The large tracts of permanent pasture to the west and south of the new town of Leamington, formerly given over to sheep and cattle grazing since medieval times, were prime fox hunting country. Writing in 1841 the distinguished travel writer Dr Augustus Granville had this to say about Leamington … “The neighbourhood may be of the first water for a hunt; and that it is so the very progress of Leamington town testifies;for we must be of good faith and confess that hunting as much as water-drinking has contributed to that progress”.
Within a few years at the start of the 19th century the town attracted not only those who rode to hounds but the more affluent men in pink who owned packs of hounds. Chief among these was Lord Middleton who became Master of the Warwickshire Hounds in 1811. He purchased Mr John Corbett’s hounds for the truly astonishing sum of 1200 guineas and brought the pack to Leamington. It has to be said that a pack of hounds was rather more than a couple-of-dozen animals. The Annals of the Warwickshire Hunt contains a full listing of Lord Middleton’s pack with their names and pedigrees, the pack comprised eighty and a half couples, a total of 161 hounds.
Fox hunting at this period was very much the preserve of the aristocracy, landed gentry and country parsons and those military men on leave from their regiments, all of whom had both the time and the wherewithal to spend several days each week in the saddle. Lord Middleton’s hounds hunted five and sometimes six days a week throughout the winter months. Leamington was a very convenient centre for the hunting fraternity to be based, with well- appointed hotels and a full calendar of social functions of every description. Many of the hunting types took large houses for the season or suites of rooms in local hotels. They were quick to realise that with so much testosterone and horseflesh manifest, there was only one thing more that would make their stay in town complete and that was horse racing and steeplechasing .
An extended verion of this article is available HERE.
Leamington Spa Courier (various dates), British Newspaper Archive.
Glimpses of our local past, J C Manning, Courier Office, 1895.
Annals of the Warwickshire Hunt, Mordaunt & Verney, Sampson Lowe, Marston & Co, 1895.
History of Royal Leamington Spa, George Morley, undated.
All images in this article are from the compilers own archive of original prints & engravings
Alan Griffin, June 2016