A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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The only pack of foxhounds to which Middlesex can lay claim is the original Old Berkeley Hunt, which ceased to hunt the county more than half a century ago and is now divided into the Old Berkeley East and the Old Berkeley West, whose kennels are at Chorleywood in Hertfordshire and at Hazelmere Park, High Wycombe, respectively.
The original Old Berkeley Hunt was formed by Frederick Augustus, fifth Lord Berkeley, who adopted orange yellow or 'tawny' coats for it in commemoration of the fact-stated by Smith in his MS. history of the Berkeley family-that 'a former Lord Berkeley' kept thirty huntsmen in 'tawny coats' and his hounds at the village of Charing, now Charing Cross in the centre of London, and hunted in the vicinity. (fn. 1) It was not so called, however, till after Lord Berkeley's death in 1810, when this name was given to it in memory of its founder by Mr. Harvey Combe, who succeeded him as master, and for a similar reason retained the Berkeley livery. (fn. 2)
The country hunted by Lord Berkeley has probably never been exceeded in extent, though authorities differ as to its exact limits. 'Nimrod' in his Hunting Tours, written in 1835, says that it extended from Scratch Wood, seven miles from London and then part of Wormwood Scrubbs, to Cirencester, a distance of upwards of eighty miles; while 'Cecil,' writing in 1854, makes Scratch Wood five miles from London, and says that the Old Berkeley country extended to beyond Thornbury in Gloucestershire. (fn. 3) Mr. George Grantley Berkeley, whose Reminiscences of a Huntsman was also published in 1854, says that his father 'used to hunt all the country from Kensington Gardens to Berkeley Castle and Bristol,' and his opinion as regards Kensington appears to be confirmed by the statement made to him by old Tom Oldaker, Lord Berkeley's huntsman, that he had while with his father once 'found a fox in Scratch Wood and lost him in rough ground and cover in Kensington.' (fn. 4) There were kennels at Cranford and at Nettlebed near Henley on Thames, and another, Grantley Berkeley believed, at Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire. 'Where else the hounds used to put up in that wide stretch of country,' he adds, 'I know not, but I suppose occasionally at inns.' (fn. 5)
At the time 'Nimrod' wrote, the subscription to the Old Berkeley did not exceed £700 per annum, the remainder being made up by Mr. Harvey Combe and Mr. Marjoribanks. Six hunters and a hack were provided for a given annual sum by Mr. Tilbury for Henry and Robert Oldaker, the sons of Lord Berkeley's old huntsman, who were respectively huntsman and whipper-in to Mr. Harvey Combe, 'but they are never at a loss for a horse, for Mr. Harvey Combe always has a good stud.' (fn. 6) There seems to have been no very distinctive character in the Old Berkeley pack, owing to the fact that Tom Oldaker had not bred hounds for many years past but trusted to drafts to keep up his kennel-a defect which his son Henry did his best to remedy. The hounds were however
very steady . . . very true to the line and with a scent pretty sure of their fox . . . I saw [says Nimrod] no fault in the condition of the Old Berkeley hounds, taking into consideration the great extent of country they travel over, the frequent change of kennel, and the very wet weather to which they are exposed. (fn. 7)
The sale of this pack at Hyde Park Corner in 1842 is described by Mr. Robert Vyner in his Notitia Venatica as the 'most remarkable ever known.'
The lots sold were thirteen in number, making 127 hounds, exclusive of whelps; their produce was 6,511 guineas, or upwards of £100 per couple. It was Mr. Osbaldeston's old pack that realised this enormous sum. It had been sold conditionally some years earlier to Mr. Harvey Combe, and upon Mr. Combe's relinquishing the Old Berkeley country where these hounds had been hunting they were sent to Mr. Tattersall's to be sold by auction. Report says it was a fictitious sale; whether it was or not it gave employment to gentlemen of the long robe, there being some previous agreement between Mr. Osbaldeston and Mr. Combe relative to the price the hounds might fetch if sold at the time when Mr. Combe chose to part with them. (fn. 8)
As time went on the Old Berkeley were obliged, Brooksby tells us, to abstain from advertising their meets
in order to avoid the pressure of a swarm of nondescripts who, starting from every suburb in London, were glad to make a meet of foxhounds their excuse for a holiday on hackney or wagonette, overwhelming the whole procedure by their presence and irritating farmers and landowners, to the great injury of the hunt. (fn. 9)
At that time there was still in the Harrow district 'a small stretch of as good grass as is to be ridden over in England,' but it was yearly being narrowed by 'the advancing waste of bricks and mortar' and the increase in the value of land arising from the spread of London westward. (fn. 10) As in the case of Mr. Grantley Berkeley's staghounds, these conditions proved eventually fatal to the continuance of the Old Berkeley Hunt under its old conditions and resulted in its division into the two packs which still maintain its traditions in neighbouring counties.