Whether in the boot room, sporting lodge or country house, you will always find a whip or two. Most have fascinating tales to tell, says Eleanor Doughty
Haunting the boot rooms of many a house across the country is the hunting whip. They are found above doors, in stick racks and haphazardly strewn across benches, ready for next weekend. Some are first-generation, others antique, but all in regular use since it would be a shame not to.
The market for hunting whips is buoyant, says Richard Hume of The Hunting Stock Market. “We sell tonnes of them, particularly between September and Christmas. They make great presents; people like to have them engraved.” When we speak, he has just sent a couple to Italy. “They go all over the world – there aren’t many places people can get hunting whips any more.”
Hume’s whips are made by David Thorne, who is based in Crediton, Devon. He began making whips in 1987. “People sometimes leave them on the roof of their car and then drive off,” says Hume. “That’s the main reason for coming back to us for a whip. We haven’t yet had one come in that’s had to be put back together.”
Every whip has a tale to tell
Anyone horsey will very likely have a hunting whip or two hanging around – and a story to go with it. My aunt remembers being chased up the yard with a lunge whip by my grandmother. Martha, Lady Sitwell, explains that she is in possession of her late godmother Dinah Morrison’s whip. “She gave it to me when I was seven or eight. It’s child’s size but that’s good because I have little hands,” she says. Equine chiropractor Kerry Davey, who hunts with the Blankney, dismounted one day “for a shed inspection rather the worse for wear” when she lost her whip. “It was dug up two seasons later by workers, who handed it in to the estate office and we were reunited.”
Anton Frisby inherited his grandfather Roger Brown’s collection of whips in the early 2000s. He shows me a photograph of one of them in use, held by his great-grandfather Percy Brown. Next to him is Prince Albert, later George VI, who kept his horses at the Browns’ yard when working at RAF Cranwell in 1918. “We have a flagstone floor in the hallway, incredibly bowed and worn,” says Frisby. “My grandfather would never change it because he said the King of England had walked on it.” Frisby loves his grandfather’s hunting whips. “They have worked hard over the years; he loved them – hunting was his life.”
Walk round Hyde Park Barracks, home of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, on any day and you’ll most likely spot Captain George Lane Fox of the Blues and Royals, whip in hand. His is a handsome number, with a silver button on top engraved with the Lane Fox family crest. The pièce de résistance is a series of silver collars, each inscribed with a set of initials. First, those of Capt Lane Fox’s great-grandfather Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Gordon Ward-Jackson Lane Fox. Then his grandfather, Major George Francis Lane Fox; next his father, Major George Charles Nicholas Lane Fox. This is followed by his uncle, Captain Edward Sackville Lane Fox. And finally his own, ‘GSLF’ – George Sackville Lane Fox.
Passed down the generations
Capt Lane Fox’s whip has, like many, been passed down from father to son, brother to brother before uncle to nephew. There was no ceremonial giving of the whip: “It was very much a ‘here you go’. When I commissioned, my dad and my uncle Ed were helping me out with bits of kit. Ed showed it to me and said I should get my initials on it too.” While doing so, he added a collar for his great-grandfather, “since he was also in the Blues, and commanded the 43rd (Wessex) Reconnaissance Regiment during the Normandy campaigns”.
In 2022 Capt Lane Fox’s younger brother Charlie passed out of Sandhurst, and by family tradition joined the Blues and Royals at the Household Cavalry Regiment in Wiltshire. The whip will go with him: “It’s only fair to let him have it. Whenever you’re on duty you’re dressed slightly smarter, carrying a whip, and being a junior officer he’ll be on duty a lot.” Capt Lane Fox commissioned into the Blues and Royals in 2018.
What does it mean to him? “It puts stuff in perspective when I am trudging to the yard in the morning,” he says. “You look at it and think that the guy at the top of the list was bombed in Normandy. It’s a reminder of the history behind it and the tradition that you are carrying on. It’s very special, and something that makes me proud.” As a regiment, the Household Cavalry is in possession of a large number of whips. They can be spotted all over camp: in the stables, in the mess, in the NAAFI. As Capt Lane Fox says, “you carry your whip unless you’re carrying a sword, in anything other than combats”.
