A short history of the Vale of the White Horse (VWH) Hunt

The VWH Hunt was formed out of part of the former Old Berkshire Hunt Country, which was then a vast area that included not only the existing Old Berks and VWH Countries, but also the Craven, South Oxfordshire and part of the Heythrop Countries. The Hon. Henry Moreton (later Lord Ducie) took over the Mastership of this huge Country in 1830, with kennels in Faringdon. He found the Country too large to hunt satisfactorily, and in 1832 it was split, with Mr Moreton retaining the western part, and moving his hounds to kennels in Cricklade. The Hunt boundary with the Old Berks then ran from Faringdon to Uffington and on to Lambourn. This is possibly how the VWH obtained its name.
In 1837, the hounds were moved to new kennels in Cirencester Park that were built for the Hunt by the 4th Earl Bathurst. They were occupied until 1964, and still exist today.
Hunt Boundaries
Mr Moreton continued in the Mastership of the VWH until 1843, when he was succeeded by Lord Gifford. A dispute soon arose over the Hunt boundary with the Old Berks. The Master of the Old Berks, Mr Morland, claimed that the VWH Country had only been loaned to Mr Moreton, and he required the return of the “Highworth” Country. The dispute reached a climax when both Mr Morland and Lord Gifford arranged to meet with their hounds at Buscot on the same day and at the same time, and Lord Gifford was arrested for an alleged threat to breach the peace. Following this incident, a settlement over the boundary was agreed, and it remains very much the same today, following the Rivers Thames and Cole (although the country around Wanborough is now on permanent loan to the Old Berks as it is no longer practical for the VWH to draw it due to the expansion of Swindon).
During much of the 19th Century, many of the Hunt boundaries must have been somewhat vague. For example, Calmsden Gorse was drawn for many seasons by both the VWH and Cotswold hounds. This situation being unsatisfactory, the Masters of Foxhounds Association was asked to adjudicate in 1862 as to which Hunt the covert should belong to. The existing Hunt boundary between North Cerney and Calmsden was then formalised by the MFHA, putting the Gorse firmly within the VWH Country.
Hounds
Another complication at that time was that the hounds were privately owned by successive Masters. When Masterships ended, the pack was normally removed by the outgoing Master or sold, very often at auction, and the new Master would then have to find his own pack of drafts. This cannot have been entirely satisfactory, and certainly did not compare with the continuity of hound breeding that we enjoy today.
The Country
Enormous distances were covered by hounds and horses in those days prior to motorised transport becoming available. Surtees, the hunting scribe, describes a day in the 1830’s when he mounted his horse in Faringdon at 6:00am to hack to a meet at Driffield Gorse. The covert was blank, and hounds drew to Bibury and eventually found in Lea Wood from where they ran to Lechlade. He eventually dismounted for dinner at Fairford Lodge at 7:00pm, having been in the saddle of the same horse for 13 hours!
In addition, the country was wilder then. Much of what is now our Wednesday Country and part of our Thursday Country comprised the former Royal Forest of Braydon, described by the 7th Earl Bathurst as “a great wild half-forest, with its poor farms of heavy ill drained clay soil. The fences were uncut, and had grown into strips of thorn cover, about twenty feet thick. All the by-roads were soft green lanes….only passable by riding a horse. The water logged grasslands, innocent of artificial manure, were so poor that hunting continued until the middle of April, without any damage being done to the worthless feeding. The country was so sparsely inhabited that there was little chance of a fox being headed.” In 1860, Cecil (Cornelius Tongue), in his Hunting Tours, describes this country as “very severe for man and horse.” In 1867, true hunting folk were indignant when a hard road was constructed between Minety and Brinkworth.
Cecil also wrote in Records of the Chase “Very few countries present greater attractions for foxhunting than the Vale of White Horse”.
The Great Crouch Run
In those days the Country was generally more poorly foxed than it is today, but the foxes tended to run straighter and further. Many great hunts were recorded, but the most extraordinary run was probably from Crouch Covert in December, 1883, after a meet at Church Farm, Kempsford. Hounds ran from Crouch to Northmoor, 4 miles from Oxford City centre, in just over 4 hours, crossing the River Thames several times. They had to be stopped in darkness after a run of 28 miles and a point of 19 miles. Hounds then hacked back to their kennels in Cirencester. It was so dark that the whipper-in had to climb a finger post to ensure that they were not lost. They arrived in Cirencester just after 11:00pm.
The Country Divided
This run was rather overshadowed by the circumstances that at the time were leading to the division of the VWH Hunt in 1886. Mr C.A.R. Hoare, the Master from 1879, showed excellent sport and was extremely popular with many of the farmers, but his private conduct was such as to culminate in a demand for his resignation. After a lengthy dispute, it was decided to split the Country, with Mr Hoare taking his hounds to kennels in Cricklade and the 6th Earl Bathurst establishing a new pack at his existing kennels in Cirencester Park. The new Hunts became known as the VWH (Cricklade) and the VWH (Cirencester). The boundary ran from Brinkworth in the south, through Minety, Somerford Keynes, South Cerney, Ampney St Peter, Fairford, to Eastleach in the northeast. The VWH Country remained divided until the packs were re-amalgamated in 1964.
