In the Begining
Sir Richard Puleston started hunting in the area from 1792, though the area had been hunted for many years before. The Hunt was then known as the Shifnal and Enville the name being changed when kennels were moved to Albrighton in 1830. The country, which extends some 30 miles north to south, 20 miles east to west, lies in Shropshire and Staffordshire. The Albrighton country – which extends roughly from Newport and Stafford in the North to Bridgnorth and Wolverhampton in the South, – may be described as an “old-fashioned” sporting country, one of mixed farming, and with, even today, a fair proportion of grassland, despite the present tendencies of agriculture. It is a country that takes a bit of riding over, for though the fences themselves are not always particularly strong, they are usually planted on banks, and have strong growers. There is often, too, a ditch to them, which may wither be deep, and therefore well defined, or may be shallow, wide, and poached. The wire problem, of course, exists, as it does in all countries today. But a very real effort is made to cope with it, and in consequence it is always possible to get about. The Albrighton, moreover, is on the whole a good scenting country, even today, when modern conditions militate so much against it; when the land is really wet, then can hounds run fast.
The Hunt owes a very considerable debt to Mrs. E. M. Vaughan, who for seventeen seasons carried the responsibilities of Mastership single-handed, and steered the fortunes of the Hunt through the very difficult days of the war. Moreover, throughout this time she expended endless care on the breeding of the pack, and has had time to see the results of her efforts. The Albrighton hounds, of which we shall have more to say later, are a very consistently bred pack, level in appearance, and of the type admirably suited to the country, having plenty of substance, combined with quality. Moreover, they can hunt, being full of drive and determination, and with plenty of music. The sport they show, despite all the difficulties of present-day conditions, can compare with the best that the Albrighton can boast of in the past.
Mrs. Vaughan, too, is well-known as a beautiful horse-woman, and a fine judge of a horse. She has herself bred some of the best, among which may be numbered Sir Lindsay and Merrivale.
The traditions of the Albrighton Hunt have always been in safe hands. It may be of some interest to trace those traditions, and see how sport has been built up in the Albrighton country.
The Albrighton Hunt came into existence in 1825, the country then extending from Newport down to Bewdley and Kidderminster, taking in what is now the Albrighton Woodland. There had, however, been plenty of foxhunting in the country long before that, for this part of England, and Shropshire particularly, has an amazing number of different packs and famous Masterships to its credit, more, perhaps, than any other.
The Albrighton country as a whole has always fallen naturally into the North and South divisions, as it does today. Thus, in the early days there was what was known as the Shifnal country in the north and Enville country in the south, which were usually hunted separately. Thus, about 1792 there was a Hunt known as the Enville, under the Mastership of the Earl of Stamford and Warrington, who may be regarded as the first Master of Hounds in this part of the country. While from 1786 onwards, for a matter of forty years, Sir Richard Puleston, of Emral in Flintshire, was hunting the Wynnstay country, and being short of foxes there, frequently visited the Shifnal country, staying at Pattingham and having kennels at Ivetsy Bank. Whether such famous Shropshire sportsmen as George Forester of Willey Hall, Broseley, or William Childe of Kinlet, ever came across the Severn is doubtful, but very possibly they did, though their exploits are mostly connected with the Ludlow and Wheatland countries.
For the first twenty years of the nineteenth century the Enville country seems to have been hunted largely as an adjunct to the Worcestershire, under such Masterships as those of Lord Foley, Mr. Newnham and Mr. Hornyhold. Meanwhile, the Shifnal country saw various packs of hounds at different times, including those of Col. John Cook, who was hunting part of the Atherstone, and those of the notorious Jack Mytton, the made squire of Halston, who used the Ivetsy Bank kennels between 1817 and 1821. These kennels were also used as outlying ones by Sir Bellingham Graham, who took over South Shropshire in 1923, and hunted it, with the Shifnal country, in princely style for a number of seasons.
The notorious Jack Mytton (a visiting Master of the Hunt from 1817 to 1821 known as "the made Squire of Halston") hunted the Shifnal country using Sir Richard's kennels. Squire Mytton led a colourful life, to the ripe old age of 32, when he died of pneumonia, as a result of going out one frozen night in nothing more than a nightshirt to shoot a wild duck!
