|Administrative / biographical background:
In the 17th century stags were still hunted in several parks in Bedfordshire, and there was hawking on Dunstable downs. By the 18th century more is heard of hares, while rabbits were not despised. With some references to hunting there is no indication of what was hunted, and it is probable that at first the same pack was used for hunting hares and foxes. In 1678 the Earl of Ailesbury at Houghton Conquest paid wages to a foothuntsman.¹ In 1736 the Carlton parson, Rogers, writes "My son...went a-hunting with Mr. Alston's hounds"²; or in 1759 the Leighton diarist Salusbury writes "Captain Nodes of Luton has gone a-hunting."³
Hounds however began to be bred especially for the livelier work of fox-hunting. "By the year 1710 we can trace hounds being maintained in packs...exclusively for hunting the fox."4 In Bedfordshire at Hinwick Richard Orlebar kept a book "Pedigree of Hounds", 1708-27;5 which refers to hounds of other owners used for breeding purposes. When his health began to interfere with hunting, Orlebar gave 15 couple to the Duke of Grafton in 1722. That Orlebar's hounds were for foxes seems clear from a letter to him from Sir Simon Harcourt referring to "the young foxhunter" (apparently a son who died).
Published information on the Dukes of Bedford in the early and mid-18th century does not give much to connect them with hunting or to make explicit what they hunted. The 4th Duke of Bedford (d.1771) had a reputation for economy. Several properties in Oakley were added to the Woburn estate from 1737 onwards, and by 1765 (Jeffreys' map) there was what a contemporary guidebook describes as a "neat seat" there, perhaps a modest hunting lodge or a converted farmhouse. This may have been for the Marquess of Tavistock, whose portrait was painted by Reynolds in the blue and silver dress of the Dunstable Hunt6 (of this hunt no more is known); he was killed in 1767 riding in Houghton Park. Cole, writing at Bletchley, may have been misinformed when he puts it "he took a very gentle lollop in hunting, but fell unluckily"7.
A private pack was kept in the 1770's by Lord Polwarth, husband of the heiress to "rest Park, and this was definitely for foxhunting. Lady Polwarth tried to explain to her parents that kennels at or near Wrest would cause no trouble. "It seems the huntsman does not live at the kennel, but with the other stable people, and goes to it every day (some old man lives at the kennel to keep it clean), and therefore it must not be placed far off...any place...near any public way Lord Polwarth would not like, because of boys and idle people coming about it and plaguing his dogs (which any noise at the kennel door will do. Another necessary requisite is a spring of water." The estimate for kennels, however, £250, took Polwarth aback. A site must have been found, for Lady Polwarth describes runs.
"They have not actually killed anything but one bagged fox, but the last day they ran a fox to ground, had him dug up with a great deal of trouble, and at present they are chasing him through the rain." 23 Dec. 1773.
"A report was spread that a fox had been seen by the Pavilion, upon which all the bow-wows were brought into the garden and ran yelping about the woods to no purpose. The horses all stayed at the bottom of Cainhill, the huntsmen ran about on foot, and Lord Polwarth and Sir Francis walked about the terrace and grumbled, and 1 made acquaintance with one of the dogs who seemed to like a bit of bread better than a fox-chase. Friday the wind was too high and they lost. At last yesterday they killed a fine old gentleman with a huge brush." 22 Nov. 1774.8
Tavistock's young son Francis succeeded to the Dukedom in 1771 at the age of when he and his brother John grew up they were more expansive than their grandfather. According to the Whitehall Evening Post the Duke at first subscribed to the Meynell (Quorn) hunt, but discontinued this in 1784.9 Knight¹0 says that the Duke bought a large draft of hounds from Meynell, as also some from "Mr. Richard, Sir William Louther, Lord Archibald Hamilton, Mr. Corbet, Mr. Pulaston, and Lord Fitzwilliam." The Morning Chronicle¹¹ in 1785 says "The Duke of Bedford's hunt, though taken up on the extensive scale which is talked of, will not be entirely an object of pleasure." The World¹² in 1788 said that his "pack is the most numerous of any in England", but that "he has not yet drafted those hounds he means to fix on his established hunt." This sounds as if he already contemplated the Oakley Hunt, but it does not appear to have come till some years later.
