The Atherstone Hunt has been in existence since 1815 when the kennels were established at Witherley and have been there ever since. In those days the hounds were able to hunt six days a week, but there has been a vast change in this part of England and urbanization has devoured a great deal of countryside, therefore it is now only considered safe to hunt on two days per week, these being Tuesday and Saturday.
The members of the hunt have a variety of jobs and professions including: engineers, plumbers, electricians, lorry drivers, university lecturers, medical sales woman, GPs, gynecologist, advertising agents, scrap metal dealer, hotel promotion manager, accountant, computer technician, boarding kennel owner, land agent, insurance broker, civil engineer, newsagent, auctioneer, agriculture contractor, nursery nurse, MMB recorder, farmers, house wives and children. They total 180. There are no titled or very large landowners currently hunting with the Atherstone. Beside these riding members there are numerous car followers, including a member of the clergy. Up to 70 or 80 cars a day can follow the Atherstone hunt. Many of the occupants are retired and elderly and really look forward to their winter of hunting which would otherwise be long and dreary. One of our most loyal supporters was a local dustman and on his death he left his meager belongings to the hunt and there is a plaque at the kennels to commemorate his life and commitment to the hunt.
There is a supporters club with an approx membership of 250 and one of our most recent recruits is a young lad of school age. He is disabled and spends his life in a wheel chair. Attending the meets of the Atherstone hounds gives this boy enormous pleasure. He takes photographs of the hunt and then produces them at the special school he attends where his young colleagues are fascinated and ask for more.
On Boxing Day the meet was in the small town of Market Bosworth, the site of the battle of Bosworth Field. The town square was completely full of the general public, estimated to be 2500 to 3000 (a larger crowd than usual), all there to enjoy this long standing countryside tradition and to show their strong support for hunting.
On New Years day the town centre of Atherstone was also full of hunting supporters and on neither occasion was there one anti hunt campaigner in sight, which proves to us that in this quite heavily populated area that the majority of the general public do not feel a ban on hunting is an issue they wish to either support or be bothered with.
There are several families who all hunt with the Atherstone, of which mine is one. The immense pleasure that parents get when partaking in the same pastime as their children is immeasurable and is unlikely to be replaced by any other activity.
As can be seen from the variety of occupations that our members have, hunting gives them a unique opportunity to get away from the exhausting pressures of modern business life and to really become involved in our beautiful English countryside and experience the feeling of anticipation, exhilaration spiced with a flow of adrenaline, find an affinity with nature, experience the beauty of autumn mornings and the glories of being out with hounds on a winters day. The gradual emergence of spring and finally the end of the season and as the weather warms up your winter companion, your horse, the one that has carried you valiantly throughout the last six months is turned out to grass to spend a lazy summer and eagerly await the forthcoming season.
The Atherstone Hunt employs four regular staff and provides accommodation for three. They are all loyal employees who work many hours, some of them unsociable. In fact they have devoted their lives to the sport of hunting and love their work. There is no timetable; they just do whatever is required of them. A large proportion of the work done by two of our staff is the collection and disposal of casualty farm animals, many of which need to be humanely destroyed. This work can only be considered by many people to be utterly revolting. Also during this present winter over 1000 unwanted calves have been humanely shot and disposed of. At least 40 to 50 horses per year are put down and also disposed of. Many letters of gratitude are received from the owners of these horses and they praise the way our staff carry out the unpleasant but very necessary task. This work has become more important since the BSE crisis as many of the knacker men have closed down their businesses and our farmers are very grateful that the Atherstone Hunt are still able to offer this valuable service. The total number of carcasses collected each year is in excess of 2500 and costs the hunt £20000.
Other duties of the staff include the welfare of 50 hounds and 7 horses. Local businesses are used to supply whatever is necessary and these include: feed merchants, hardware stores, veterinary practice, blacksmith, timber merchants, saddler, tailor, garage and fuel supplier, therefore supplying trade to the community.
Social events include: a point to point which is attended by 3-4000 people, team event where at least 70 teams of 4 have an enjoyable day, hunter trials and summer show, terrier and lurcher show and a young hound show which one family have been associated with for over 100 years. There are 2 hunt balls attended by nearly 1000 people, 2 dinners, darts and skittles evenings, fur and feather auction held in a working man’s club. All of these functions are supported and enjoyed by both hunting and non-hunting people. They are run by various committees, which binds people together and creates a wonderful community spirit.
From the proceeds of these functions donations to charities are made whenever possible. At least 4 charities will benefit this year.
There is also a very active Atherstone Hunt Branch of the Pony Club, which was started by hunting families. It creates a competitive environment for its members. During the summer there are two pony club camps where 50 to 60 seniors enjoy a week of training, competition and good healthy fun and 70 juniors go to a local farm for 3 days to partake in similar activities. A wonderful way of life of which my 3 children were lucky enough to take part in. I have had no drugs problems for which as a caring parent I am eternally grateful.
The Atherstone Pony Club were particularly good at the Prince Phillip Games and the Trainer an ex master of the Atherstone Hunt was invited to train the English team when they visited America.The Hunt invite the Pony Club to have 2 days hunting each, year, put on specially for children. Well over 150 attend and great fun is had by all.
The Atherstone, hunt on 40 days per season, starting at the beginning of September and finishing the third week in March.
During the summer months the Hunt plays it’s part in the rural social calendar, by appearing at approximately 6 agricultural and horse shows. Children are always invited into the main arena to say hello to the hounds and horses. Many of these children are from urban backgrounds and they really enjoy becoming part of rural life, if only for a few moments. These outings are nearly always on a Sunday, our dedicated staff give their time free of charge and with no complaint.
Meets are held at private houses and farms and at least 25 public houses make us very welcome, which creates trade for them on winter days when perhaps there wouldn’t be any.
The hunt carries a public insurance liability of £5 million and should they be responsible for damage suffered by a third party, apologies and financial remuneration are immediately offered; eg some horses escaped whilst the hunt was in the area, one suffered minor cuts and a garden was badly trampled. A moral responsibility was accepted by the hunt, the veterinary and garden repair expenses were immediately paid.
14 coaches went from the Atherstone Hunt country to the London March in 1998. There have been no recent local protests against hunting. Anti hunt demonstrators visit barely once a season (they are not local) Relationships with the Police are exceptionally good During the 1970’s and 80’s there was a pack of bloodhounds kenneled in the Atherstone country. This was disbanded through total lack of support A farmer/landowner map has been produced for the North Warwickshire Constituency. In excess of 260 farmers have been visited, only 2 agree with government legislation to outlaw hunting. Three covers to celebrate the millenium are due to be planted on land donated by hunting people. Of the huntable country, totaling approximately 750 farmers, less than 1% completely ban hounds.
The relationship between the Atherstone hunt and the large majority of landowners and farmers where 30 plus hounds and numerous horses are welcome without being charged a fee is quite remarkable. Although agriculture is at a very low ebb, the support for hunting is as strong as ever and has probably been strengthened by the proposed ban. If other communities were able to repeat the bond that hunting and farming have the world would be a far better and safer place to live.
Compiled and written by: Richard J Tyacke MFH