Sir Bellingham gave up the Shifnal and Enville countries in 1825, whereupon the Albrighton came into existence as a separate country. The first Master was Mr. Boycott, of Rudge Hall, near Pattingham, who bought the Essex and Suffolk pack from Mr. Carrington Nunn, which he augmented with other drafts. The boundaries of the Hunt were now established more or less on their present basis, and the Hunt was run by subscription.
Mr. Boycott, though without previous experience, hunted hounds himself, with Jack Goodard as his first whipper-in, and showed considerable sport, till compelled to give up through ill-health in 1830. Mr. Walter Giffard, of Chillington, brother-in-law of Jack Mytton, then took over. His descendants still live at Chillington Hall. He bought some of Mr. Boycott’s hounds, though the latter refused to leave them in Shropshire as a pack. He also bought Mr. Dansy’s Herefordshire hounds, and ultimately collected a pack of about forty couple. Mr. Giffard built new kennels at the Old Harp, Albrighton, thus giving the Hunt its name. These kennels, however, proved a source of kennel lameness, and four seasons later hounds were moved to new premises at High Holborn, near Donnington.
We learn a good deal about the Albrighton at this period from Nimrod’s Hunting Tours. Subscriptions and fields were small, he tells us, fifteen or so men in scarlet, and a score in black. He give us a list of the principal coverts and their owners, which is of interest. The Lizard (Lord Bradford); Snowdonpool; Patshull (Sir George Pigott); High On Wood; Tongrough; Brewood Park; Chillington Park; Woodcote Park (Mr. Coates); Sheriff Hales; Bishops Wood; Boscobel; Mann Rough; Mr. Sleavey’s Gorse; Ryton Gorse; Lord Wrottesley’s Coverts; Rudge Heath (Mr. Boycott); the Ran Dans; Gateacre Park; Enville; and Whitty Moor. On the Bridgnorth side he mentions Apley Castle (Mr. Whitmore); Stanleys; Morf Forest’ Pudsey’s Gorse; and White Ladies. It appears that the Hon. Secretary, Mr. Grazebrook, had a somewhat difficult task financially, and did much to keep the Hunt going.
In 1836, Mr. Giffard handed over to his brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Boughey, of Aqualate, who kennelled the hounds at his residence, and hunted the country at his own expense for four seasons. Living in the northern end of the country, Sir Thomas took in part of the Woore country round Eccleshall and Market Drayton, while the southern end may not have seen much of him. He hunted hounds himself, with the famous Will Wells as whipper-in. On giving up in 1840, he kept harriers at Aqualate Hall.
Then came Mr. Thomas Holyoak, who had to reply on a subscription, and got together a new pack, chiefly from the Shropshire and Ludlow. Hounds were now kennelled at Boningdale, where the old trouble of kennel lameness was again apparent. During the previous Mastership, the Enville country had been somewhat encroached upon by the Worcestershire Hunt, and friction now arose. Matters went to arbitration, with the result that the coverts of Wassal Tops and Hurcot were awarded to the Albrighton, and Cobblers and the Ran Dans were to be regarded as neutral, to be drawn alternatively by the two Hunts.
Following Mr. Holyoak’s resignation in 1848, Lord Stamford was Master for one season, kennelling his hounds at Enville. Then came the Hon. Arthur Wrottesley, who engaged Will Staples, from Sir Bellingham Graham, as his huntsman, and a remarkably good era of sport followed. Mr. Wrottesley had kennels at the Summer House, not far from Wrottesley Park, but also appears to have used the Enville kennels. An outbreak of rabies in his second season necessitated the getting together of a fresh pack, but good sport continued to be shown.
In 1852, Mr. Shaw Hellier, from the North Warwickshire, succeeded Mr. Wrottesley, and two seasons later Mr. Baker came from the Wheatland, bringing with him his rather curiously bred pack – Belvoir, bloodhound and Welsh cross. The following season, however, he went on to the North Warwickshire, taking his hounds with him.
