The Badsworth and Bramham Moor
Inextricably linked to the Bramham estate, the Bramham Moor merged with neighbouring pack and equally venerable institution the Badsworth 16 years ago
It is always a good omen when you are offered a glass of something strong on arrival
As the sun sank down towards the horizon, I said my “Good nights” and turned my horse’s head towards home. With the sound of Nick Thornicroft’s hunting horn echoing in the air, I hacked home through Bramham Park, past the magnificent Queen Anne house and through the parkland. The light was fading fast but the vivid oranges and reds of the grand old beeches stood out against the gloaming like thousands of tiny beacons. As my horse jogged along, I felt I could almost reach out and touch the estate’s hunting past. Like the other famous hunting Bs — Badminton, Berkeley and Belvoir — Bramham has been inextricably linked with foxhunting for centuries, ever since George Fox Lane first brought a pack of foxhounds here in 1740.
That pack came to be known as the Bramham Moor and in the 19th century it became one of the most celebrated packs in the country, partly due to James ‘Jemmy’ Lane Fox. He was a close friend of the great Hugo Meynell, the Master of the Quorn who is said to be the father of modern foxhunting. Meynell’s influence clearly rubbed off on Lane Fox and the Bramham Moor, because by the mid-19th century Bramham hounds were being used in every top kennel in the country and fields of more than 300 riders were regularly attending meets.
Those were the heydays of the Bramham Moor and an enormous amount has changed since then, not least the loss of country to urbanisation and roads. In 2002, the Bramham Moor merged with its southern neighbour, the Badsworth, to become the Badsworth and Bramham Moor (BBMH).
This was a neat fit, because the Badsworth is as venerable a hunting institution as the Bramham Moor. Founded some 20 years before the Bramham Moor by Thomas Bright, it included drafts from the Charlton Hunt, reputedly the first established foxhunt in the UK. Like its neighbour, it soon gained a reputation for showing excellent sport. Indeed, one of its early runs is immortalised in the Ballad of Badsworth Hunt, a hunting song that is still sung today.
While the Bright family connection has long since disappeared, the Lane Fox family has been involved with the hunt through the intervening centuries, supplying a succession of MFHS. There are no Lane Foxes in the mastership at the moment but the family still welcomes the BBMH onto the Bramham estate, including on Christmas Eve, when hounds meet in front of the house. Another popular fixture is the meet at Well Hill Farm, an estate farm that sits on the eastern edge of the park and my destination one chilly November morning as I pulled into the Bramham estate off the A1.
Within seconds of leaving the hurlyburly of this motorway, I was greeted by the autumnal tableau that would be the accompaniment to my day: woodlands full of beech and lime, aflame with reds and oranges. It is always a good omen when you are offered
a large glass of something strong as soon as you arrive at the meet, so I was delighted when field secretary Jill Morphet pressed a huge tumbler of whisky into my hand on my arrival at Well Hill.
Morphet, who is known as ‘Dodge’ by the locals, is a Bramham Moor girl through and through, and runs a cattle and pheasant farm near Harrogate.
“I turn up to meets with whisky, port, the occasional dead calf to feed to the hounds, and perhaps a pheasant or two for the farmers,” she said.
The hospitality continued as our hosts, Ian and Sue Westwood, ushered us into their kitchen for more refreshments. This is where I met Wayne Burnell, the BBMH’S Senior Joint Master, who had helped organise my visit. Burnell has hunted with the Bramham Moor – and subsequently the BBMH – for more than 30 years and is in his 15th season as Joint Master. A successful amateur jockey in his time, Burnell rode round the Fox Hunters’ at Aintree twice and notched up 50 winners in point-to-points and under Rules.
I was feeling quite jolly by the time I got on my horse and joined the assembled field for the meet, which may have been a good thing because about a quarter of an hour later, huntsman Nick Thornicroft and 22½ couple of hounds threw off and Joint Master and fieldmaster Cathy Hewitt led us off on a sharp spin in his wake. We were almost immediately jumping, first a rather awkward drop fence and then a succession of post-and-rails.
As we headed into the park, some of the field popped a broken-down piece of hedge. Flushed with whisky, I pulled out and jumped a solid part. I felt rather pleased at having jumped my first and, as it turned out, only Bramham hedge.
This opening blast took us to Rakes Wood and Dawsonfield Plantation, where we checked and listened to hounds’ voices ringing through the woodland. There is something uniquely thrilling about the sound of hound music in big woodlands, as it swells to fill the space like organ music fills a cathedral.