Steeped in history
My boyfriend, a Life Guard, has a whip dating back to 1910. It possesses a brass shell casing on the handle to which he has added a George V Second Life Guards cap badge. He says he will “probably eventually pass it on”. Upon completing the class one riding instructor course, members of the riding staff are presented with a black leather whip with brass fittings by the Worshipful Company of Saddlers. The Regimental Corporal Major also carries a whip bearing the following inscription: “Regimental Corporal Major’s Whip, to be carried by the serving RCM, presented by RCM DJ Davies, 24 June 1991.”
When Colonel James Gaselee LG became commanding officer at Hyde Park Barracks he too was given a whip. But not by his father but by Colonel Dick Morrisey-Paine, who had served as commanding officer from 1987 to 1990. Col Morrisey-Paine, explains Col Gaselee, was downsizing when the gift was given. “He thought it would be nice to give it to me so I could use it while in command. At some stage I will probably hand it on to another commanding officer.” It is a “standard Swaine Adeney Household Cavalry uniform whip, featuring the crisscross pattern going down it with a fishtail end, which people say is the Life Guard pattern,” he says.
Before Col Morrisey-Paine, the whip belonged to his godmother and before that to her grandfather. The silver band around the top, he adds, “is decorated with a hunting scene, and was originally on a 19th-century hunting whip”.
Highlight in a collection
The carriage driver Rowena Moyse also has a large collection of whips. A highlight is an antique traditional ladies’ holly whip, “with a dog-leg in it, where another branch has been cut off”. It’s a very delicate piece of wood with a plaited leather thong and a goose quill through it. The goose quill gives the bow top to it.” She has recently had it refurbished. “I had a little pony going to the Royal Welsh Show and it only goes into the show ring now, so the whip comes out once in a blue moon,” she explains.
Using a driving whip is an art, says Moyse. She recalls the novelist Georgette Heyer’s great line: “‘I have heard it said of someone that he was so on a leader’s ear.’ One of the most important things I teach people is that they must be carrying the right whip for their hand. Their gloves, reins and whip must match – not in colour but you get grippy reins and leather reins, and the same with gloves and handles on whips. They must work together.”
According to Moyse, an important difference between a riding and driving whip is that with the former the weight is “going downwards behind you; with a driving whip you’re carrying it up in front of you at a 45-degree angle. If it’s heavy, it will weigh on your hand.” A light touch is required. “It’s an extension of your arm, it’s for talking to the horse – you can touch them on different parts of their body with it, to give them confidence.”
Rarity of whip-makers
Whip-makers and historians today are few and far between. When I contact esteemed maker Celia Blay, she points me to Anna Botterell, a vet who lives near Bath who is learning the craft. Botterell has “a couple of hundred” whips but cycles through them “because you can’t keep everything – once I’ve photographed something and recorded it, then it’s fair game to let it go”.
She got into whips through her partner, a violin dealer. “I started going around auctions with him and I kept seeing horsey bits and pieces, mostly misidentified. I began buying the odd thing and it snowballed from there,” she reveals. Botterell now works part-time as a vet and part-time dealing in whips and other equestrian objects while she “slowly, ineptly, shabbily” learns the craft.
“When horses were the main mode of transport there was a huge industry producing whips,” she says. “There were workshops with people doing piecework. The English bowtop driving whip is meant to be the best designed in the world, and antique ones are extremely sought after. But when they need restoration there aren’t many people around who can do it any more.” Happily, she says, trade is booming and whips of all kinds remain in demand – with or without a good story attached. But a hunting whip? These are highly sought after and come with the best tales: “Some of the hunting whips I get in are so bashed – their scars are charming.”
Interested in vintage hunting clothes? Click here to read our guide.