There are few details of the early roots of hunting around Thurlow. The area was probably part of the King’s Forest and subject to the Forest Laws first introduced by Canute and greatly extended by the Norman kings from William I onwards. One of the earliest references to hunting was in the reign of Edward III (13271377), but it was James I who is generally credited with founding what became the Thurlow Hunt, while his grandson Charles II used to hunt regularly on his visits to Newmarket, visiting Little Thurlow Hall to play bowls on the lawn that is still there today.
In those days the quarry tended to be the hare, the hart, buck or fox, and it was not until the eighteenth century, when much of the old forest had been cleared, that the fox became the most popular. Different types of Hounds were developed for hunting the hare and the fox, leading to the establishment of the Foxhound Kennel Stud Book in 1866, which is now recognised throughout Europe as one of the most detailed and correct records of any Stud Book of its kind.
Boxing Day Meet, 1970’s
Early records are scant, but it is clear that all the Stuart Kings hunted the area on their visits to Newmarket. However, the first Master of whom much is known was a Mr. Thomas Panton from 1770 to 1800. A keen racing enthusiast, he won the Derby in 1796 with his horse Noble. The nineteenth century saw a succession of short Masterships, but with some notable names among them: Colonel John Cook, author of Observations on Foxhunting, and George Osbaldeston, known as the Squire of All England and perhaps the greatest all-round sportsman of his day, who lived at the Cottage, Little Thurlow.
During much of that century the Thurlow country and much of the present Suffolk Hunt country appear to have been hunted as one, with Mr. George Mure of Herringswell as Master from 1827 to 1845 and Mr. John Josselyn of Bury St. Edmunds from 1845 to 1864. At a meeting in the Rose and Crown in Great Thurlow in 1858, the old Thurlow Hunt Club was revived, which in turn led in 1884 to the establishment of the Newmarket and Thurlow in its own right, while the Suffolk Hunt confined its activities to its present boundaries. Hounds were kennelled at Little Thurlow Hall until new kennels were built at what is now Hart Wood on the Bradley road. Hounds remained there until 1970 when the Hunt amalgamated with the Puckeridge; the Hounds then moved to Brent Pelham and the kennels were sold.
Meantime in 1882 the Masters of Foxhounds Association had been formed and became the governing body of foxhunting. Initially its main task was to adjudicate on any dispute over hunt boundaries, but in time it developed the series of Rules by which the sport must be conducted and with which all Masters today have to comply.
In this area it has always been necessary to strike a balance between shooting and hunting. In 1800 Colonel Cook wrote of the abundance of reared pheasants which ruined the hunting, while Squire Osbaldeston complained of a “damnable shortage of foxes”. In 1900 at Six Mile Bottom there were complaints of the damage the foxes had done to the partridges. In 1915 Mr. C. F. Ryder, first of Little Thurlow and later of Great Thurlow Hall, became Master and was largely responsible for seeing the Hunt through the difficulties of the First World War. Father of Mr. Stephen Ryder of Great Bradley Hall, he set an admirable example of the way hunting and shooting can operate together.
Throughout this period of comparatively short Masterships continuity was provided by Mr. Thomas Purkis of Barham Hall, Linton, who was Honorary Secretary from 1898 to 1926, and Will Woodward who was huntsman for fifteen seasons. The close links with Newmarket continued, and at the Meet at Branches Park in 1923 there is a photograph of two Grand National winners (Double Chance and Sergeant Murphy), Drifter who was second in 1922, and two other National horses, (one was Jack Horner, ridden by Mr. Harvey Leader who was to become Master for eight seasons after the Second World War).
Between 1940 and 1942 hunting ceased while all efforts were concentrated on the war effort, but it then was resumed on a limited scale with a greatly reduced number of Hounds. George Samways who had come as whipper-in in 1937 held the fort as huntsman throughout the war years. Come 1945 a Hunt Committee was formed to take charge of matters with Mr. F. B. Taylor of Dullingham as Chairman.
In 1948 Mr. Harvey Leader began his Mastership, with Charlie Field as huntsman, Mr. Jack Webb of Streetly Hall as Chairman and his brother Henry as Honorary Secretary. This team was largely responsible for setting the pack on a sound footing again after the war-time disruption. The Webb brothers were great-grandsons of Mr. Jonas Webb, an original founder member of the Thurlow Hunt Club in 1858, whose statue stands outside the Animal Physiology Institute at Babraham as a tribute to his contribution to agriculture and in particular to the part he played in establishing the Southdown breed of sheep.
After Mr. Leader resigned as Master he was followed briefly by Mr. Jack Webb and Colonel Douglas Kaye of Brinkley Hall, Mr. Neil Parker and Mrs. Riggall who had come to live at Little Thurlow Hall. Colonel Kaye continued as a most valued Honorary Secretary and Treasurer for a further twenty nine years, while Mr. Webb carried on until 1967 to complete nineteen years as Chairman.
After two seasons Mrs. Riggall was joined in the Mastership by Mrs. Edmund Vestey who then had one season as sole Master before being joined by her husband. Then in 1970 the decision was taken by the Committee to amalgamate with the Puckeridge, where Captain Charles Barclay and his wife were Masters. The Kennels at Thurlow were sold, the Hounds were moved to Brent Pelham and the hunt was renamed the Puckeridge and Thurlow.
Sadly Mrs. Barclay died after two seasons, having contributed so much during her nine years as Master. In 1973 Mr. Vestey began to hunt Hounds in the Thurlow end of the country, a situation which continued until 1985, when the Committee agreed to Mr. and Mrs. Vestey forming a satellite pack at Wadgell’s Farm Great Thurlow, converting some redundant farm buildings into kennels.
In 1991 Mr. Vestey was elected the first Chairman of the Campaign for Hunting formed to fight the Private Members Bill introduced by Mr. Macnamara to abolish hunting. After a brief time in that office he was elected Chairman of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, the governing body of Foxhunting, taking over from Captain Ronnie Wallace and holding the position for four years until 1996.
Meantime, efforts to improve the Hounds have borne some fruit, winning prizes at the South of England Hound Show and the Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show, one of the young doghounds being made Reserve Champion there in 1998. More importantly, the numbers of foxes killed has increased steadily since the pack was formed in 1985, proving their worth as a valuable part in the management of the fox population.
Modern farming methods have led to enormous changes since the days of Colonel Cook and Squire Osbaldeston. The growth of traffic with all the smells of exhausts and the sprays and fertilizers constantly applied to the winter corn and oil seed rape make the Hounds’ tasks infinitely more difficult, but the modern Foxhound has met these challenges in a marvellous way, continuing to provide good sport and great interest and pleasure to those who enjoy watching them puzzling out the line of a fox, or the thrill of a good ride across the country.
Our thanks go to our farmers and all those others who make it possible.
The Thurlow Hunt with their Master, Edmund Vestey
The Thurlow Hunt with their Master, Edmund Vestey