▲ IN THE PINK IN PETERBOROUGH,
With its Royal Foxhound Show, inter-hunt relay, showing classes and tradestands, the Festival of Hunting is venery’s perfect summer celebration
Those who pine for hounds in the summer months, or are preoccupied with the business of breeding them, may be found taking tea at puppy shows but the really serious business happens at Peterborough. The first time I attended Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show I found the sunny sight and sounds of hounds electrifing, a pleasure previously restricted to joyful winter days spent hunting. Eminent Masters were grouped together in serious conversation or throwing back bowler-hatted heads to laugh with friends; ladies in garden-party garb with straw hats and pearl chokers chatted discretely while casting discerning eyes over the whole scene; the hounds lounged or paced in their kennels and, like their huntsmen, looked a little warm.
The Peterborough Royal Foxhound Show Society was founded in 1878 under the chairmanship of the Marquis of Huntly and with the Patronage of HRH The Prince of Wales; the first president was the then Earl Fitzwilliam. Hound breeding was a serious business then, as now, and if a gentleman owned a pack of hounds he would be interested in improving it through judicious breeding. Hound shows offer an opportunity for prospective stallion hounds to be viewed and assessed as well as for interrogation of their Masters and huntsmen on the animal’s sporting credentials, the most important consideration in most cases.
The evolution, growth and continued success of Peterborough are a testament to how much it is cherished. This, however, does not stand in the way of modernisation and development. The successful marriage of these potentially conflicting imperatives reflects well on the committee, East of England Agricultural Society chief executive Jeremy Staples, Katie Tottenham and Georgie Fowle of show organiser Addo Events, and the hunting world in general.
“Peterborough’s always special and every year it seems to have grown,” Lord Annaly,
the society’s joint vice-chairman, tells me. He has been involved since the mid-1970s, a steward since 1992 and has seen significant changes. Initially part of the East of England Show, Peterborough was held over three days, each featuring different hounds. “I enjoyed that very much,” Lord Annaly admits, “but there probably aren’t very many of us who had the time and the inclination.”
When the East of England Show chose to move its dates, Peterborough chose not to go with it (the summer season for hounds being surprisingly busy). Instead, it contracted the judging of hounds to a single full day, which has got busier and busier.
When the Festival of Hunting was created in 2005 following the Hunting Act, sharing the same day and venue as Peterborough at the East of England Showground, it introduced a commercial entity to the day and so began a fine balancing act. David Ralley-davies was in charge during the transition and stresses that “it is key that the Festival doesn’t engulf the Hound Show”. However, he believes Peterborough’s “roots run so deep that that could never happen” and sees its success in the hound show’s “historic values [being] preserved through a modern approach, traditions such as the vice-president’s seating pattern”, where key positions around the main ring were passed down the generations, remained as the Festival developed, so through continuity nothing scared the horses. “It is really nice
‘Peterborough’s always special and every year it seems to have grown’
that in 50 years’ time [the hound show] will be run along the same lines… hounds will be in the same kennels.” Details that might otherwise be subsumed by commercial considerations are preserved and the “comradery and respect within the group makes it all work”.
It is a fact universally acknowledged that “the ’oss loves the ’ound”, so only fitting for those of us, like Jorrocks, who “loves both” that the Festival of Hunting has embraced the equestrian side of the chase. In 2005, the knock-out inter-hunt relay race was introduced, run over two mirrored courses of rustic poles in a side arena, each team member passing a hunting whip to the next; it is nail-biting stuff.
In the early days, some of the hunters seemed confused to have been called back from their summer holiday, polished up and invited to career around a ring; others found being able to hear hounds while confined to an area roped-off with silly poles rather bothersome. It was amateur but great fun. Since then, the “friendly rivalry” between hunts has raised the competition’s game
enormously but it is still an event for hunters. All the horses must hunt regularly and the race is run in hunting kit (ratcatcher if it’s really hot). Like the hunting field in microcosm, each team consists of a range of ages and weights. There is also a prize for the best-turned-out team, the Fitzwilliam seeming to have that sewn up, having won or been placed for the past few years. In addition, Horse of the Year Show qualifiers will be held this year, including working hunters, ridden hunters and working hunter ponies, all classes hotly contested. The itinerary for 2017 certainly demonstrates that the event has truly become a Festival of Hunting.
