Hounds are known to have hunted the area around Ledbury on the Hereford and Gloucestershire border for at least 300 years. The Ledbury Hunt is presently constituted and can trace its origin to 1846 when, according to the original minute book it was decided to set up the hunt ‘on a respectable footing’ and a committee was formed. A huntsman was engaged to hunt 14 couples of hounds, five days a fortnight. In 1868 Kennels were built adjacent to the Ledbury Railway Station where they remained until 1938 when the present site at Bromesberrow was established.
The Hunt has been fortunate over the years in its choice of Masters. A particularly notable period was during the Mastership of Sir George Bullough 1908-1927 when apart from the intervening war years the Hunt prospered as never before. Sir George lived in grand style at The Down House, Redmarley and it is recorded that at that time the Hunt was the largest employer in Ledbury with forty full time staff.
In 1949 Squire Yorke of Forthampton Court made an inspired choice in engaging the services of Nimrod Champion as professional huntsman. Nimrod’s father Bob had hunted the hounds before the war and his four sons had grown up in Ledbury country. As a worthy successor to a brilliant father, Nimrod kept intact the Ledbury’s reputation as one of the best two-day-a-week packs in the country. He was one of the most respected and senior huntsmen in England when he died aged 59 in 1983.
Subsequently members were fortunate to enjoy good sport and a lot of fun with hounds being hunted first by James Daly and then Nigel Wakley both really first class men across country. In 1995 John Holliday was engaged to hunt hounds. John, who had experienced an excellent upbringing at the Belvoir and Quorn, proved himself to be a top professional and we were sad to see him leave in June 2010. Will Goffe then joined us leading the Ledbury hounds for a few good seasons, after which he took the opportunity to return to his home hunt with the Warwickshire. We now have a new huntsman Mark Melladay who comes to us with the highest recommendations and we look forward to seeing him continue the high standard of hound management and hunting set by his predecessors.
The iniquitous ban on hunting introduced in 2005 has led to a different form of hunting and it has been hard work for the Joint Masters and Hunt Staff to ensure continuity but within the law. None of this would be possible without the support of a large number of enthusiastic people of whom the farmers and landowners are the most important. There is every confidence that the ban will eventually be overturned and traditional ways of hunting in the Ledbury Country will be restored.
The River Severn between Upton and Gloucester forms the eastern boundary whilst in the south the boundary runs from Gloucester via Newent to Upton Bishop. On the north side in a westerly direction the boundary runs from Upton on Severn across to Malvern Wells and over the hills via Colwall to the Trumpet and on to the north end of Marcle Ridge and then down towards the River Wye.
Although a limited company (Ledbury Hunt Limited), the hunt is controlled by a committee (elected by the members) who appoint a Master or Joint Masters to manage the hunt on their behalf. The Joint Masters (currently there are three) engage staff to work at the Kennels to look after the hounds and those horses kept for the use of the Huntsman and his assistant – the whipper-in. The Joint Masters are, in particular, responsible for relations with landowners and farmers and for making all the necessary arrangements for each day of hunting.
This normally starts around 1st September when hounds are taken out at daybreak and returned to kennels before midday. This is known as Autumn Hunting and is conducted at a lower pace in a more informal manner than normal. The main purpose is to train the young hounds who have not hunted before. Once the weather has changed and the horses and hounds are fully fit then ‘hunting proper’ can start. This is usually at the end of October and begins with the formal Opening Meet on a Friday at 10.45 am. It is from this date that members are expected to be smartly turned out in full hunting kit and hounds will be encouraged to hunt over some of the best parts of the Ledbury country to give members every opportunity to enjoy themselves riding across a traditional landscape jumping many natural fences. Hunting will continue on this basis, with hounds going out also on Mondays through to mid March.The country hunted on a Monday is less demanding and is better suited to novice riders and those looking for a quieter but still very enjoyable day out.Meets take place in different parts of the hunt country according to a plan drawn up by the Joint Masters at the beginning of the season.
Prior to the ban on hunting the purpose of taking hounds out was to control the fox population. Foxes do a lot of damage to young livestock and poultry. In a normal season hounds used to account for an average of sixty brace, equivalent to about two foxes for each hunting day. Until the ban on hunting can be overturned hounds will be encouraged to hunt a false trail and sport will continue to be provided using the various exemptions allowed within the law.
For each day that hounds are taken out, one of the Joint Masters will be in charge. It will be his job, before the hunting day, to contact every farmer over whose land it is expected that hounds might cross and to seek permission for that to happen. During the day the Joint Master will be fully in charge and will lead the mounted members across country so that they can see and follow hounds hunting one of the many trails that have been laid. Exclusive control of the hounds is the responsibility of Mark Melladay our professional huntsman. He carries the horn and gives the hounds every help and encouragement. The whipper-in whose prime job is to see that the hounds are all kept up together assists Mark. The hunting day usually finishes at about 4.00 pm but members may go home at any time during the day to suit themselves.
Hunting to many people is seen as a controversial issue and there are those who do not fully understand the part that it plays in the life and culture of the countryside. We are always pleased to have the opportunity to discuss and explain these matters to interested parties and welcome visits (by prior appointment please!) to the Kennels by groups such as schools, Rotary Clubs, etc.