The new kennels at Woburn were seen by Byng in 1789 (when the young Duke was 24) "established in a pompous style. The huntsman has a charming house...70 couple of hounds fed upon flesh and oatmeal and lying upon straw all the summer."¹³ Greaves, who in his printed history of the Hunt describes a "grand hunt" of 1793, reproduces an account of Woburn in the Sporting Magazine for Feb. 1795: "the dog-kennel is esteemed the completest in England"; between 60 and 70 couple of hounds were kept there, and there was accommodation for 36 hunters.¹4
At the sight of (apparently) still more elaborate kennels at Wyboston in 1794, built by the young Duke for "when his Grace should come to hunt this country... various well built buildings of brick, with strong good doors and well tiled; ... a kitchen, boilers and coppers; with separate apartments for the female hounds during their accouchements; that coals and straw are laid in in great abundance for these hounds...milk also is supplied...The dog kennels proudly overtops those miserable mud hovels erected for the sons of Adam, who...regret...that they are not born fox-hounds", Byng was indignant: "something is rotten in the state of Denmark".¹5
Oakley, unfortunately, is not described by Byng. It seems likely that it was at this time that the house there was built to Holland's designs (these designs are preserved in his sketchbook at the R.I.B.A.).¹6 It was before 1793, in which year the Wrest Park steward secured "a joiner who lives at Bedford and who has done all the Duke of Bedford's work at Oakley House."¹7 The kennels may well have been rebuilt too, and if so the brothers had three kennels strategically placed in the county. Lysons¹8 says that the Oakley villa was John's country seat before he succeeded his brother.
In England generally throughout the 18th century foxhunting was winning the day over the hunting of hares.19 Burrows²0 gives dates of several hunts at this time, the nearest neighbour probably being the Pytchley, dating from 1750. By the end of the century over a dozen hunts were established in many parts of the country. In Bedfordshire too foxhunting was gaining ground. Byng in 1794 writes of "Mr. S.... a young buck was only for the splash and dash of foxhunting, and spoke with bitter contempt of hare hunting."²¹ When William Lee Antonie in 1796 changed his hare hounds to foxhounds. Richard Orlebar writes that this "will be highly approved of by all his neighbours."²² (Antonie, as William Lee, had inherited Colworth in 1771 from Richard Antonie, and therefore took the additional name. He was to be one of the trio who initiated the Oakley Hunt. The other was the Duke's political ally, Samuel Whitbread.
Samuel Whitbread the younger, born in 1764, was a few months older than the young Duke. Both young men were now active in politics on the Whig side. At Wrest, Polwarth was dead, and the future Earl de Grey still a child. In any case, Wrest was in the opposite camp politically, and the Marchioness Grey's steward writes sourly of a county meeting in 1795 when the Duke and his party entered, surrounded by numerous dissenters and a great number of the lower order of mechanics and labourers; and the Duke and Whitbread both spoke a long time with much declamation. (The meeting was followed by petition and counter-petition; the Wrest steward got 40 signatures in Silsoe for his side, but no one there - he says - signed the Duke's)²³ Antonie also was a Whig, and soon became (with Samuel Whitbread) one of the Bedford members 1802-7.
This increasing interest in politics, and again in agricultural matters (witnessed by the sheepshearing at Woburn) was, with maturity - Miss Scott Thomson suggests - distracting the Duke's attention from hunting. His state of health may have contributed; he was only 37 when he died of neglected hernia. A statement made by S.J. Knight of Welwyn in 1829 alleges this as the sole reason: "When the health of Francis, Duke of Bedford, declined...[he asked] Mr. Lee Antonie to take part of his hounds and hunt what is strictly called the Oakley country."²4
A further factor was the pressure of high taxation because of the heavy cost of the Napoleonic wars. Greaves writes²5 that the Duke, having made a return of 26 servants and 30 horses, found himself surcharged with 25 more servants and 17 horses, which on appeal was confirmed. The horses and grooms required for hunting purposes (apparently already somewhat reduced from the earlier figure) were evidently reckoned in with the Duke's domestic establishment for taxation purposes. Others felt the difficulties of the times. Lord Southampton wrote to Antonie on 14 Feb. 1798²6 "In these days of...want of spunk...everybody talks of giving up their hounds...What is determined about the Duke of Bedford's?" An undated estimate by Southampton "expenses for 35 couple of foxhounds (Snugs)" is probably about this time.