In addition to the hounds, horses and terriers, there are tradestands offering all the kit essentials, from boots and stocks to Quorn huntsman Peter Collins’ new safety hats, all gathered around the hound rings so it is easy to shop without missing the action. As Rally-davies confirms, “Someone new to hunting would be amazed to see how much is involved in hunting and Peterborough is the one place you can go to do that, a onestop shop to get kitted out for hunting.”
Tradestands are carefully chosen, even as the show grows, to ensure they are a good fit. Between classes you can be fitted for new Horace Batten or Davies boots and traditional breeches ready for next season. This approach seems to work for everyone, as confirmed by long-term exhibitor Daniel Crane. He believes the Festival “remains focused on the timeless joy of hounds and hunting, upholding the standards of sport that we should all aim to achieve. It’s a pleasure to be part of.”
The show has found a sympathetic sponsor in financial services provider Lycetts, which acts for the MFHA and has an extensive rural client base. “Being at Peterborough is important for us as it enables our staff to meet and engage with as many clients, prospective clients, friends and contacts from the world of hunting as possible – it is the summer showpiece for hounds and for hunting people to gather,” believes CEO Angus Keate. “We believe it important to support that section of the rural community, with which we have a such a great affinity.”
The Festival ‘remains focused on the timeless joy of hounds and hunting’
‘The rosettes do get spread around a bit now,’ says Sir Philip Naylor-leyland
Despite all the additional attractions, this, the most important hound show in the world, is not just a beauty pageant. Every entered hound has hunted and proved its worth as part of a working pack before getting a good wash and brush-up for the show. By the time a hound reaches Peterborough, the pinnacle of hound show appearances, it is unlikely to be a novice in the ring. “You seldom see a shy hound there,” Henry Berkeley – Master of the Berkeley who has judged at the festival – tells me, so it really is the best opportunity to enjoy “the nicest hounds to look at” in all their glory.
The judges are experienced, too, as chairman Sir Philip Naylor-leyland confirms. “We choose even more experienced judges for the bitches… [they are] harder to judge because they tend to be more uniform and better quality.” Lord Annaly agrees that “the whole standard is very high, it takes quite a lot of judging”. Berkeley jokes that the bassetts are the hardest to judge, “that’s when you know you’re out of your depth, their legs are shorter”. His interest is serious, however, and he agrees that the “standard of hound is going up” while cautioning against “the same stallion hounds [being used]” and “shrinking the gene pool”.
Being alert to potential problems before they arise is among the benefits of hounds working for a living – handsome is as handsome does here. But handsome has been doing well and “the rosettes do get spread around a bit now”, reports Naylor-leyland. “There are plenty of breeders out there who are succeeding in breeding great hounds.” But certain packs do tend to get consistent results. “The bigger packs have more hounds in kennel, more to breed from and more to choose from,” which chimes with Lord Annaly’s advice that “the champion hound often comes from the two-couple class, a class that many packs would have difficulty finding a level, well-matched two couple of hounds to enter”.
Prior to being tempted by all there is to enjoy once inside the gate, there is no need
to worry about what to wear on the way in. “People aren’t barred from coming in in casual clothes,” Lord Annaly reassures. “It has become more casual, reflecting what has happened in the hunting field.”
“Even some of the judges aren’t wearing stiff collars any more,” says Berkeley. So it’s fine to dress comfortably, although you will still see the hounds and their connections well turned out, with suits and bowlers or tea dresses and straw hats on those in the know around the covered modern foxhound ring.
Peterborough has been “sexed up really well”, Berkeley adds. “It appeals to everyone now, it’s a jolly place to be.” It’s certainly a chance to meet far-flung hunting friends in the summer, catch up on the gossip and you never know who you might meet. Having spotted Ghostbusters actor Dan Aykroyd in the crowd one year, it was almost impossible to concentrate on the hounds.
Left: the Fitzwilliam leaving the arena Centre from top: the fiercely competitive inter-hunt relay; the Royal Artillery wait to go in; young Jack Higgs with a Trinity Foot Beagle Above: the VWH winning the couples class
Above: judge Adam Waugh MFH, steward Tom Naylor-leyland and judge Charles Frampton MFH, 2016. Above left: an Old English class
Above left: Matthew Higgs judging the Beagles class Below left: the Grove & Rufford winning the Dog Hound Championship (Jane Strawson MFH, judge Martin Scott and huntsman Paul Larby) Above: patterdales compete in the Fell Terriers class