The History of Albrighton Hunt
The Albrighton country - which extends roughly from Newport and Stafford in the North to Bridgnorth and Wolverhampton in the South, with the Severn marking its western boundary - may be described as an "old-fashioned" sporting country, one of mixed farming, and with, even today, a fair proportion of grassland, despite the present tendencies of agriculture. It is a country that takes a bit of riding over, for though the fences themselves are not always particularly strong, they are usually planted on banks, and have strong growers. There is often, too, a ditch to them, which may wither be deep, and therefore well defined, or may be shallow, wide, and poached. The wire problem, of course, exists, as it does in all countries today. But a very real effort is made to cope with it, and in consequence it is always possible to get about. The Albrighton, moreover, is on the whole a good scenting country, even today, when modern conditions militate so much against it; when the land is really wet, then can hounds run fast.
The Hunt owes a very considerable debt to Mrs. E. M. Vaughan, who for seventeen seasons carried the responsibilities of Mastership single-handed, and steered the fortunes of the Hunt through the very difficult days of the war. Moreover, throughout this time she expended endless care on the breeding of the pack, and has had time to see the results of her efforts. The Albrighton hounds, of which we shall have more to say later, are a very consistently bred pack, level in appearance, and of the type admirably suited to the country, having plenty of substance, combined with quality. Moreover, they can hunt, being full of drive and determination, and with plenty of music. The sport they show, despite all the difficulties of present-day conditions, can compare with the best that the Albrighton can boast of in the past.
Mrs. Vaughan, too, is well-known as a beautiful horse-woman, and a fine judge of a horse. She has herself bred some of the best, among which may be numbered Sir Lindsay and Merrivale.
The traditions of the Albrighton Hunt have always been in safe hands. It may be of some interest to trace those traditions, and see how sport has been built up in the Albrighton country.
The Albrighton Hunt came into existence in 1825, the country then extending from Newport down to Bewdley and Kidderminster, taking in what is now the Albrighton Woodland. There had, however, been plenty of foxhunting in the country long before that, for this part of England, and Shropshire particularly, has an amazing number of different packs and famous Masterships to its credit, more, perhaps, than any other.
The Albrighton country as a whole has always fallen naturally into the North and South divisions, as it does today. Thus, in the early days there was what was known as the Shifnal country in the north and Enville country in the south, which were usually hunted separately. Thus, about 1792 there was a Hunt known as the Enville, under the Mastership of the Earl of Stamford and Warrington, who may be regarded as the first Master of Hounds in this part of the country. While from 1786 onwards, for a matter of forty years, Sir Richard Puleston, of Emral in Flintshire, was hunting the Wynnstay country, and being short of foxes there, frequently visited the Shifnal country, staying at Pattingham and having kennels at Ivetsy Bank. Whether such famous Shropshire sportsmen as George Forester of Willey Hall, Broseley, or William Childe of Kinlet, ever came across the Severn is doubtful, but very possibly they did, though their exploits are mostly connected with the Ludlow and Wheatland countries.
For the first twenty years of the nineteenth century the Enville country seems to have been hunted largely as an adjunct to the Worcestershire, under such Masterships as those of Lord Foley, Mr. Newnham and Mr. Hornyhold. Meanwhile, the Shifnal country saw various packs of hounds at different times, including those of Col. John Cook, who was hunting part of the Atherstone, and those of the notorious Jack Mytton, the made squire of Halston, who used the Ivetsy Bank kennels between 1817 and 1821. These kennels were also used as outlying ones by Sir Bellingham Graham, who took over South Shropshire in 1923, and hunted it, with the Shifnal country, in princely style for a number of seasons.
Sir Bellingham gave up the Shifnal and Enville countries in 1825, whereupon the Albrighton came into existence as a separate country. The first Master was Mr. Boycott, of Rudge Hall, near Pattingham, who bought the Essex and Suffolk pack from Mr. Carrington Nunn, which he augmented with other drafts. The boundaries of the Hunt were now established more or less on their present basis, and the Hunt was run by subscription.
Mr. Boycott, though without previous experience, hunted hounds himself, with Jack Goodard as his first whipper-in, and showed considerable sport, till compelled to give up through ill-health in 1830. Mr. Walter Giffard, of Chillington, brother-in-law of Jack Mytton, then took over. His descendants still live at Chillington Hall. He bought some of Mr. Boycott's hounds, though the latter refused to leave them in Shropshire as a pack. He also bought Mr. Dansy's Herefordshire hounds, and ultimately collected a pack of about forty couple. Mr. Giffard built new kennels at the Old Harp, Albrighton, thus giving the Hunt its name. These kennels, however, proved a source of kennel lameness, and four seasons later hounds were moved to new premises at High Holborn, near Donnington.