Thus there seems every reason at the end of the century why the Duke should decide, not to give up, but to put on another footing what in his first youth had been his chief interest, and which was now more costly, less feasible for health reasons, and was giving way to the more mature interests of the landowner and statesman.
Finally, it seems clear that Samuel Whitbread was a prime mover; he, not having yet plunged deeply, was so far not anxious about the cost; and in spite of his many local and political interests he was still an enthusiastic sportsman. On 4 March 1798 he wrote to Antonie "Pray think on what I proposed to you yesterday - it is the only plan upon which we can have or hope for sport."²7 On 20 March 1798 the Duke wrote to Whitbread: "I will continue my subscription of £500 so long as the hounds are kept at Oakley and Mr. Pitt leaves me the money, but I wish to be considered as having nothing to do with the hounds beyond paying the money... I take it it would be of advantage to the country that the hounds should continue hunting till towards the end of April, but I should like for many reasons to transfer them (if it could be arranged) on the 5th of April, the day on which the new year of assessed taxes commences."²8 Whitbread was evidently the go-between; on 29 March he writes to Antonie: "I saw the Duke of Bedford yesterday, who agrees perfectly to all our proposals respecting the establishment of the hounds at Oakley and will give you the use of the granary, the place Sharp mentioned as convenient for him and his family to live in, in short everything necessary for the use of the hounds. He says there is a 5-stalled stable which he built for Lord Preston Ludlow] which if wanted might be converted into a place for the habitation of Nicholson's family. The boiler he thinks might live over the kennel. If Goosey is wanted he will let him to the hounds, and he consents that the hounds shall hunt the season out from Woburn and then remove to Oakley. Whitbread adds: "I told him what I had added to my subscription, but as he made no motion towards an increase of his own, I could not say a word about it."²9 This sentence is significant as pinpointing their respective positions. Antonie was evidently considering whether in the circumstances to sell part of his own pack; for Whitbread encloses a letter from a possible buyer.³0 That the Duke, Whitbread and Antonie were the founder members is confirmed by a letter from Whitbread to Antonie in the following September: "enclosed you have the draft of our fourth subscriber."³¹ He also writes: "I cannot say how much pleased I am...I knew it would answer, and without you we could do nothing."³² In November he writes about various supplies, such as meal, coal and oats.³³
Of the other members unfortunately it is possible to guess at only a few. Among Antonie's correspondents are J.W. Hawksley, rector of Souldrop 1792-1821; Edward Arrowsmith of London; and Robert Lee, apparently a relation. Others whose names occur in the early years are Lord Ludlow (suc. 1803, d. 1811), who lived at Cople House as the Duke's tenant; and his brother and successor George (d.1842). Antonie writes to Hawksley, then in Sheffield, describing some runs in February, 1799. "Keysoe Park has afforded us some excellent foxes, which have immediately gone away over Keysoe open field, Thurleigh, between Ravensden and Renhold woods, down to Barford, crossed the river, and up to Sheerhatch. Kimbolton has also been favourable, gone away by Hargrave, Kennes meadow, Denford old ash to Barnwell wold."³4 He mentions once in a very thick fog spending the night under a hayrick.³5 In September 1799 he writes "Hunting is again commenced with the Oakley pack with the death of 8 brace of foxes."³6
When the first season was over, the cost gave Antonie cause to reflect, and even to think of resigning. Whitbread wrote on 7 July 1799: "That there can be no pack of hounds unless you will manage them is quite certain...I am aware of the magnitude of the expense...nor had I the smallest intention that new buildings at Oakley should be charged to the subscription fund. I consider that expense my own."³7 Still Antonie was worried. Whitbread replied that initial expenses were always the worst, and that he hoped the price of oats would fall (he little reckoned on the duration of the Napoleonic wars). "I feel bold eno' to undertake...to supply what may be necessary over and above yours and the Duke's subscriptions, and I cannot say how much obliged I feel by your consenting to continue."³8 He therefore asks Antonie to open an account at Barnard's bank, and, under cover of undertaking to collect the subscriptions, he will keep this account supplied. But another year brought home the cost even to Whitbread. With extreme reluctance he thinks there will have to be a reduction in hounds, horses, and servants, and hunting limited to 3 days a week. Oats are very scarce, and "in the present state of the country I do not think quite decorous to go on with the same consumption...as in more abundant times."³9 There were also taxation difficulties. In 1802 Antonie found himself assessed apparently for two packs of hounds, though he maintained that those at Colworth were only veterans and invalids, and that no huntsman or whipper-in was kept there.40
