir, the Cottesmore and the Quorn — take turns to meet there. This year it was the turn of the most famous pack of hounds in the world, the Quorn.

    Music for all tastes

    Christmas has expanded from 12 days to nearer 12 weeks, and by now you will be sick of Noddy Holder and Bing Crosby, belting out their songs from every shop and public house. So a suggested alternative is the Belvoir’s very own Flanders and Swann tribute band, “Towns and Chatters”. In real life, they are the Belvoir subscribers, John Chatfeild-Roberts and Paul Towns.

    In January they are playing, for one night only, in the Black Country for the Wheatland Hunt. Last year, they played on Exmoor, where I imagine Flanders and Swann are the latest thing, the equivalent of One Direction for the rest of the country.

    Anyway, for any supporters’ club reps looking for a fun evening of song and mirth, I can highly recommend it, or, failing that, you can book “Towns and Chatters”. They will do it for the enjoyment (as opposed to the audience), or possibly a free day’s hunting.

    I can assure you that when “on tour” they no longer smash their instruments at the end of the gig, their hotel rooms hardly ever get trashed and drinking sessions are kept to a minimum. Book early to avoid disappointment. Happy New Year!

    Ref: H&H 8 January, 2015