Robert McCarthy reflects on the 10th Duke of Northumberland’s legacy
Anyone who has been lucky enough to hunt with one of the many packs in Northumberland or the North will at some point have heard mention of the 10th Duke of Northumberland; Hugh Percy. The Duke was master of his own pack, the Percy, from 1940 until his death in 1988. He also hunted the hounds for two days a week for most of his time as master.
It’s fair to say that all packs enjoy a “golden era”. Without doubt, the Percy’s golden era would have been when the Duke was hunting the hounds. Don Claxton was kennel-huntsman and Danny Moralee field master in those days. An exceptionally well-run country paired with fields of often well over 100 horses meant that hounds would be out four days a week.
The kennels and stables would employ a dozen or so staff with easily 20 horses stabled at Alnwick Castle. The majority of these very good horses were bought from Bert Clemitson. It says a lot for the Duke that his stud groom, kennel-huntsman and first kennelman all served for around 30 years.
The Duke was very popular with farmers, tenants, landowners and shepherds. Most often, wherever a day’s hunting would finish, the nearest farm would welcome him in to a glass of whisky.
The Duke quite surprisingly only ever hunted the doghounds. Due to a lot of other commitments, he could only hunt two days a week, with his kennel-huntsman hunting the bitches a further two days.
One season, purely by luck, the bitches were showing the best sport. A little embarrassed by this, Don Claxton apologised to the Duke. However, he would not have a word said about the matter. He was just pleased the sport was good. Regardless of who hit the good days, he always said that as long as the hounds were trying, he was happy.
If hounds ran to check, he would never panic, just wait, light a cigarette, let the hounds put themselves right and away they would go. The Duke never attended hound exercise nor autumn hunting, again due to commitments. However, Don always told me he would arrive at the opening meet and the hounds would all go straight to him, sit by his horse and behave like they knew no one else.
One year, the Duke was being shown around the Royal Show in Warwickshire as guest of honour. He was driven there by a group of Northumberland farm workers and shepherds who were there for the day. The Duke stopped the whole thing to stand and talk to all of these men for a good 10 minutes. This is something that that group of people still talk about all these years later and shows why he was so popular.
When the Duke was married, a lot of the landowners and farmers wanted to get him a present. They made a way in and out of every field in the country (a jump or gate) that the present Duke still preserves and updates every summer.
Even when the Duke was serving in World War II in Greece, he would eagerly await for dispatch to catch up with his kennel-huntsman letting him know how that year’s young entry were looking.
Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive in Northumberland until 1996 so never knew the 10th Duke myself. However, even now we rarely have a day’s hunting when he or one of his many great hunts are not mentioned.
Hopefully we are now past the worst of this pandemic. I’d like to wish everybody good trail-hunting and a healthy, Covid-free 2021.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 24 December 2020
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