The V.W.H. (Cirencester) or V.W.H. (Lord Bathurst’s) Hunt
Although successive Earls Bathurst provided substantial support for the VWH since the 4th Earl built new kennels in 1837, the 6th Earl became the first Master in the family in 1886, from which time the VWH (Cirencester) became one of the major “family” packs. The 6th Earl continued as Master until his death in 1892. The 7th Earl, who as Lord Apsley had been closely involved with the running of the Country and the breeding of the hounds for several seasons, then began one of the great Masterships of Foxhunting history, spanning 51 seasons until his death in 1943. From 1886 until the amalgamation, the hounds remained the property of the Earls Bathurst, and this continuity and the expertise in their breeding paid dividends, with the pack becoming pre-eminent. Although the Country was known as the VWH (Cirencester), the pack was known as the VWH (Lord Bathurst’s) as it was privately owned.
The 7th Earl’s Grandson (whose father had been killed on active service during the War) became the 8th Earl at the age of 16. For three seasons during the war years the Hunt was run by a Committee, but in 1946, Lady Apsley and Colonel Townsend took on the Mastership. The 8th Earl became a Master in 1949, a position he held until 1966, which included two seasons as a Joint Master of the amalgamated Hunt.
The V.W.H. (Cricklade) Hunt
Mr Hoare remained the Master of the VWH (Cricklade) for only two seasons until 1888. He had a useful pack of hounds which he sold to his successor, Mr T. Butt Miller, who held the Mastership for 22 seasons until 1910. Colonel Fuller then held the Mastership for a further 21 seasons until 1931. He brought his own hounds with him from the Cattistock Country which, together with hounds purchased by the Hunt Committee, at last formed the nucleus of a pack to which many of our hounds today have blood lines back to. Colonel Fuller shared the role of Huntsman with Joe Willis, who served as professional Huntsman to the VWH (Cricklade) for 23 seasons. This continuity of Masters and Huntsman undoubtedly served the Country well.
In 1931, Captain Maurice Kingscote became Master for five seasons before moving to the Meynell in 1936. It was during his Mastership that the Hunt moved to new kennels that were built at Meysey Hampton on land donated by Captain Sydney Dennis of Down Ampney House. These are the same kennels that are occupied by the re-amalgamated pack today. The old kennels in Cricklade, off Bath Road, are now built over, but White Horse Road runs through the former kennels complex, off which runs Fullers Avenue.
Amalgamation
During the Second World War, both Hunts reduced their establishments substantially. In the post war years, economic circumstances and a shortage of huntable country led to discussions between the Hunts about a possible reunion. Over the years, many Hunts have amalgamated and not all of these unions have been entirely satisfactory. The VWH was fortunate that both Hunts had Masters and senior officers who had the vision and diplomacy to ensure that amalgamation would be successful.
In 1963, a Joint Committee was elected comprising Lord Oaksey, Colonel Watson, Brigadier Fabin, Mr G.J.Phillips and Mr J.Page (VWH Bathurst) and Major Barker, Major Mann, Messrs W.J. Hinton, D.H. Arkell and P.G. Hudson (VWH Cricklade) which agreed the basis on which the Hunts would unite, which was successfully achieved on 1st May, 1964. The Joint Masters of the amalgamated Hunt were Lord Bathurst, Mrs E.P.Barker, Major J.J.Mann and Mr G.J.Phillips. The Hon. Secretaries of each Hunt continued as Joint Secretaries (Mr D.H.Arkell, Mr P.G.Hudson and Brigadier Fabin). Colonel Gibbs was elected as Chairman. Lord Bathurst generously donated his hounds to the amalgamated pack and they were moved to the kennels at Meysey Hampton. The professional Huntsmen of each Hunt were laid off and D. Goddard was employed in their stead to hunt the combined country four days each week. A new Constitution and Rules was drawn up and the Farmers and Supporters Hunt Club was founded.
At a General Meeting of the VWH (Bathurst) Hunt in December 1963, Lord Bathurst expressed the hope that “amalgamation would not mean the end of a great hunting country but would lay the foundations of a new country which would benefit future generations as well as the present”.
Post Amalgamation
The amalgamation was, without doubt, a great success. Today, the VWH is one of only a handful of Hunts with the resources and the country to hunt four days each week. It retains the strong support of the farming community. The constitution is as relevant today as when it was first drafted (with only minor amendments) and the Farmers and Supporters Club continues to thrive. From 1966 until 2005, the Hunt was enormously fortunate to employ the services of just one professional Huntsman, Sidney Bailey.
Sidney was originally engaged at the VWH (Cricklade) in 1960 as Whipper-in to Mr John White MFH. Due to an injury sustained by Mr White during the 1960/61 season and his untimely death early the following season, Sidney carried the horn from 1960 until the amalgamation in 1964, when both he and Tom Tillbrook (Huntsman of the VWH Bathurst hounds) were laid off. After two seasons hunting the Wylye Valley, Sidney returned to the VWH as Huntsman in 1966 and carried the horn for a further 39 seasons until his retirement. During this time he served with no less than 22 different Masters. His prowess as a Huntsman, his skill across country and his considerable diplomacy are legend, and certainly helped to cement the success of the amalgamated Hunt.
The VWH also has the benefit of a first class pack of hounds. The breeding policy has been overseen by Mr Martin Scott since 1977, when he joined the Mastership for six seasons and shared the horn with Sidney Bailey. This continuity, and Mr Scott’s world renowned expertise in hound breeding, has paid dividends, both in the field and on the flags.

Mark Hill