Robert Lee, staying at Woburn in February, 1802, writes to Antonie his views on the training of hounds. He "will not hear of hounds not having been out for some time being an excuse for their being fat. If they are lame, starve them; if not, give them a gallop over the country the day before they hunt. If they are really worn out (like poor Prosper) put them out of the way...Lord Southampton had a very pretty run from King's Wood, Leighton, yesterday (after having killed his first fox) to near Lord Carteret's Park. He missed his fox from a rascal farmer sending them the wrong way that they might not ride over his wheat."4¹ The next month (March 1803) the Duke suddenly died ("our much and more to be lamented friend"4²), and was succeeded by his younger brother John (6th Duke, 1802-39).
Financial difficulties grew. In the winter of 1804/5 there was anxious cogitation. Antonie for a time had given up his own hounds, but "I found Colworth so dull and so gloomy...that I would rather discontinue living here entirely than not have some hounds about the place...In my little way I have felt the ill consequences of the war as well as the Duke and yourself."7sup4;³ Whitbread wrote: "I fear the Oakley establishment must be given up...It is my intention to write to the Duke of Bedford...better the matter should be confined to we three...for the season...which will be giving sufficient time to the gentlemen who have hunted with us...and for the servants...The hounds are between you and the Duke of Bedford and the stable is between you and me."44 The Duke wrote: "Let us try whether...we cannot hold our heads above water."45 But by March 1805 hitbread thought the end in sight and decided to put up his horses at Tattersall's; Antonie is to decide what part of the country he will retain for his own amusement and see what can be done for the staff, Sharp, Nicholson and Wells.46
It rather seems that Antonie thought of trying to run the hunt from Colworth, but that this was costly. Robert Lee was incredulous, recalling the preliminary calculations:
Your establishment of the Snugs 700 estimated expense of new establishment at Colworth 2,200
your sub. to the Oakley hounds 300
sub. from the Duke and Sam 1,500
"I can't help thinking that you don't make up the account justly, which indeed can't be done unless you separate it entirely from your own private establishment."47 In January 1807 Whitbread writes that the Duke leaves the disposing of the hounds to him [Antonie].48 A letter from Ludlow to "Bob" [Robert Lee?] in 1807 reads as if the Duke had tried in vain to persuade Antonie to continue: "I am sorry to find by a message from the Duke of Bedford that he has conversed with Lee Antonie relative to the hounds, and the squire does not wish to have anything more to do with them." "I confess" (Ludlow continues) "it has been a great disappointment to me, having flattered myself...that our efforts to preserve the country, the best of all amusements, and an invaluable pack of hounds would have been crowned with success; and that we should not have been left as wanderers...to sally Brth from what has hitherto been our home in search of a pack of foxhounds...However...we must patiently submit to the irrevocable decree of William Lee Antonie esquire."49
What happened for the next two years is not clear. It seems possible that in fact Antonie carried on. On 13 March 1809 he wrote to Sir George Ludlow that, to prevent any offer from a stranger, he had said that he would carry on. But he thought that Tavistock ought to take the hounds; or failing him, Ludlow or Hoare. "I cannot last". He adds also "The expense is much too great for me."50
Then Tavistock took over. The Duke writes on 4 Ap. 1809 to Whitbread "You will be glad to hear that Tavistock has determined to undertake the arduous task...It is rather hard upon him to exact the sacrifice of half his income...for the gratification of a few gentlemen who are unwilling (yourself excepted) to contribute anything towards their own amusement."5¹ Tavistock's hunting expenses are mentioned in another connection in the Whitbread correspondence; when subscriptions were coming in for the new Bedford bridge, the Duke writes "it strikes me that Tavistock ought to subscribe, but as I believe his hounds run away with all his superfluous cash I must pay the money for him."5² Tavistock wrote courteously to Antonie from time to time, telling him how the season was going.5³ He continued as master till 1816, when he was followed by Ludlow; but resumed the mastership from 1822 to 1829.
