A Historical Account of the Cambridge University Drag from the 1950's

Degrees for hunting are not awarded by the University; indeed, the drag might be regarded as an extra-mural study, honours being awarded in the hunting pastures of the world in later life. Nevertheless, a glimpse at the long list of now famous masters of hounds, who served their apprenticeship with the Drag, is sufficient proof of its value to hunting through the world.

The Drag was started in 1855, the first masters being Mortimer Ford and Digby Caley, but apart from a list of masters and whips, the first available records are those written and presented to the Drag by Claude Beddington in 1890, and on these the author has drawn for the greatest part of his information. Even so, the history is incomplete, as the records between 1909 and 1939 have been lost, and many masters have failed to keep any records of its activities.

The kennels were originally at the Brick Fields, near the Trumpington Road, but later, hounds were moved to Newnham Croft, probably to suit the domestic convenience of Leete, the kennel-huntsman.

Beddington records that Leete had not succeeded as a farmer, when he was put on to care for the hounds, but being very much liked by the farmers in Cambridgeshire, was very influential in getting permission for many of the lines. J.M. Paulton, writing in the Badminton magazine, circa 1878-80, describes him as follows: "Leete was a worthy old fellow, but he always looked more than anything like a bumbailiff out for a holiday. He rode an old three-legged horse, rather more shaggy if possible than himself, both of them diffusing a constant and overpowering odour of aniseed. You could always 'wind' Leete across the road or round the corner with the wind behind him. How in the world he managed to lay the drag as he did, and to negotiate the obstacles over, through or under which he and his old horse crawled was a matter of amazement to us all. When he came to a stiff place he would dismount, throw over it one end of the line to wich was attached the old rabbit skin that carried the scent, and then, if he could not get over or through, would ride round by some gap or gate, pick up his line and shuffle on to the next fence. If, as occasionally happened, he hadn't taken sufficient start or the drag was run extra fast, we would run him to view a fence or two from home, and then it was a sign for gods and men to see him finish in front of hounds."

Leete remained in the service of the Drag until his death in 1884, after being a faithful servant for 20 years. His salary was £150 per year. His horse and two suits of clothes a year were found for him. He was succeeded by his son, H. Leete, who was still at the kennels in the 1908-9 season, many successive masters remarking how well he kept hounds.

Beddington's notes are complied primarily for the benefit of future masters, and his comments on the farmers of his day make amusing reading. Writing on The Downing Arms line (formerly called The Cat):

"G. Paxton was very friendly if treated properly, but talked too much, while all he said should not be believed. Simons, host at The Downing Arms, however, would do anything for a shilling, occasionally put up some obstruction in a fence and refuse to allow the Drag to pass without payment. Dr. Perkins, agent for the Downing Estates, undertook to give him notice to quit should he continue such practices. Harry Briggs, of Cote Farm, Babrahyam, was a good chap; wants the tube, though, applied to him. Always refuses at first, but is delighted finally to allow you to hunt over his land."

Mr. S.S. Fison, of Horningsea, took a great interest in the Drag for many years. In 1880, Alfred Pease met with a severe accident while riding the Ditton Drag, and was very kindly nursed by the Fisons for a long time. Fison was very useful to new masters, taking them round the Corn Exchange and Cattle Market, introducing them to farmers.
In 1892-93, the Duke of Marlborough records that the Drag was in a fairly flourishing condition, that hounds under H. Leete's management were in a splendid state, and probably as good as any drag-hounds in the country. He also had very little bother with the farmers, but the Cottenham tenants were "always very greedy to make good bargains." He had to go with Leete on a stipulated day some three weeks before Cottenham Races were held and bargain with them for the amount of compensation they should receive.

The Duke of Marlborough once had a row with a man called Cash, formerly a cook at St. John's College. This man threatened legal proceedings and tried on a system of blackmail, saying he would stop the Cottenham Races being held on his ground. The master had to place the matter in the hands of a first-class solicitor before the man ceased to bother him.

The next master to go to the trouble of recording his mastership was J. F. Ramsden (1898-99), remarking that for the past few years the Drag had not been in a very flourishing condition. He attributed the lack of support to fewer people being able to afford to ride and, somewhat scornfully, to the "increasing popularity of rowing - particularly amongst Etonians." Another source of competition came from the harriers, who had recently become connected with the 'varsity. Ramsden comments on the attractions of the Harriers as follows: "...Many people go out with them, not because they take any pleasure in seeing hounds hunt, but because they can stay out all day and lark over the same few fences with the certain knowledge that they will, in nine cases out of ten, have time to go round without being left behind." Also, with some reason, he added, that they could hunt all day for a pound, while the Drag cost them 30s. for about half an hour.

