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.”

hunt iden­ti­ties

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

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