Thus, by the sportsmanship of Antonie, the drive of Whitbread, and the substantial part played as sleeping partner by the Duke of Bedford, the Hunt had been launched, and, mainly through Antonie and Tavistock, had survived the difficult period of the Napoleonic wars.
In 1814 the formation of a Club was proposed. Charles Fysshe Palmer worked out draft rules and sent them to Antonie; he had already got Tavistock's approval, but "had great difficulty in persuading Lord Ludlow - I promised he should be perpetual President if he liked it and at last he gave his consent."54 A few days later he wrote "Lord St. John...approves of the plan very much and expresses a great desire that the first dinner may not take place till his return...at the end of the month. Lord Ossory hesitates a little, and says he is afraid of being thought too buckish, but...I do not despair of having the Lord Lieutenant...Already more numerous than I expected...we are now 33, and I do not see any impropriety at stopping at the lytchley number - 40."55
As organised hunting developed in this county in the 19th century, there are three points of interest: premises; hounds; and Master. These are to be seen against a national background of comparative peace and of the heyday of the landed aristocracy (the Dukes of Bedford). It is the world of Trollope.
Permanent premises were acquired in 1834. For the first 30 years the Hunt enjoyed the hospitality of the Duke (or the Marquess of Tavistock) at Oakley. Berkeley during his term as Master, 1829-34, created kennels at Harrold. "Mr.Berhil converted the barn into a feeding-house, the cow-sheds into lodging-houses, and a portion of the farmyard into a spacious yard for hounds;...another large shed made an over-night kennel for the hunting hounds, and a lesser one a house for the bitches. The coachhouse made a 3-stall stable; cart stables comfortable stalls and boxes...boiling-house, with running water at hand, built a little way off."56 The unsatisfactory effect of having no permanent headquarters was again evident when Berkeley left. In 1834 a close of 2½a. at Milton Ernest was acquired for £341, and stables and kennels were built on it at a cost of £859. Yet this cost was not met by all subscribers, but by 4 gentlemen in equal proportions (Tavistock, Ludlow, J.B. Praed and Hollingworth Magniac). These signed a declaration to the effect that if at any future time the Committee of any subscription pack of foxhounds hunting regularly in that part of Bedfordshire commonly called the Oakley country, and elected by the general body of subscribers to that hunt, repaid them the money expended with interest at 4%, they would convey to that Committee the close and buildings. This situation caused complication later. In 1893 counsel stated that the declaration was "a personal agreement only as to the common action of four joint owners in certain contingencies which never arose and cannot now arise." The Duke of Bedford now held Ludlow's share as well as his own; Praed's had gone to R.W.G. Tyringham; Magniac's to Herbert Richard Magniac who became bankrupt in 1893. The 11th Duke (who succeeded in March 1893) in 1894 acquired the remaining shares, and in 1903 he conveyed the property to trustees. Since then the property has continued to be vested in trustees, who have completed declarations to the effect that they stand possessed on trust for the Committee for the time being of the Oakley Hunt. The original property had been enlarged in 1873 by the purchase of another 2½a. at Milton Ernest; and in 1912 20 a. at Yelden called Shelton gorse were acquired. Small amounts have however been sold off: 290 sq. yds. at Milton Ernest for road-widening in 1939; 1 a. to A.W.E. Scarlett in 1946; and 6 a. at Yelden to the Air Ministry in 1947.