Presumably with a view to adducing more support for the Drag, in the face of such severe competition, they procured a hind for £12 from a man called Porter, of Thames Ditton, subsequently finding out they could have had one for £8 from Savernake.

Mr. George Fitzwilliam and Mr. C.B. Wright loaned a portion of the Fitzwilliam country lying to the north of St. Ives and east of Abbots Ripton, which they did not hunt as there were no converts there. Ramsden gave detailed instructions to his successors as to how this permission could be continued, warning them not to ask the Fitzwilliam for meets in other parts of their country. This difficulty could, however, be surmounted by getting leave from a Mr. George Evans for a meet somewhere west of Brampton Wood, "when it is a moral certainty that the deer will, if well managed, go straight into the cream of the Fitzwilliam country!" He adds that Mr. Wright should be informed of this meet and that it should not be tried on too often!

The hind had her peculiarities. She was very unwilling to jump anything but timber, which greatly simplified matters in casting hounds, but unless hounds were close to her, she would often go once or twice round a field before making up her mind where to jump out, and then go over the same gate as she had come in by. "This," remarked Ramsden, "was somewhat confusing to the amateur huntsman." She would generally avoid people working in a field, but would go quite close to houses, and when tired, always took refuge in one. They took her twice running in a privy in a cottage garden. Ramsden found it advisable to give her a few trial runs to get her into condition, as when too fat she would not go at all.

Once more there is an unfortunate break in the records, and it is not until the 1906-7 season that Bertie Ponsonby took the trouble to record the doings of the Drag. It would appear, however, that stag-hunting had continued, and in this season they were presented by Mr. Leoplod de Rothchild with two new bull stags. Unfortunately one died after a hunt, through bad lungs, but that season the other gave them three good hunts. The best of these was a ten-mile point from Madingley to Fenstanton, after the stag had escaped from the van and had been at large about a fortnight. Mr. Crossman, master of the Cambridgeshire, sportingly allowed them to have a meet nearly every hunting day with the stag, with the result that they had only three drags that season. They had another ten-mile point from Toft to Gamlingay, and Mr. Barclay, master of the Puckeridge, gave them a day at Rickling Green after fallow deer, of which they killed two.

In spite of the sport they were having with deer, the Drag found itself in competition with the Fitzwilliam, and Ponsonby bemoans the fact that while the Fitzwilliam received £138 in subscriptions from the gentlemen of the University, the Drag only received £85.
Loder became master for the 1907-8 season, and they had very good sport with both deer and fox, being stopped only one day by frost. They had invitations to hunt fox from Mr. G. Fitzwilliam, Lord Annaly, and Mr. Esme Arkwright. They met at Hartford twice; on the second occasion Loder killed a dog-fox, and from a meet at Bythorn he killed his fox in the open after thirty-five minutes of the best. He killed a brace-and-a-half in six days. H. Leete kept hounds in tip-top condition and they managed to do all the season with fifteen couple.

In 1908-9 B.C. Pearson had bad frosts in January, February, and March, but had some good stag-hunts all in the Cambridgeshire country. The stag was not popular with the Fitzwilliam farmers, but through the kindness of both masters they had fox-hunting in both counties without, however, killing.

Deer-hunting was stopped by the Vice-Chancellor in November 1909, following an action being brought by the R.S.P.C.A. against the Master of the Drag (J. Pickersgill) in Cambridge County Magistrates Court. The Society alleged that at Great Shelford level crossing, the master caused cruelty to be inflicted on a hind which had taken refuge in the gatekeeper's yard. Three times she was evicted, but, although she had done very little that morning, she refused to run, and in the end, while being again evicted, she collapsed and had to be put down. The bench decided that no case had been made and dismissed the action. Mr. Stuart Bevan appeared for the R.S.P.C.A. and Mr. (later Sir) Edward Marshall Hall, K.C., appeared for Pickersgill. The action caused considerable comment at the time, even The Times devoting three-quarters of a column to report it.

From this date until 1939, no records exist. It would appear that at the time of the "Munich Agreement," when war with Germany appeared inevitable, these gentlemen interested in the Drag came up early in order to wind it up for "the duration." This winding up, naturally included a dinner, and that in its turn led to a fire, whereby the records got burned.

There was no hunting during the war, and the difficulties of restarting the Drag were considerable. However, N.E.C. Sherwood was keen, and fortuitously ran across Mr. Peter Grain, in hunting kit, refreshing himself in the same pub. A great many of his difficulties immediately disappeared, and Mr. Grain offered him the premises now occupied on the Barton Road, and virtually carried out the conversions to kennels. He also allowed the hunt the part-time services of his groom, who helped with the boiling of flesh and the cleaning of the kennels. It is, therefore, very largely due to Mr. Peter Grain's generous help and support that the University Drag was resuscitated.