Hounds hunted on well into Black Fen, the name of which suggests it might be some desolate tract of land. It is, however, a beautifully landscaped woodland that was planted at the same time as the house was built. Neat rides intersect the lime and beech woodland and obelisks and follies adorn man-made glades. It may not be your typical fox covert but, according to William Scarth Dixon’s A History of the Bramham Moor Hunt, it featured heavily in some of the Bramham Moor’s great runs.
new england hues
Against the type of autumnal backdrop that can only be matched by New England in the fall, hounds rattled around Black Fen for more than an hour and a half, speaking almost incessantly. Nick Thornicroft watched them patiently as they worked, encouraging them occasionally with a note from his horn.
Thornicroft is only in his first season here but has already made his mark. “We had a couple of difficult seasons a few years ago, but with Nick’s infectious enthusiasm things are really gelling,” said Andrew Mccloy, the BBMH’S chairman. What struck me was the quiet confidence that Thornicroft and
his pack exuded; I felt that they really knew their business and that good sport was never far away.
Unusually, Thornicroft has as one of his whippers-in a former huntsman and current Joint Master in the shape of Nigel Dickson, who is something of a Yorkshire hunting institution. Dickson started his hunting career by whipping-in to Bramham Moor for seven seasons, then hunting the neighbouring York and Ainsty South for nine seasons, before returning to the BBMH to carry the horn for 16 seasons. The Dickson influence is set to continue, too, as his son, Willy, also whips-in.
In fact, Dickson hasn’t altogether given up hunting hounds, because on Boxing Day the BBMH still sends out two packs of hounds, one to Aberford (the old Bramham Moor Boxing Day meet) and one to the Wentbridge Hotel (the old Badsworth Boxing Day meet), one of which is hunted by Thornicroft and the other by Dickson. “It’s kind of complicated but it works,” said Joint Master Katie Brownbridge. “Both meets are so well attended and the pubs do such good business. We didn’t want to take that away from the locals.”
The identities of the two old hunts are retained in other ways, too; the buff breeches worn by Joint Masters Burnell and Dickson are a throwback to the old Bramham Moor livery; the blue collars worn by subscribers are Badsworth collars.
We had been mainly in the woodlands up until now, so there was not much by the way of jumping but Fieldmaster Hewitt managed to keep us entertained by leading us over the hunt fences that are strategically located across the estate. The BBMH’S country is enormous, stretching from Harrogate in the north down to Doncaster in the south, and the territory that Hewitt looks after is typical of the variety of the country.
“As well as the Bramham area, I look after Weeton, which is hedge country along the River Wharfe, and Hampsthwaite and Dob Park, which are wall-and-hedge countries, with a bit of moorland,” she said.
It can be a lonely job clearing country for hunting but Hewitt has the ideal ally in field secretary Jill Morphet. “We are like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, we go round and see the farmers together and take the bollockings together. We’re a good team,
because she’s got the looks and I’ve got the farming banter,” joked Morphet.
As well as the farmers and landowners, there are also plenty of keepers to see in the BBMH’S country and Hewitt pointed out Bramham’s headkeeper, Howard Brittain, who was following in his Land Rover. Brittain has been keeper at Bramham for 33 years and, as Hewitt is keen to point out, is very accommodating to the hunt.
Thus far hounds had confined themselves to the woodlands but we did enjoy one quick spin in the open, as they hunted the trail at a sharp pace away from Black Fen, across the park towards the house and its gardens. It is always a joy to gallop over old parkland and our horses seemed to float over the old turf as hounds streamed across it in front of us.
Bramham is, of course, the venue of one of the most prestigious three-day events in the world and as we went, I spotted several of the three-day event fences. In days of old members of the field may have had a sneaky pop over some of the those obstacles, but now that they are so big and technical any self-respecting hunter would regard them as we would regard an alien spacecraft.
I did, however, meet subscriber Sophie Platt, who had ridden around the three-day event in the under-25 class but had ended up getting a ducking in the lake. Unperturbed, Platt is having another tilt at Bramham next year, on the horse she was hunting today, a handsome chestnut called Caesar II.
After passing the front of the magnificent house, we made our way out of the park and into Ragdale Plantation and Stubbing Moor. Thornicroft carried on drawing as twilight fell, but I decided to call it a day. It had not been one of those adrenaline-fuelled jumping days that we have come to expect from modern hunting but I felt I had experienced something more subtle and ancient. We have been following hounds through woodland and forest far longer than we have over grass and hedges, and my day with the BBMH, among Bramham’s autumnal splendour, was an excellent reminder of that.
Clockwise from top left: chairman’s wife Christine Mccloy; Andrew Tasker MFH; field secretary Jill Morphet; Nicky Burrows; Andrew Mccloy; huntsman Nick Thornicroft
Above: Cathy Hewitt MFH leading the field Below: hounds working in Bramham Park
Above: Jackie Harrison pops a fence. Right: hunt staff, hounds and the field in front of Bramham House