Until the hounds were owned by the Hunt, they were in general the property of the Master for the time being, who, having bred up a good pack, could sell all or most of it on retiring. For the first 30 years however the hounds seem to have been almost entirely those of the Duke or Tavistock (supplemented in the early years by those of Antonie). After Tavistock's second period as Master, he was told by his doctor that he must give up hunting. He at first waited to see whether some arrangement would be made by the Hunt. "My resolution all along has been to keep the establishment entirely free till I could learn the wishes of the country...for that reason...I did not propose any measure of my own" he wrote; and "the best pack of foxhounds in England may be spoilt in six months, which the gentlemen assembled at the Swan appear not to have been aware of."7sup5;7 When nothing was concluded he sold the hounds to Lord Southampton, Master of the uorn, 1827-31.58 Some other suggestions fell through, but G.F.Berkeley was anxious to come and was accepted to hunt the country 4 days a week on a subscription of £1000. He took Harrold Hall; here, with some hounds which he had brought, he bred up a new pack; which was dispersed when he retired in 1834. D.R. Dansey was the new Master; he, according to Greaves, brought his own hounds from Ludlow, and they were housed in the new premises at Milton Ernest. In 1836 Tavistock again took over, and continued for two years after he became 7th Duke in 1839, when (according to Greaves) he again sold hounds to Lord Southampton. Hollingworth Magniac, who became Master in 1841, built up a new pack. When Robert Arkwright began his 35 years' mastership in 1850, he bought the pack for £400. As time went on he felt the financial strain, and in 1876 the 9th Duke (1872-91) bought the hounds for £1,500 and handed them over to the Hunt on condition that they would remain in the country and he kept in their then efficiency. The number at that time was 43 couple old, 15 couple young, 45 couple puppies. When the new Master took over (T.B. Miller) the number of hounds to be handed over at the end of his term was stipulated (58 couple). Thus at last the hounds had become the property of the Hunt.
The Master undertook for an agreed sum to hunt the country so many days a week, and members apparently each season announced what they would give for that year; if it was not sufficient, efforts were made to get more; or from time to time there were deficits which had to be met by appeals. The Master's personality has always been important. The most controversial seems to have been Berkeley (1829-34). His term is vividly described by himself, both in his Life and Reminscences, written 20 and 30 years later; both need to be toned down somewhat in the light of contemporary correspondence. He seems to have got on well with the farmers, who presented a memorial to the Duke in his favour; but was too strong an individualist for the Hunt. Lack of accord almost came to a duel between himself and the Secretary, Samuel Charles Whitbread, in 1832;59 this was eased over by the help of Lord Canrickard and Captain Duberly. In the time of his successor, Dansey, the sum subscribed was £1,300; in 1855 £1,500; in 1862 £1,800. The number of days to be hunted was usually 4 days a week. Sometimes complaints were made as to the fair distribution of meets over the county. The Masters who stand out as having had long and/or successful terms are William Lee Antonie; Tavistock, later 7th Duke and three times Master; Robert Arkwright; and Esme F.W. Arkwright who died in the field in November 1934.
Masters portraits Secretaries Club Secretaries
Wm. Lee Antonie 1798-1809
Lord Ludlow 1816-22 C.F.Palmer 1814-24
G.C.G.Berkeley 1829-34 S.C.Whitbread 1824-45
(as Duke) 1839-41
Magniac 1841-7 H. Thornton 1845-85
Hogge 1847-50 (with W.B.Higgins)
Portraits R. Arkwright 1850-85 F.J.Thynne, 1878-86
(with Turner Macan 1876-85
Portraits T. Butt Miller 1885-8 W.F.Higgins, 1886-99 F.S.Wigram 1885-99
Portraits Capt. Hugh Browning 1888-97
Portraits P.A.O. Whittaker 1897-1904 W.L.Fitzpatrick 1899-1908
Portraits E.F.W. Arkwright 1904-15, 1921-34 R.E. Bucknall 1908-
(D.Fraser Acting 1915-19 A.F.Thompson, 1914-46
F.B. Kidd 1919-21
Capt. Barton Hudson 1931-3
The Misses Farrar 1933-5)
Lord Melchett & Miss Farrar 1935-8
Hon. P. Lawson Johnston & W.H.F. Brunskill 1938-9
Committee 1939-47 R.I.Wade-Gery, 1947-
Lord Luke 1947-9