Sherwood had J. Day as first whip, and Michael Blair as secretary. He found that the amount of work involved was very considerable, and recorded that the whole business occupied too much time and interfered with scholastic endeavours.

Hounds were given after appeals, and some were bought. He got two couple from the Cardiganshire, a couple each from the Belvoir and the Cendiff, and half a couple each from the Pembroke and East Essex.

In this first post-war season, the Fulbourn and Babraham Drags were revived, and Horningsea, Coton Gree, Connington, Landbeach and Cottenham were started. Sherwood seems to have found the farmers most co-operative and several of them come and ride with the Drag, when hounds are their way. With the exception of one-and-a-half couple of hounds kept by Mr. R.K. Porter, of Marks Tey, Essex, the pack was sold at the end of the season.

For the 1946-47 season, J.H. Day and Michael Blair took over the mastership, with Miss Ann Dickson, of Girton, as secretary and second whip, while Miss Ann Gibson, of Madingley Road, Cambridge, was put on as first whip. Mr. Peter Grain once again kindly allowed hounds to be kennelled at his Barton Road establishment, and allowed his man, Nobby Manders, to assist in kennel. Blair had described his experiences and routine at great length, and flatly contradicted Sherwood's opinion that scholastic work was upset. However, as they both went down having obtained the same degree - an aegrotat - maybe it is just a matter of preference between kennel-work and lectures.

The hunt staff kept all their horses with Captain Harris, 39 Trumpington Road, which Blair reports on with glowing satisfaction, and he was followed in this by Bellingham and Kimball the following season. Certainly, "Cap." Harris is a great character, has one of the few remaining livery stables in Cambridge, and by all accounts is well deserving of the support he receives from members of the Drag.

Blair wrote enthusiastically about their horses, and was also pleased with the hounds. They got two couple from Sir Thomas Meyrick, Bart., master of the Pembrokeshire, one couple being a gift. A couple came from the Belvoir, one from the East Essex, and two couple from the Romney Marsh Harriers, who had been hunting fox for some season. In Romney Marsh Lilian, however, they placed overmuch confidence, which proved to be misplaced when she was found to be in whelp.

The majority of the field were from outside the University, and Blair, while deploring the lack of support from within, declared that had it not been for the petrol restrictions, even more support from outside would have been forthcoming.

Hounds were sold at the end of the season to Miss Deidre Coleman, of Goudhurts, Kent, owing to the difficulty of summering, and also as the new master wished to collect his own pack from Ireland.
A. H. Bellingham and M.R. Kimball took over the joint mastership for the 1948-49 season, with J.R.E. Taylor as first whip, and M. Ainsley as second whip. Mr. Peter Grain once more allowed the use of his Barton Road kennels. Hounds hunted officially seven times in the Christmas term, and eight during the Lent term.

"Stinker" sent the following report to Horse and Hound on the opening day. "The University Drag held its opening meet at Madingley Park on October 28th, when a field of some twenty-five met the new joint-masters, Mr. A.H. Bellingham, of Corpus Christi, and Mr. M.R. Kimball, of Trinity College. The drag for the day was laid across the Dry Drayton estates and round Childerly Hall, covering a line of country full of blind and formidable ditches to begin with , but continuing over a final two miles of mainly grassland, which was more in the tradition of pre-war days. The early obstacles took a fair toll of followers, but the majority were able to enjoy a very fast gallop afterwards, although it has been rumoured that hounds changed from the drag, and began to hunt a green-coated sportsman who was considerably in the van of the field. Earlier generations who supported the Drag in their day, and remember large fields and a hundred hunters stabled at numerous stables in the town, would find that today's austerity measures have hit the drag-hounds more heavily, if anything, than fox-hounds or harrier packs in England. In spite of the increased expense and great deterioration of the country, however, over a dozen undergraduates regularly support the Hunt either on their own horses or on hirelings supplied by the reduced but still most co-operative, stables in Cambridge. Thus, though the numbers are no longer the same, Monday and Wednesday evenings still see booted and spurred figures returning thirstily to their lodgings. The masters have eight couple of hounds, for the gift of which, and for numerous services to the hunt, they are greatly indebted to many Masters of Hounds and old supporters throughout England."

