Return of The Great Chase

14th April 2016
harry-mount.jpg Harry Mount

For the first time in a century, the Charlton Hunt returned to Goodwood for one thrilling day.

 

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Without the Charlton Hunt, the earliest recorded major fox hunt in the world, there would be no Goodwood House.

It was because of the hunting kennels at Charlton, a small village three miles north of the house, that the 1st Duke of Richmond came to West Sussex more than three centuries ago. Still, today, fragments of ancient Charlton Forest, where the early hunt followed the chase, survive.

And now, more than a century after hunting came to an end at Goodwood, the Charlton Hunt has returned. On February 6, a one-off meet of the Charlton, restricted to 150 followers, was held to celebrate what was once the grandest hunt in the land.

“Sport has always been integral to life here at Goodwood, as well as sharing that love of sport with others,” said Lord March. “As the 1st Duke of Richmond had bought Goodwood as a base from which to enjoy the fox hunting with his friends, I thought it was time we revived that very first sport for one special weekend. I felt it was also important to celebrate the Charlton Hunt because it was the first major fox hunt in the world and, in its day, was the most famous in the country.”

Excitement started to mount on the Friday of the meet, as the first riders and horses arrived. Travelling from all over the country, many of the horses were kept overnight in Goodwood’s splendid 18th-century stables, designed by Sir William Chambers. By 11am the next morning, the 150 hunt followers, many resplendent in the famous blue Charlton Hunt coats, gathered outside Goodwood House for a warming tipple of port. The thrill of the moment was palpable, as the hounds sniffed the chilly air and wagged their tails, ready for the off. Many hunt members confessed that they felt they were taking part in a piece of history. As one rider, Sophia Money-Coutts of Tatler, remarked,
“I felt like I was in a dream.”

The nine-mile drag hunt took riders across the glorious West Sussex countryside, meeting for a stirrup cup at Fox Hall, Charlton – the epicentre of the old hunt. An exhilarating day culminated with the sumptuous Charlton Hunt Ball, accompanied by dinner in the ballroom at Goodwood. Among the guests who enjoyed drinks in the Front Hall, beneath three paintings by the greatest horse artist of them all, George Stubbs, were Viscount and Viscountess Astor, Lord and Lady Fermoy, Lord and Lady Mancroft, and Harry Meade, one of Britain’s leading event riders.

Mounted hunt followers who really wanted to enter in the spirit of things were allowed to wear a hunting coat and evening tailcoat made by Henry Poole of Savile Row in the traditional Charlton Hunt colours – Garter Blue with yellow trimmings. The colours are a striking alternative to the traditional hunting “pink”, which, with typical British eccentricity, is in fact red. The reason is still lost in the mists of time. Some say it’s because old, scarlet hunting coats fade to pink. Others tell the story of a London tailor in the early 19th century, a Mr Pink, renowned for his dexterity with hunting clothes. Thomas Pink, the Jermyn Street shirtmaker, borrowed the latter legend for its own name.

The idea of the hunt ball is embedded in the Charlton Hunt’s history. From its earliest days, there was an annual hunt dinner. It was at the 1738 Charlton Hunt dinner that the first ever hunt club in the world was formed, with a strict set of 10 rules on membership. Rule number eight declared, “The Duke of Richmond to bring whoever he pleases from Goodwood to Dinner at Charlton.”

One of the Stubbs pictures at Goodwood House, The 3rd Duke of Richmond with the Charlton Hunt, has the duke and his brother, Lord George Lennox, wearing their blue coats with gilt buttons for a hunt meeting in 1759. Also shown in the picture are the Duke’s servants, in their yellow and scarlet livery. Lord March gave all participants in this year’s revived Charlton Hunt traditional gilt hunt buttons for their coats...

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