After 34 seasons, Ian Farquhar is relinquishing Mastership of the Duke of Beaufort’s. Adrian Dangar looks back on an extraordinary sporting career
During 34 seasons as Master of the Duke of Beaufort’s, Captain Ian Farquhar showed remarkable sport, made friends across the country and, crucially, stepped up during hunting’s darkest hour. Adrian Dangar looks back on a long and glittering sporting career.
Who are the young people inspired by The Captain and willing to dedicate their life to the hunt so many years after the ban? We meet the huntsmen of tomorrow and learn about the opportunities offered by the MFHA Bursary Scheme.
CAPTAIN IAN FARQUHAR
When Captain Ian Farquhar wakes up on the morning of 1 May, it will be the first time in nearly half a century that he is without a pack of foxhounds to his name, for The Captain, as he is known throughout the hunting world, is relinquishing his 34-year mastership of the Duke of Beaufort’s having guided the famous hunt through the most challenging years in the history of foxhunting. Farquhar has shown remarkable sport throughout his career as a top-class amateur huntsman, but he will also be remembered as the man who stepped up to the mark during hunting’s darkest hour to provide a bold and unequivocal lead when all seemed lost.
The morning after the ban was announced at Westminster, he rose in his stirrups to address a huge gathering at the Gloucestershire kennels and promised, “There will always be hounds at Badminton, and there will always be hunting at Badminton.” He repeated the same pledge in front of an even larger crowd the morning the Hunting Act become law in February 2005, and has spent every day since ensuring his words ring true. Whereas most of the Beaufort’s illustrious neighbours drew stumps for the season and retired to observe from the shadows, Farquhar continued to hunt within the constraints of a new and complicated law. “Being absolutely bloody minded I had already advertised meets for the next three weeks without knowing quite what we were going to do. There was colossal disappointment and anger that bigotry had triumphed over common sense – we owed it to the hounds and the community to keep those forces together. We found a way through.”
“Ian went hunting with his head held high and showed us all the way forward,” remembers Lord Mancroft, the current chairman of the MFHA and a long-time subscriber to the Beaufort. “His leadership was a deciding factor in the survival of our sport.”
The roots of such dedication stretch back nearly 70 years, to when Ian Farquhar’s father, Sir Peter Farquhar, hunted the Portman hounds in Dorset. A quintessentially English sporting childhood was followed by Eton, the Queen’s Own Hussars and southern hunting that did not quite live up to a young cavalry officer’s expectations – but that all changed following a visit to hunt in Derbyshire, where fellow officer Dermot Kelly was making a name for himself at the
Meynell. “Dermot reminded me just how exciting hunting could be when done properly,” Farquhar remembers. “His enthusiasm was invigorating. I thought I would like to join the party and have a go myself one day.” By then, Captain Farquhar had earned an LVO in recognition of his service as equerry to HM The Queen Mother, but it was only a matter of time before those initials would be complemented by the addition of MFH.
In the meantime, there were visits to hunt with the Derwent in Yorkshire, where the Master’s glamorous daughter and amateur whipper-in, Pammie-Jane Chafer, had caught his eye. The couple were married in 1972 and Farquhar’s first appointment on return from honeymoon was with the chairman of the Bicester & Warden Hill Hunt. “Life has always been a chapter of farce, you never know what lies around the corner,” says Farquhar, laughing merrily at the twist of fate that launched him on a career destined to span five decades. “I said to Pammie, let’s do it for a couple of years and see what happens.”
Inheriting Brian Pheasey, the Bicester’s experienced older kennel huntsman, was part of the deal and as it turned out, the icing on the cake. “Brian was one of the best helps I have ever had,” says Farquhar. “He was utterly charming but as tough as they come – a professional hound man and a good horseman. And as straight as a dye.”
The Farquhars rolled up their sleeves, bought a dairy farm at Twyford Mill and got stuck into running an unspoilt hunting country that was still more grassland than arable. There were foxes and friendly farmers in equal measure, but the 28-year-old huntsman quickly gained a reputation for incursions into neighbouring hunt countries during an era when such raids were still a magical part and parcel of the chase. The records – barely conceivable for a younger generation of post-ban huntsmen – speak for themselves. Thirty points of more than five miles during the 1979 season (Sir Peter Farquhar brought his son up not to mention a point of less than five miles), a never to be forgotten visit to Leicestershire and three points of up to six miles in a single day, each one deep into the neighbouring Grafton hunt country. Long runs were savoured, but the Holy Grail was “not losing the fox”.
Even in the 1970s that style of hunting was unsustainable without a close and special relationship with the farmers and landowners. During his tenure of the Grafton, Alastair Jackson remembers being warned off by an irate farmer after the Bicester had ‘trashed’ the farm on a raid. When he called back a few days later, Jackson was given a very different reception: “Go anywhere you want,” he was told. “I’ve just had the Captain here and we’ve polished off the best part of a bottle of whisky.” The alluring combination of amber nectar and sheer charm was to sooth troubled waters and win many friends in the years ahead, but it would also cause the occasional hiccup.
