Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Cottesmore Hunt and the Village

The Cottesmore Hunt is 350 years old and many claim it is the oldest in England. During that time its ownership, kennels and coverage has varied considerably but it has always been centred in Cottesmore area. For many people over the centuries it was the most important event in the social calendar. For others it hardly appeared on the horizon. Now days if you Google Cottesmore the two main results are the Cottesmore Hunt and RAF Cottesmore.  It covers the county of Rutland and parts of west Lincolnshire and east Leicestershire. Until the 1980s, the Cottesmore hunted Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Since then, it has hunted three days a week (with some bye-days) and currently hunts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday

The Cottesmore Hunt began in the 17th century when Viscount Lowther brought a pack of hounds from Lowther Castle in Westmorland to Fineshade Abbey in East Northamptonshire.
The Lowthers had family connections in the area and wished to hunt forests of Rockingham. The Lowther family were to prove instrumental in the Cottesmore Hunt's later development, but they sold their pack in 1695 to Mr Thomas Noel on behalf of the Earl of Gainsborough. Noel was the agent managing the Gainsborough estates in the area of Cottesmore and Exton.

Hounds were moved between three different kennels, including Cottesmore, each season. The Gainsborough family withdrew from this joint Hunt in 1732 and took 25 couple of hounds that began to hunt the country later known as the Cottesmore.

Sir William Lowther bought the pack from the Gainsboroughs and hunted the Cottesmore country from 1788 until 1802 when he became Viscount Lowther, later elevated to Earl of Lonsdale in 1807. The Cottesmore pack was purchased from the new Viscount Lowther in 1802 by Sir Gilbert Heathcote of Normanton Park, ancestor of the Earls of Ancaster but after only four years, William Lowther, the new Earl Lonsdale, resumed his Mastership and continued for another 35 years. . It was the hey-day of Victorian foxhunting, with increasing numbers of visitors flocking from all over Britain and overseas to hunt in the Shires.

Foxhunting in Leicestershire and Rutland became exceedingly fashionable and relatively expensive compared with “provincial” Hunt. Many visitors took rented hunting boxes in Leicestershire and Rutland. The Cottesmore benefited from a growing number of wealthy newcomers who enjoyed living near Oakham and Uppingham and purchased properties for permanent residence. The Cottesmore was known to be “more residential” than its neighbour, the Quorn.

The Hunt grew and prospered. From 1891and  ladies as well as gentlemen were expected to pay subscriptions. St George Lonsdale died and was succeeded by his brother Hugh Lonsdale, who was to became known as “The Yellow Earl” which derived from the colour of his servants' livery and his carriages and became the colours of the AA which he helped found.. 

New kennels and stables were built by the Ashwell cross-roads on the disused Oakham-to-Melton canal. They were built to accommodate 100 couple of hounds, 50 horses, and housed most of the Hunt staff of some 40 grooms and kennelmen. The range of buildings on a spacious site was completed by the builder, Mr Hollis of Cottesmore, in 1889. the Hunt acquired new premises and 40 acres of land by the Cottesmore road at Ashwell, and built a new range of kennels and stables

This information of the visitors residences and the building of the new kennels indicated the economic importance of the Hunt to Cottesmore and the surrounding area. Mr Hollis  is of course part of the Hollis family that still lives in the village.
In the 20th century Sir Henry Tate was an active member of the Hunt (part of the Tate dynasty) and was one of the many well-off families who now weekended in the area either in their own home(second) or with friends.

The Hunt was also responsible for helping our exports, when Hounds from the pack were bred to hunt coyotes in Kentucky as the local hounds were considered not to be fast or strong enough.

The Cottesmore Hunt took on the responsibility for running what was then the Hedgecutting and Ploughing Match Competition from a subcommittee (with a Mr W Hollis of Cottesmore) of the Rutland  Agricultural Society in 1926 and at Braunston in 1930 and it was said that over 31 miles of hedge was laid in the Cottesmore country that year. The annual event was abandoned in 1939 until after the War. The Society then resumed with a ploughing match at Ashwell in 1946 with the next hedgecutting function taking place in March 1948. The one-day competitions continued until 1973.This was an interesting way of keeping the hegdes in trim and providing a ’social’ benefit. 

One downside during this period was the acquisition of land in, 1936, for the new RAF Base just to the East of Cottesmore. No doubt the local huntsmen complained, although I understand they used to have the Hunt Ball at the Base, but I expect the foxes were happier. I wonder if any foxes were ever caught on the Base? Similarly from a little earlier but through to the 1950s the quarrying must have had a considerable impact on the area. These two changes would, I would think have given the Hunt some considerable thought and a change in their hunting patterns, 

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