It so happened then that Lord Stamford had engaged to hunt the Albrighton country again; but just as final arrangements were being made, he received an offer from the Quorn, and, rather shabbily it appears, went off to Leicestershire, leaving the Albrighton Committee in the lurch. As it turned out, however, there was a bright future in store, for the next two Masters, Mr. Orlando Stubbs and Sir Thomas Boughey, covered between them a period of thirty seasons, one of the most successful periods in the history of the Hunt.
Mr. Stubbs had previously been hunting hounds for his father, Master of the Ludlow. He was an out-and-out fox-hunter, a consummate horseman, and a fine hound breeder, though in the latter aspect he was rather handicapped by difficulty in finding walks. At the outset of his Mastership the kennels at Whiston Cross were built, where hounds have since remained. Finance was no longer a problem; for, in addition to the old ancestral estates, many rich magnates from Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and the colliery districts on the eastern side were building palatial mansions in the Albrighton country, which was becoming distinctly “rich”.
Mr. Stubbs died in 1866. Sir Thomas Boughey, son of a former Master, now took over the Mastership, and it was under his régime that the Albrighton assumed the high repute which it has since retained. Both Sir Thomas and Lady Boughey – herself one of the best sportswomen in England – were popular throughout the country, particularly with the farmers; in consequence foxes were well preserved, and blank days were unknown. Sir Thomas made many improvements in the country, especially by the planting of gorses, from which excellent sport was shown. Also, like his father, he was a good judge of a hound, and bred up a first-rate pack, the bitch pack especially.
It was a tragedy when rabies visited the kennel in his fourth season, but the losses were made good by drafts from Lord Coventry, the Duke of Grafton, and Mr. Musters of the South Notts. John Scott was huntsman. The Master, we are told, was never a very forward rider, but having a wonderful eye for a country and for hounds, saw all that was going on.
Sir Thomas was succeeded in 1887 by yet another Albrighton man in Capt. James Foster, son of Mr. Orm Foster of Apley. For his first three season he was joined by Major the Hon. H. Leege, son of Lord Dartmouth. Capt. Foster hunted hounds himself, keeping the hounds and country in good shape, and his resignation in 1899 was received with great regret. Now for the first time the Hunt had to look beyond its own borders for a Master, and decided on that very knowledgeable Scottish sportsman, Mr. J. C. Munro, who had been hunting with Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn. He had also held the Mastership of the Fife, and the East Sussex. He was a great judge of a hound and a hunter, and hunted hounds himself for four seasons before going on to the Atherstone. Following him came Capt. James Whittaker, a South Shropshire man, and two seasons later, in 1905, came Col. C. E. Goulburn, a relation of Mr. Foster of Apley, and well-known in the Blackmore Vale and Cheshire countries. Hounds were now hunting four days a week, Col. Goulburn hunting them two days, and C. Morris the other two.
In 1908 the country was divided into southern and northern portions, the division corresponding very closely to the old Shifnal and Enville countries. The dividing line was roughly from Wednesbury on the east, through Sedgebury, to a point a few miles north of Bridgnorth. The southern end took the name of the Albrighton Woodland. The hounds were now divided, half the pack being kennelled at Wordesley, near Stourbridge. The Woodland kennels were eventually moved to their present site at Hurcott. J. Laurence was put on as huntsman to the new pack. There were two Committees, but Col. Goulburn retained the Mastership of both side of the country, as did his successor, Col. C. Gossett Mayall.
Col. Gossett Mayall, who lived at Oaken, near Wolverhampton, was Master for ten seasons. During his absence on active service during the first World War, Mrs. Gossett Mayall deputised for her husband, and the Hunt was kept going. Capt. James Foster, to whom the hounds still belonged, now presented the pack to the two respective Committees, whose property they have since remained. Mention should here be made of the well-known personality, Mr. Sam Loveridge, who was Hon. Secretary for many seasons.
In 1920 Col. Gossett Mayall took the Mastership of the Ludlow. From this point onwards, the Albrighton and the Albrighton Woodland came under separate Masterships, Mr. E. H. Smith taking over the southern end of the country.