Farquhar, who affirms “a foxhound has no future without scope, after that nose and determination are the key attributes”, introduced Welsh blood to the Bicester pack with spectacular success. “If you go back in history, my father, Ikey Bell, Lord Coventry and others were responsible for changing the confirmation and ability of the English foxhound in the early-20th century, so it was instilled in me to take the Welsh outcross seriously.” His gift to modern breeding was the discovery of Fairy 73 at the Vale of Clettwr with the help of renowned expert Sir Newton Rycroft, whose Welsh blood via New Forest Medyg 69 he had already used and admired; the broken-coated Fairy was “brilliant from day one” and went on to spawn a dynasty.
Two decades later, Farquhar again stuck gold, this time with a doghound from the David Davies hunt named Bouncer 94. “When mated with the best of Badminton’s time-honoured female lines those three Welsh outcrosses, together with American blood via the Cottesmore, are the backbone of the Beaufort today.”
Their descendants have been appraised at every Beaufort puppy show for the past 20 years by foxhound guru Martin Scott. “Ian’s breeding policies have maintained the combination of size and quality that is the hallmark of the Beaufort hounds,” he says, “which makes Badminton an obvious choice for anyone looking to improve their own hounds.”
Farquhar’s generosity with his stallion hounds and the demand for his services as a judge at hound and puppy shows are a matter of record, along with 18 Peterborough champions during his tenure at Badminton. Their breeder is as magnanimous in defeat as he is proud in victory: “To be beaten on the flags by a better hound was always a pleasure.”
Widespread despondency permeated the Oxfordshire countryside after Farquhar accepted the 11th Duke’s invitation to move to Badminton in 1985, where Sir Peter, a cousin to the 10th Duke, had been an estate trustee. “The Beaufort had better buy some more horses and stock up their drinks cupboards,” observed one disgruntled Bicester subscriber. The move was big news in the hunting world and celebrated by a cartoon on the front cover of Horse & Hound depicting a fox exchanging his red coat for the Beaufort’s green one, and a signpost indicating the way to Badminton. The Farquhars’ arrival there with three hunting-mad young daughters, Emma, Victoria and Rose, electrified and invigorated a field that had become used to a different style of hunting.
“All the gates on a certain grass farm used to be opened on hunting days,” Lord Mancroft recalls, “but early one hunting morning Ian and I wired them all shut so the field had to jump the hedges instead – they hadn’t had such fun in years. Ian’s great skill was to turn a moderate day into a good one, a good one into a great one and a great one into an unforgettable one. He built up a superb team and there was always a sense of anticipation. He would risk his hounds, his neck, his horses and his farmers, but he knew just how far to go. And the Duke always backed him to the hilt.” For the late Duke, his Joint Master was a man who, “fulfilled all my expectations when I appointed him” and someone who had the rare gift of “getting on with everyone in the country”.
Others speak of the huntsman’s absolute determination to make hunting such fun that nobody wanted to go home. “But it was fun without joy-riding,” remembers one subscriber. “The hounds came first.” Farquhar’s horsemanship has often been eclipsed by the performance of his pack, but having honed his equestrian skills on the hunting field since childhood, played polo in the Army and competed in point-to-points, it came as second nature to ride a country straight.
Farquhar’s superb team included kennel huntsman Charles Wheeler, whose successor, Tony Holdsworth, hunted hounds as a professional when the Captain relinquished the horn in 2011. With an eye for the future, Farquhar recently recruited 29-year-old Matt Ramsden to join the mastership and hunt hounds. The incumbent inherited a rock-solid relationship with the farming community and high expectations of sport. “The way the country welcomed us with open arms was led by Ian,” Ramsden remembers. “He gave us the best possible start.”
After such a long and glittering career, it’s hard to gauge The Captain’s real thoughts on hunting’s future but there is a resigned acceptance that current constraints are a barrier to the style and standard of sport he has enjoyed in the past. “We live in a very different world to 50 years ago, agriculture, England, the mood of the people, politics – it’s all changed. But I must put such thoughts aside,” he says from his home on the Highgrove estate near Tetbury, ever the optimist. “I bolster myself with the knowledge that I have a 10-year-old grandson who absolutely loves going hunting. The real future is that he must continue to enjoy it as much as we did.”
To contribute to the ‘Thank you to The Captain Fund’, please visit www.beauforthunt.com or send a cheque made out to ‘The TCF Fund’ to: Myra Chappell, The Cottage, Hawkesbury Common, Badminton, South Gloucestershire GL9 1BW.