Up until 1835 what is now known as the Heythrop country was hunted by the Duke of Beaufort’s hounds. Will Long, (huntsman to the Beaufort since 1817), used to bring the hounds to Heythrop Park in the middle of September and remain there until Christmas. The next two months were spent in the Beaufort country, and then the remainder of the season was completed from Heythrop. Even in those days that arrangement proved impractical and so the independent hunt known by its present name was formed under the Mastership of Lord Redesdale, (who had two periods as Master) and Mr Langston, of Sarsden, with huntsman Jem Hills. The hunt staff continue to wear the Badminton livery of green coats.
There is a wonderful story about Jem Hills raising a litter of cubs in a teapot, and another of a heavy vixen jumping into his arms at Eyford, whereupon he took her home and she duly delivered her litter at the kennels! When Jem retired, Mr A.W.Hall became Master and Huntsman – the first of a tradition of amateur huntsmen in our country. He hunted hounds for five seasons, until the arrival of Stephen Goodall, a member of a famous family of professional huntsmen.
One of the most famous names associated with Heythrop Masters is that of Albert Brassey, (from whom the Cooksons at Manor Farm Upper Slaughter and the Lloyds of Oddington are descended). He succeeded as Master in 1873 and remained until 1918; an amazing length of office. G.T Hutchinson’s book "The Heythrop Hunt" (an important source of our history) refers to the Brassey period as a golden age. ‘He appeared ….to unite every qualification which is to be desired in a Master of Foxhounds. He was devoted to sport,…capable and energetic, and was blessed with a natural kindness of heart and genial manner which gained universal popularity’. In his day the importance of the great estates was already clear, as we know in the 21st century: Batsford; Sezincote, Eyford, Notgrove, on the Gloucestershire side of the country; Ditchley, Sarsden, Great Tew, Barton Abbey, Rousham, Glympton, Kiddington, Blenheim, Bradwell Grove, Swinbrook, Cornbury and Eynsham on the Oxfordshire side. All these estates are still vitally important to the Heythrop Hunt.
Apart from Captain Wallace, the most famous huntsman of our country was Charles Sturman, who carried the horn from 1901-1922. He had a formidable brain, and almost perfect technique in his handling of the hounds. He was very observant (an important skill for a huntsman), and he had a very retentive memory. The Heythrop country has always required a man with the horn who can plan, adapt quickly to circumstances, and use the country as a painter uses a canvass. Without this ability, the distances which the Heythrop country provides, cannot be made best use of.
In 1934 Lord Ashton of Hyde, father of the present Lord Henry Ashton of Broadwell Hill, Joint Master 2007, took the hounds and, together with Lady Ashton, held the hunt together through the 30’s and the years of the Second World War. During most of this time Percy Durno was the immensely popular huntsman.
In 1952 the second Golden Era of the Heythrop started, with the arrival of Ronnie Wallace, probably the most talented of amateur huntsmen of the 20th Century, amongst such peers as Ikey Bell, Peter Farquhar, the tenth Duke of Beaufort and others. The key to his success was planning and organisation. A system of fencing, earthstopping and farmer liaison was put in place which was second to none. Furthermore, he was a very talented hound breeder, following the lines made famous by Peter Farquhar, and he produced top class hounds which had quality, drive, and which handled best with quiet, decisive leadership. History and discussion will fail to come up with a clear answer as to which hound he bred that was the greatest: he himself said that the Heythrop Brigand ’54 male line was his favourite, exemplified by Craftsman’62.
Ronnie’s immortal partnership with Charles Parker, terrierman and earthstopper, set the standard for Ronnie’s 25 seasons. He always said that his best hunt was from Bould Wood, via Wolford Wood (in the Warwickshire country) to Paxford; nearly a twelve mile point, and one which holds its own with runs from a previous century.
Throughout Ronnie’s tenure of office at the Heythrop, the hunt remained at the pinnacle of all that was quality within the hunting world. Staff and Masters throughout not just England, but the entire world, strove to follow his example.
Since 1835, there have only been fourteen different huntsmen. In 1984 Richard Sumner joined the Mastership, and retired in 2012 . He made his name as a brilliant man across country and as a superb hound breeder.
Throughout its history Masters and Huntsmen of the Heythrop have realised the importance of habitat for the quarry species. Accordingly there is a long tradition of ensuring that coverts across the country are cultivated to be warm and as free from disturbance as possible. The Cotswolds, by nature, are draughty and cold and for all wild mammals, and sheltered and dry places are essential for breeding and in order for the species to thrive. Masters throughout the years have therefore used local methods of silviculture to keep woodlands in good order and prevent them from becoming cold and bare.
For many years the Heythrop has also held a fencing and stone walling competition for landowners and farmers. This encourages traditional methods of stone walling, hedge laying, and ability to have farms and estates in good order so that they can be crossed at speed during a hunt.
Government is now awaking to the importance of conservation schemes, which is something hunts have been working along on for many years. Indeed much of what is good about the countryside in today’s world can usually be traced to the work of hunts, or those farmers and estate owners for whom hunting is a prime interest, who have worked not just to preserve habitat for foxes but also for all other indigenous species.