A look at the mastership, characters and country that formed the foundations of the Fitzwilliam (Milton) Hunt
The Fitzwilliam is another of our historic hunts the origin of which cannot be traced with absolute certainty. At any rate, it is a very old hunt, and we know the kennel book goes back to the year 1760. Evidence shows that an earlier pedigree book was destroyed by a fire which also consumed a portion of the kennels, so that the hunt may safely be said to have started then In 1776, however, the fourth Earl Fitzwilliam would appear to have purchased some of the hounds from Lord Foley who had hunted them in Worcestershire. In addition, Will Denne, who had been Lord Foley’s huntsman, came along with the hounds to serve under Lord Fitzwilliam and it was an establishment upon which no expense was spared. Hounds at this time certainly appear to have been fast and this was demonstrated when a match took place between Lord Fitzwilliam’s and Mr. Meynell’s hounds in the Milton country. Ten couples from each kennel competed, and the run lasted for forty minutes, and according to the Milton version of the event, the Fitzwilliam Darter and Druid were first and second.
Up until the time of the fifth Earl the hounds appear to have been taken to Wentworth Woodhouse for periodical visits, generally going north in the early part of the season; and it would seem that in order to keep hunting alive during the absence of the pack in their Yorkshire province the members of the Milton Hunt organised a pack of staghounds, to which Lord Brudenell contributed several couples, and subsequently became the master of the pack, this was in 1820 or 1821.
The sixth Earl Fitzwilliam was renowned as good a sportsman and hunted country in Yorkshire from Wentworth Woodhouse; but he was never Master of the Milton Pack, otherwise known as the Fitzwilliam, for, on the death of the fifth Earl the Hon. G.V. Fitzwilliam took that country, which he held from 1857 to 1874.
To return, however, to the Fitzwilliam hunt, John Clarke, who had been for thirty-six years with the Milton Hounds, succeeded Will Denne as huntsman, and immediately sought to improve the pack by going for fresh blood to other kennels, the Brocklesby and Belvoir among others, and he appears to have been successful in his endeavours, as records indicate the pack showed excellent sport. After Clarke’s well earnt retirement, for he was not by any means a young man when he became huntsman, came the famous Tom Sebright, who hunted Mr. Corbet’s hounds in Shropshire, when Tom Moody was whipper-in. Tom Sebright, junior, was born in 1789 and used to say that he first came to like hunting by hearing his father talk about it when he hunted the New Forest hounds for Mr. Gilbert. Tom Sebright, the elder, was quite well regarded and records from 1802 show he had a great reputation for hunting and horsemanship. He was said to have ‘science enough for a dozen huntsmen,” and he figures in Marshall’s picture of the New Forest Hunt which was engraved about the year 1803. After he gave up active service Tom Sebright retired to Stow-on-the Wold in the Heythrop country, where he died at the age of eighty-five. On retirement, he had many conversations on hounds and hunting with old Jem Hills, the famous Heythrop huntsman, with whom he used to hunt on his cob when hounds were anywhere handy.
Tom Sebright’s love of hunting descended to his son, Tom Sebright, junior, who, according to some, began his hunting career with one of the Surrey packs; but others have it that at only fifteen years of age he went to Mr. Masters. At any rate, his second berth was undoubtedly with Sir Mark Sykes, in Yorkshire, and there he proved himself a bold horseman, if not one of very great judgment. Squire Osbaldeston went north to buy some of Sir Mark Sykes’s hounds and the baronet is reported to have said, “You may as well take our whip as well; we’ve tried him for three seasons and he has killed nil but our horses.” Despite this rather questionable character reference, the Squire took him on and Tom Sebright followed the Squire until the year 1821, when, on the recommendation of Mr. Moore, he was taken on as huntsman to the Fitzwilliam hounds, as successor to John Clarke. With the Milton, he did excellent service. Under the Squire in South Notts and in the Atherstone countries he had picked up a good deal of hound-breeding knowledge, and this was amplified when the pair found themselves in Leicestershire with such hounds as:- Furrier, Rocket, Vaulter, and Vanquisher. Tom Sebright, was the first hunt servant Mr. Osbaldeston engaged when he took the Burton country in 1810, he was second whip to Tom Wilson, the Squire hunting the hounds himself. Sebright at once set to work to improve the pack, and was not long in raising them to a standard which put them on a level with the best in England. He died in 1861 and was buried at Thorpe, close to Will Deane’s grave, after forty years’ of service with the Fitzwilliam hounds.
George Carter, who was so well known at Peterborough Show, was entered as second whipper-in to the Milton pack under Tom Sebright about the year 1846, and soon became First, in 1861, he succeeded Sebright as huntsman, which post he held until his death.
After the death of the fifth Earl Fitzwilliam in 1857, the Hou. George Fitzwilliam took the country, which he held until 1874, when he was succeeded by the Hon. Charles Fitzwilliam, who ruled for three years, when the Marquis of Huntly became master until, in 1880, he made way for the Hon. T.W. Fitzwilliam, who carried on the hunt during-the minority of Mr. George C. Wentworth Fitzwilliam, who, though not a naturally inclined hunting man, took up the country on attaining his majority in 1887, but he held it for a single season only. Then the future of the country became a question; the hunt came on to the market, so to speak, and in 1888 it was taken by Mr. H Wickham, who kept it until 1892, when he made it over to Mr. Joshua Fielden, who had a three years’ reign. At this point, Mr. George Fitzwilliam, rather than see the country go begging, came to the front again. That was in 1895; and then Mr. C. B. E. Wright, who had hunted the Badsworth country for several years, was installed as manager, and he hunted the hounds.
As a final note in the year 1889 great gloom was cast over the Fitzwilliam country by the unexpected death of the Hon. W. J. Fitzwilliam. He was spending the Parliamentary recess at Wentworth and had ridden over to a farm where he transacted some business, and started for home. On the way back the horse came down leaving the Hon Fitzwilliam in an unconscious state from which he never recovered.
The Fitzwilliam, though a good and sporting country, was not considered to be a fashionable country in the sense in which the Quorn, Pytchley, or Cottesmore were thought of as ‘fashionable’ and it attracted no great crowd of winter visitors, though this is perhaps not all bad since it allowed the followers of the Fitzwilliam to have their country to themselves, at least, on certain days of the week. The Fitzwilliam territory measured something like thirty miles by twenty miles, and would even be bigger were it not that the fens, on the eastern side, preclude riding to hounds there.
It was described at the time as essentially a hound country. The woodlands providing every facility for hunting, with the extensive coverts to the west of the Nene being possibly the best schooling ground for young hounds. Monk’s Wood comprises about 1,200 acres ad holds plenty of foxes, while Coppingford and Aversley Woods are also great strongholds with the Oakley and the Pytchley. ‘l’he country lies in Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire, and on its northern side it joins the Cottesmore; on the south it touches the Oakley and the Cambridgeshire; and to the west, the Woodland Pytchley, and Cottesmore are neighbours; while on the east side is the West Norfolk, together with a stretch of land which is not hunted over.
The kennels are only about three miles from Peterborough, which is easily accessible from London bringing trains up and down almost all hours of the day and night; but on Wednesday and Saturday the distance was sometimes longer and the sportsman with Peterborough for his destination at the end of a day’s hunting may have been faced with a nearly twenty-mile journey in front of him, with no chance of taking advantage of the railway.