During this season it was found that by far the best method of laying the line was with a runner, dragging a sack soaked in one pint of panther's urine, obtained from the London Zoo. The problem of providing runners was overcome by David Montgomery, son of the Field-Marshal, who formed a team of runners known as the Panther Club. After meeting at 36 Sidney Street, the following rules were published:

1. That the Club be called the Panther Club

2. That the object of the club be to provide the necessary drag lines that the hunt requires.

3. That active running members be limited to six in number, except at the end of a season, when two additional members may be selected to form a nucleus for the following year

4. That the President be responsible for all arrangements between the Master and the runners for each drag

5. That a dinner be held annually at the close of the season and that the subscription to the club supports the cost of the dinner

6. The club possesses a tie which may be purchased at Bodger's.

The members for this season were: David Montgomery, J.H.S. Morris, H.A. Lillingston and J. Burridge.

Hounds were obtained from the South Notts (two couple), Cottsmore, West Norfolk, Eglington, Brocklesby, and Westmeath.

Hounds hunted in a fog from Milton, in November. The runners laying the line apparently rather lost their bearings, taking a line on by Histon orchards to Cottenham. Kimball being confronted by a wall asking a woman passing by what was on the other side. "The cemetery," she replied, "and that's where you'll be, young man, if you're not very careful."

Bellingham and Kimball took on again for the 1949-50 season, which started disastrously, as Bellingham developed jaundice, and Kimball broke his jaw at the opening meet. After Bellingham returned, Kimball went down for the rest of the term. From a Granchester meet following the Hunt Ball, the runners took the line to Eversden Wood, where hounds changed, and such riot ensued that hunt staff and field had to return that night without a single hound.

During the Christmas vacation Kimball took hounds to his home, and joined them to his own pack to hunt fox in country round Bourne and Stamford, lent by the Cottesmore and Belvoir. They had fourteen meets.

The members of the Panther Club this season were D.B. Montgomery, President; J.S. H. Morris, H.A. Lillingston, J.G. Mathew, R.P. Williams, G.W. Younger, A.R. Dunbar, and J.R. Denton. A dinner was held at the end of the season which all members attended. Kimball records that through the whole season, they had no hitches owing to the failure of lines or runners, and the high standard of efficiency was in large measure due to David Montgomery's good organisation.

Kimball took on the hounds alone for the 1950-51 season and, for the first time, the Drag ran a successful Hunter Trials at the beginning of the season. They had the effect of whipping up interest in the hunt, encouraged people to bring up their horses, and brought forward useful freshmen. George Spring was put on as first whip and also ran the kennels, Nicholas MacDermott was second whip, with Peter Whiteley, secretary, while John Bellingham, brother of the former master, looked after the farmers' interests. With Robert as kennel-boy, the organisation is working well.

For their last meet of the season, hounds met at Madingley Hall. A false start was made when a wandering hound spoke to the line of, probably, a fox. When, however, order had been restored, hounds hunted across a nice bit of country now known as "Little Leicestershire." Mr. Eyres, who farms this land, takes a great interest in the drag, even going to the trouble of adding a surprise in the nature of a made up in-and-out fence. Mr. Eyres also cordially entertained the hunt, foot, and motor car followers and all, at the end of the day, and in a brief speech while proposing the master's health, said he always enjoyed seeing the Drag on his land.

Arrangements for next season are that Nicholas MacDermott and John Bellingham will take on the mastership, with MacDermott carrying the horn.

The Drag is an integral part of the University life, and deserves far more support than it receives. It is the author's hope that this brief account will help to stimulate interest, not only among members of the University, but others who may be within reach of its activities.

1. LONGSTANTON DRAG. 6 miles from kennels. 1 1/2 hours' hack via Madingley.

This line runs across most of the old King William IV line, but owing to the increased plough and shortage of grass it has been found better to run it from Longstanton.

2. HARSTON DRAG. 4 miles from kennels. 3/4 hour's hack via Granchester and Cantaloupe.

This was a very difficult line to work out as although there is a fair amount of grass around the river, it is very much wired up, and poorly gated.

3. KING WILLIAM IV. 7 miles from kennels. 1 3/4 hours' hack via Madingley.

This line goes out the other side of the road to the famous old line, but even so still lives up to the name, and is by far the best line.

4. GRANCHESTER DRAG. 3/4 mile from kennels. 10 minutes' hack across the filed. Always a popular meet, being so near to Cambridge.

This line is open to a lot of variation, but fences are hard to find byond the Bourne Brook line. Meet, the Green Man.

5. OAKINGTON DRAG. 5 miles from kennels. 1 hour hack via Madingley.

A difficult place to meet, and the line is mostly over the Longstanton drag.

6. MADINGLEY PARK. 3 miles from kennels. 3/4 hour's hack. This meet provides a good line, with plenty of good jumping, and finishes across "Little Leicestershire."