We learn a good deal about the Albrighton at this period from Nimrod's Hunting Tours. Subscriptions and fields were small, he tells us, fifteen or so men in scarlet, and a score in black. He give us a list of the principal coverts and their owners, which is of interest. The Lizard (Lord Bradford); Snowdonpool; Patshull (Sir George Pigott); High On Wood; Tongrough; Brewood Park; Chillington Park; Woodcote Park (Mr. Coates); Sheriff Hales; Bishops Wood; Boscobel; Mann Rough; Mr. Sleavey's Gorse; Ryton Gorse; Lord Wrottesley's Coverts; Rudge Heath (Mr. Boycott); the Ran Dans; Gateacre Park; Enville; and Whitty Moor. On the Bridgnorth side he mentions Apley Castle (Mr. Whitmore); Stanleys; Morf Forest' Pudsey's Gorse; and White Ladies. It appears that the Hon. Secretary, Mr. Grazebrook, had a somewhat difficult task financially, and did much to keep the Hunt going.
In 1836, Mr. Giffard handed over to his brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Boughey, of Aqualate, who kennelled the hounds at his residence, and hunted the country at his own expense for four seasons. Living in the northern end of the country, Sir Thomas took in part of the Woore country round Eccleshall and Market Drayton, while the southern end may not have seen much of him. He hunted hounds himself, with the famous Will Wells as whipper-in. On giving up in 1840, he kept harriers at Aqualate Hall.
Then came Mr. Thomas Holyoak, who had to reply on a subscription, and got together a new pack, chiefly from the Shropshire and Ludlow. Hounds were now kennelled at Boningdale, where the old trouble of kennel lameness was again apparent. During the previous Mastership, the Enville country had been somewhat encroached upon by the Worcestershire Hunt, and friction now arose. Matters went to arbitration, with the result that the coverts of Wassal Tops and Hurcot were awarded to the Albrighton, and Cobblers and the Ran Dans were to be regarded as neutral, to be drawn alternatively by the two Hunts.
Following Mr. Holyoak's resignation in 1848, Lord Stamford was Master for one season, kennelling his hounds at Enville. Then came the Hon. Arthur Wrottesley, who engaged Will Staples, from Sir Bellingham Graham, as his huntsman, and a remarkably good era of sport followed. Mr. Wrottesley had kennels at the Summer House, not far from Wrottesley Park, but also appears to have used the Enville kennels. An outbreak of rabies in his second season necessitated the getting together of a fresh pack, but good sport continued to be shown.
In 1852, Mr. Shaw Hellier, from the North Warwickshire, succeeded Mr. Wrottesley, and two seasons later Mr. Baker came from the Wheatland, bringing with him his rather curiously bred pack - Belvoir, bloodhound and Welsh cross. The following season, however, he went on to the North Warwickshire, taking his hounds with him.
It so happened then that Lord Stamford had engaged to hunt the Albrighton country again; but just as final arrangements were being made, he received an offer from the Quorn, and, rather shabbily it appears, went off to Leicestershire, leaving the Albrighton Committee in the lurch. As it turned out, however, there was a bright future in store, for the next two Masters, Mr. Orlando Stubbs and Sir Thomas Boughey, covered between them a period of thirty seasons, one of the most successful periods in the history of the Hunt.
Mr. Stubbs had previously been hunting hounds for his father, Master of the Ludlow. He was an out-and-out fox-hunter, a consummate horseman, and a fine hound breeder, though in the latter aspect he was rather handicapped by difficulty in finding walks. At the outset of his Mastership the kennels at Whiston Cross were built, where hounds have since remained. Finance was no longer a problem; for, in addition to the old ancestral estates, many rich magnates from Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and the colliery districts on the eastern side were building palatial mansions in the Albrighton country, which was becoming distinctly "rich".
Mr. Stubbs died in 1866. Sir Thomas Boughey, son of a former Master, now took over the Mastership, and it was under his régime that the Albrighton assumed the high repute which it has since retained. Both Sir Thomas and Lady Boughey - herself one of the best sportswomen in England - were popular throughout the country, particularly with the farmers; in consequence foxes were well preserved, and blank days were unknown. Sir Thomas made many improvements in the country, especially by the planting of gorses, from which excellent sport was shown. Also, like his father, he was a good judge of a hound, and bred up a first-rate pack, the bitch pack especially.
