The role of the amateur huntsman requires time and dedication – for no money. How do these modern-day heroes make ends meet, asks Adrian Dangar
The role of the amateur huntsman is relentless – often combining full-time work with hunting hounds. Adrian Dangar meets the modern-day heroes prepared to throw their hat in the ring for our sport.
After 34 seasons, Captain Ian Farquhar has relinquished Mastership of the Duke of Beaufort’s. We look back on an extraordinary sporting career, read Captain Ian Farquhar: farewell to The Captain.
Until the mid-20th century the stereotypical Master of Foxhounds tended to be rich, landed, red faced and terrifying. But in the post-war years young men came forward and applied organisational skills to running a hunting country that could have landed them a plum job in any sphere they chose. Captain Ronnie Wallace was the standard bearer for the new style of industrious Master, exemplified by those who came after him such as Captains Clarke, Fanshawe, Farquhar and Kelly. They may still have appeared terrifying to their followers but their rise to hunting prominence during the second half of the 20th century was timely. Rural Britain had changed forever and hunts no longer had carte blanche to gallop wherever they wished. Big estates had been broken up and sold to owners who were at liberty to choose whether they welcomed the hunt or not, and the first stirrings of a more accessible countryside were beginning to be felt, especially in the shooting field, where former tenants were now free to shoot their own game on their own acres – or rent them out for someone else to enjoy. ‘The Captains’ were followed by successive waves of effective amateurs to address these challenges, including Nigel Peel, Alastair Jackson and Frank Houghton-Brown, all of whom spent years at the coalface of our sport with little or no financial reward.
Things have got increasingly complicated for hunting; more shooting, more restrictions and a whole lot more urbanisation and development have rendered many former Arcadian countries unhuntable – and that was before the invidious 2004 Hunting Act became law. As the difficulties of organising hunting have become ever more complex, even greater dedication and time is required to discharge the duties commensurate with being an amateur huntsman, by which I mean a Master who carries the horn and is also responsible for running the hunt country. Astonishingly, and thankfully for the tens of thousands who love following hounds today, young men (and the occasional brave woman) are still queuing up to throw in their lot with such a fabulously risky venture, although the problem for many is how to finance their vocation.
Richard Tyacke, who retires from a long and glittering career with Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn’s hounds at the end of this season, is one of the lucky few to have not just survived but flourished as a modern day MFH. Tyacke had the good fortune to be sent to Stowe in Buckinghamshire, which has its own pack of beagles. “From the moment I arrived at Stowe, I wanted to hunt hounds,” Tyacke recalls, “but I never thought I could make a career out of it.”
Tyacke hunted the college beagles, spent his gap year whipping-in without pay for the Sinnington Hunt, and did three years at Cirencester. With such impeccable credentials there was no shortage of hunts willing to take him on as an MFH – but without a proven track record, none were prepared to offer financial support. “That was a major problem,” he says. “Although supportive, my father was not prepared to fund my hunting career and I had no money of my own. I went to the Eglinton in Scotland, where my Joint Master generously provided a flat and four grand a year while I devoted my time to running the hunt. That was enough to survive as a bachelor 20 years ago but I couldn’t see it lasting.”
After two successful seasons, Tyacke moved several rungs up the hunting ladder to the Tynedale in Northumberland, where it was agreed that part proceeds from the sale of fallen stock skins would accrue to the new Master. However, when this once-lucrative trade was knocked for six by the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease, Tyacke was facing the end of his short career, which was only extended by the fortuitous sale of an inherited painting. “That kept me going for another two years,” he says, “but when I wanted to get married I realised I couldn’t afford to continue.” By now well established as a huntsman, Tyacke was saved by an approach from the top-flight Wynnstay hunt, whose Joint Master was prepared to finance him in recognition of the uniquely hard work it would take to organise sport in a large, grass dairy country.
