On the run with a 19th century fox hunt
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
Most of us regard fox-hunting as a cruel pastime, but 150 years ago it was a major part of country life – and Havering was still very rural. Prof Ged Martin invites us to join Essex Hunt on a February afternoon in 1863 as they gather at Kelvedon Hatch, near Brentwood.
Most of us regard fox-hunting as a cruel pastime, but 150 years ago it was a major part of country life – and Havering was still very rural.
Let’s join the Essex Hunt on a February afternoon in 1863 as they gather at Kelvedon Hatch, near Brentwood.
Keen huntsmen in scarlet jackets – strangely called “pink” – mingle with gentlemen in top hats and some farmers in their working clothes. Most farmers resented the damage the hunting crowd did to their crops. Few “ladies” rode to hounds.
After a fruitless trot through Navestock, the hunt plunged into woodland near Passingford Bridge, four miles north of Romford.
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There “the welcome music of the whole pack” confirmed that the hounds had scented a fox.
Hunting was defended because foxes were vermin that killed lambs and chickens.
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But farmers were bullied into protecting them, to give the huntsmen something to chase!
Their quarry fled south, towards modern Harold Hill, heading – the experts thought – for a drainage pipe off Broxhill Road, a favourite refuge for hunted foxes.
But the pipe had been blocked, and the animal streaked to the west, through Bedfords Park to “Cheese Cross”, the old spelling of Chase Cross.
There it turned south. There was no Eastern Avenue in 1863. The terrified animal quickly dashed across crossed the Gidea Hall grounds, part of them modern Raphael Park.
Somewhere along today’s Carlton Road, it jumped the railway, turning sharply eastward heading – it was thought – for the safety of thick woodland beyond Tylers Common.
The huntsmen probably crossed the railway at Balgores Lane, before galloping towards Ardleigh Green.
However, near Nelmes, in Emerson Park, the fox doubled back towards The Drill.
After a “gallop across Squirrels Heath”, huntsmen chased it through Heath Park to Hornchurch Road (the A124), near the Crown Inn.
Crossing the busy highway delayed the hunt for several minutes. Then they splashed through the River Rom near Grenfell Park and pounded on through Rush Green.
But the fox had veered north alongside Whalebone Lane, before turning east, and finally north again across the fields of Rise Park, seeking safety in familiar country.
Fanning out in search of the scent, the hounds lost a quarter of an hour before resuming the chase alongside Collier Row Lane, crossing the grounds of Priests, a former mansion remembered in Priests Avenue.
The “run” had now lasted three hours and covered over 20 miles. The winter daylight was fading.
The hounds, “intent on a late supper”, were still in full cry, but the climb up Orange Tree Hill was too much for the exhausted fox.
The pack cornered its quarry in woodland near Havering village. After a few desperate attempts to escape, “he died as a fox ought to die” – so wrote the hunt’s historian.
The hounds tore the animal to pieces, “struggling for the dainty morsels while the shades of evening fell fast around.”
Usually, the fox’s “brush” – its tail – was cut off and used to “blood” newcomers, by smearing gore on their faces.
But today only a few experienced huntsmen were in at the kill. They enjoyed “a most satisfactory finish” to a great day’s “sport”.
Hunting was outlawed in 2004.