It was a tragedy when rabies visited the kennel in his fourth season, but the losses were made good by drafts from Lord Coventry, the Duke of Grafton, and Mr. Musters of the South Notts. John Scott was huntsman. The Master, we are told, was never a very forward rider, but having a wonderful eye for a country and for hounds, saw all that was going on.
Sir Thomas was succeeded in 1887 by yet another Albrighton man in Capt. James Foster, son of Mr. Orm Foster of Apley. For his first three season he was joined by Major the Hon. H. Leege, son of Lord Dartmouth. Capt. Foster hunted hounds himself, keeping the hounds and country in good shape, and his resignation in 1899 was received with great regret. Now for the first time the Hunt had to look beyond its own borders for a Master, and decided on that very knowledgeable Scottish sportsman, Mr. J. C. Munro, who had been hunting with Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn. He had also held the Mastership of the Fife, and the East Sussex. He was a great judge of a hound and a hunter, and hunted hounds himself for four seasons before going on to the Atherstone. Following him came Capt. James Whittaker, a South Shropshire man, and two seasons later, in 1905, came Col. C. E. Goulburn, a relation of Mr. Foster of Apley, and well-known in the Blackmore Vale and Cheshire countries. Hounds were now hunting four days a week, Col. Goulburn hunting them two days, and C. Morris the other two.
In 1908 the country was divided into southern and northern portions, the division corresponding very closely to the old Shifnal and Enville countries. The dividing line was roughly from Wednesbury on the east, through Sedgebury, to a point a few miles north of Bridgnorth. The southern end took the name of the Albrighton Woodland. The hounds were now divided, half the pack being kennelled at Wordesley, near Stourbridge. The Woodland kennels were eventually moved to their present site at Hurcott. J. Laurence was put on as huntsman to the new pack. There were two Committees, but Col. Goulburn retained the Mastership of both side of the country, as did his successor, Col. C. Gossett Mayall.
Col. Gossett Mayall, who lived at Oaken, near Wolverhampton, was Master for ten seasons. During his absence on active service during the first World War, Mrs. Gossett Mayall deputised for her husband, and the Hunt was kept going. Capt. James Foster, to whom the hounds still belonged, now presented the pack to the two respective Committees, whose property they have since remained. Mention should here be made of the well-known personality, Mr. Sam Loveridge, who was Hon. Secretary for many seasons.
In 1920 Col. Gossett Mayall took the Mastership of the Ludlow. From this point onwards, the Albrighton and the Albrighton Woodland came under separate Masterships, Mr. E. H. Smith taking over the southern end of the country.
Brig.-General T. E. Hickman, C.B., D.S.O., of Wergs Hall, Wolverhampton, now began his very successful nine-season Mastership of the Albrighton country. For the first three seasons he had Major F. Carr, of Wheatstone Park, as joint Master. In his final season Gen. Hickman was joined by Lord Ednam, whose father, the Earl of Dudley, had been Master of the Worcestershire.
At the commencement General Hickman had Capt. Vivian Helme as amateur huntsman, with Fred Perry as first whipper-in and kennel huntsman. Perry was later put on as huntsman and carried the Albrighton horn for sixteen seasons till a bad fall incapacitated him. He was a first-class man in every way, and during the late War, when living in Hampshire, came out of retirement to run the New Forest kennels practically single-handed, and later whipped-in to his son, Ralph, the present huntsman to the Croome.
General Hickman's successful Mastership terminated in 1929. His successor was Capt. R. F. P. Monckton, of Deansfield, Brewood, who, hunting hounds himself, showed excellent sport for his six seasons, with Bob Borrowman as first whipper-in and kennel huntsman, and Fred Brown as second whipper-in, During Capt. Monckton's six seasons Mrs. Vaughan mounted him and the two whippers-in four days per week.
This brings us to the Mastership of Mrs. Vaughan, to whom we have already made some reference. Mrs. Vaughan, who lives at Blackladies, Brewood, has been the mainspring of the Hunt, and her Mastership, which commenced in 1935, one of the most notable in its history.
Alec Cluett, who came from Lord Bathurst's, and had been first whipper-in to the Quorn, was now put on as a huntsman, with Claude Huckvale as first whipper-in. Mr. Loveridge continued to act as Secretary, having the assistance of Mr. Charles Horrell, of Wheatstone Park.
Those pre-war seasons provided some of the best sport ever seen in the Albrighton country. The hunting reports of that period provide a continuous record of fast hunts and long points, with blood at the end. In the last season before the war hounds killed 591/2 brace of foxes, a record for the country.