Tyacke survived by living hand to mouth until he had established a reputation that would attract financial support, but others are less fortunate; many run out of money before their reputation is made, or perhaps the timing is just wrong, and some discover they lack the unusual combination of skills required by the modern amateur. Others fall by the wayside in different ways. When he moved to the Bedale Hunt in 2016, Tim Coulson had already made his name at the Lauderdale and was able to negotiate a guarantee that he envisaged would provide some income in recognition of the time he would devote to running the hunt. “I had to make a living out of my passion for hunting hounds, although a subsistence one was fine by me,” Coulson remembers, “but it soon transpired that there was not enough money in the pot.” When he was asked to contribute to a shortfall in the Master’s guarantee his solution was to obtain an HGV licence and work as a lorry driver, which took him away from hunt duties several days each week during the summer. “This arrangement didn’t really work and I left the mastership at the end of my second season,” says Coulson.
Small wonder then, that in recent years several amateurs have taken on a mastership with the security of an additional full-time job. The disadvantages are obvious for hunt committees anxious to secure a full-time devotee to hunting, but if they are unable to raise funds to support full-time dedication they have little option but to appoint someone who must earn a wage away from the hunt. Few are as fortunate as the Cumberland, whose Joint Master, Tim Brockbank, has just relinquished the horn after successfully combining farming and hunting hounds for the past 20 years. Further west, Adam Waugh has juggled running a hill sheep farm with hunting the College Valley & North Northumberland since 2016. Another option is for the Master to look after the hounds himself in return for a salary, although this is a route most favoured by former professionals such as Peter McColgan, who successfully swapped being kennel huntsman to the Middleton for mastership of the Albrighton & Woodland, and has since moved to the North Shropshire.
Not everyone is qualified or prepared to take on the onerous, full-time task of looking after hounds in kennels; when the Derwent advertised for a Master and huntsman in 2011, local businessman Sean McClarron was persuaded to apply but was determined to continue running the insurance business he had founded many years earlier. Brought up in the country to enjoy fishing, shooting and ferreting, McClarron discovered hunting with the Derwent when 12 years old, but never imagined he would one day be its Master. “I’d worked hard since leaving school and built the business to a decent size,” he recalls, “so I decided to give it a go – we live in the same village as the kennels and I already knew everyone involved with the hunt.”
McClarron’s business has continued to expand ever since – it now handles the MFHA legal liability insurance – with offices situated as far apart as Durham and Dorset. Against this backdrop the Derwent has enjoyed enviable stability, and its adventurous Master garnered something of a reputation for taking his hounds to hunt such illustrious countries as the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale, Berkeley, Beaufort and Quorn. But McClarron admits it’s been a constant struggle to combine both passions. “You’ve got to be super-efficient and highly organised,” says the man who lives by a work hard, play hard philosophy and is reputed to put in a full day at the office long before the 11am meet. “You’ve got to get out of bed early and it’s crucial to have a really good team behind you in both spheres.” The relentless lifestyle has finally caught up with McClarron, who is standing down at the end of the season to take his business to the next level. “I’ve done my bit for hunting,” he says, “but it’s going to be tough leaving – after eight seasons my hounds are absolutely spot on; becoming Master was a tough decision but one I’ve never regretted for a second.”
James Andrews, who is Joint Master and huntsman of the South & West Wilts and a practising chartered surveyor in Carmarthenshire, is also proof that it’s possible to combine hunting at the sharp end with a full-time job. Andrews is a man of legendary toughness and stamina, whose hounds are said to have shown the best sport of any hunt in the south-west last season, although he attributes this success modestly to “sheer luck”. The commute between his home and the office takes more than two hours with a following wind. “We hunt up to four days a week,” Andrews explains. “I often drive to Wales after hunting ready for a 6am start the following morning. Luckily I have a superb assistant who understands how it all works.” Andrews also points out that he could not discharge his responsibilities without “brilliant” Joint Masters to help clear country and organise the stables. “After nine seasons I’ve really got to know the farmers and I see a lot of them,” he says, “but it’s still a hell of a juggle at times; it’s fine until something goes wrong at either end. Luckily our sport has been good but if not my dual life could be a stick to beat me with.”
Andrews show no signs of slowing up but for many the onerous challenge of earning a living whilst hunting hounds cannot be sustained indefinitely. “I’m completely exhausted by the end of the season,” another amateur who holds down a steady job outside of hunting confided to me recently. There is little doubt the pressures of reconciling earning a living with hunting hounds as an amateur contributes to shorter masterships than prior to the 2004 Act, but perhaps all those who hunt should be grateful there are still men and women out there prepared to throw their hat into the ring and give it a go.