Under Mrs. Vaughan's management, too, the hounds were beautifully bred, the Master going for the best hunting blood, and combining it skilfully. Thus some of the Quorn sires were used very successfully, notably their Bendigo '33, who brought in the famous Quorn Safeguard line, and Penman '34, who went back to the Berkeley Pluto; the great S. & W. Wilts Godfrey blood was introduced by use of the Cricklade Lifeguard and Limerick '35, and another successful sire was the East Sussex Warbler '29, who was by the Fernie Warden '25. Besides hunting like tigers, the Albrighton achieved considerable notice for their looks on the flags at Peterborough.
Throughout the years of the War, Mrs. Vaughan continued to keep the Hunt going and the country open, hounds hunting two days a week, but with a pack sadly reduced from the forty-two couple there had previously been in kennel. She had, however, the whole-hearted support of the farmers, who have always been her best friends.
As soon as the War was over, the Hunt quickly got back into its old form, despite an initial outbreak of distemper in the first season. Sydney Kirkham, who had come to the Albrighton as whipper-in in 1937, was now put on as huntsman, and has carried the horn ever since. The sport he has shown in these post-war seasons is sufficient tribute to his abilities, as is the condition of his hounds, who always go to him, and he has the knack, so essential under present-day conditions, of getting his hounds away close to their fox. His son, Bryan, who was put on as second whipper-in on leaving school, is apparently going to shape the same way.
Returning to the hounds themselves, the pack was quickly built up after the War from twenty couple to their present strength of thirty-five couple, great care being exercised; with the result, as we have said, that they are a first-class working pack, possessing substance and stamina, and level in looks. Recourse has again been had to the Quorn, which under George Barker has become a recognized source of the best hunting blood, their Nelson '44, Nogo '46 and Regent '48, whose blood is found in so many kennels, having proved very successful. Other sires to be mentioned are the Flint and Denbigh Gallant '47 and Ronald '45, some of the best of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn's sort; the Middleton Dazzler '49 has been another source of good hunting blood, while the Wheatland Tracer '48, a dog that has been much used in his own kennel, has also appeared. There is now, needless to say, plenty of first-class home-bred material in the Whiston kennels form which to breed.
In 1950 Mrs. Vaughan was joined in the Mastership by Mr. L. H. Dalton, of Norton House, Shifnal. Mr. Dalton, a true-bred Salopian, is one of the biggest farmers in the Albrighton country. He comes of a real hunting family, and has been the owner and breeder of many good 'chasers and point-to-pointers, including Hillmere, winner of the Foxhunters' Chase at Aintree in 1950. Incidentally, there are a number of very high-class point-to-pointers in the Albrighton country, including Mr. H. M. Ballard's well-known Cash Account, winner of two Open Races last season.
To everyone's deep regret, Mrs. Vaughan and Mr. Dalton retired from the joint Mastership at the end of the 1954-5 season. Mrs. Vaughan was then presented with a diamond fox mask set in a gold brooch, as a mark of appreciation of all she had done for the Albrighton Hunt during her long Mastership. Mr. Dalton received, at the same time, an inscribed silver salver.
The joint Mastership was then taken by Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Perry, of Lapley Hall, Stafford. Mr. and Mrs. Perry are now in their third season, and it is hoped will have many more to come, for there is a tradition of continuity in the Albrighton country, which is one of the greatest blessings to be bestowed on any hunting country.
Sydney Kirkham continues as huntsman, and has A. Smith as whipper-in. Hounds are out three days a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
No mention has yet been made of that very important personage, the Hunt Secretary. Since the War this office has been held successfully by Mr. J. K. Brown, Mr. R Horrell, Major Davey, and Major P. B. Griffin. In 1954 Mr. F. Douglas Yates, of The Peak, Codsall, Wolverhampton, took over and so continues. He has Mr. G. Hutsby, of Weston Jones, Newport, as Assistant Secretary. Mr. C. E. Partridge, of The Wergs, Wolverhampton, is Hon. Treasurer. Mr. G. Alan Thompson, of Albrighton Hall, is Chairman of the Hunt Committee.
The Albrighton Point-to-point, which is one of the most important and successful in this part of the world, is usually held towards the end of March, and attracts big fields for all five races. The James Pigg Cup goes to the winner of the Open Race. The course is at Wilbrighton, near Newport. Mrs. Vaughan's daughter, Miss M. C. Vaughan, is Hon. Secretary to the Meeting.