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The History of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt 1775-1910
Chapter XI.
Mr Robert, Mr Fred, and Mr Frank J. Usher


1895-1906.

THERE had been no joint-mastership for nearly half a century—not since the charge of affairs had been committed to Captain Sandilands and Captain Fleeming—when Mr Robert Usher and his brothers, Mr Fred and Mr Frank J. Usher, took the hounds on the retirement of Mr Cross, in 1895. To enter into the various schemes which were put forward for the future hunting of the country after Mr Cross's resignation had been received, and before the arrangement come to with the Messrs Usher was effected, would serve no good purpose; nor is it necessary to specify the terms of that arrangement, inasmuch as these were virtually the same as those which had been accepted by Mr Cross— although it may be stated that the one-third share in the pack which Mr Cross had held was now taken over by the new masters. Throughout the eleven seasons in which the Messrs Usher were in office everything was done on a most liberal scale, and money was not spared so long as they considei'ed that the expenditure would in any way prove beneficial to the Hunt, or tend to promote sport. Thus, with a stronger pack of hounds and a larger stud of hunters than were absolutely necessary for the recognised number of hunting days a- week, it was possible, when hunting had been stopped by frost or other cause, to make up lost time by the addition of bye-days in a way which would otherwise have been impracticable. In the spring of the year 1899, after some hard weather, hounds hunted four and five days a-week for a space, and one week towards the close of the following season, they were in the field every day except Sunday. The Hunt servants, who were always well turned out, were mounted on horses of a very superior class—all pretty much of the same stamp, and nearly all possessing a happy combination of quality and substance. When the hunters were looked at, as they generally were, by those who came to the kennels, there was much to be praised or admired and little to be found fault with, and more than one huntsman of another pack, visiting Golfhall, has been known to return home not without some feelings of envy on this score. The expenditure, however, did not end with the establishment, and probably more was done during this mastership than any other in combating the wire difficulty," and in endeavouring to keep the country in a rideable state. If, in the course of a run, wire barred the way, as not infrequently happened, a jumping-place or a hunting gate was soon provided, so that when the same line came to be taken later, the huntsman was able to get to his hounds at once, and the field were not subjected to the annoyance of having to make a detour. Whether or not these efforts on the part, of the masters were fully appreciated by those who followed hounds at that time is doubtful ; probably the field, like many other fields, thought little about such matters, and rested content, so long as they had their sport or were able to gallop and jump.

Mr Robert Usher and his brothers had hunted with the pack since their boyhood, and having seen much good sport in the country, entertained more than a kindly feeling for the Hunt and its welfare. But while all three brothers were able to hunt regularly at this period, matters other than the chase of the fox claimed the time and attention of Mr Robert and Mr Frank Usher, and consequently the management of the establishment and all the ordinary arrangements connected with the hunting of the country were undertaken by Mr Fred Usher, who had rather more leisure at his command. It would probably have been difficult to have found an acting-master more painstaking or more thoroughly conscientious in the discharge of his duties than he was. Ever ready to show sport, he would draw for a fox so long as any one wished him to do so, or as daylight served ; and the hunting days upon which he did not go on with his hounds in the morning and return with them in the evening were few and fitr between. As years passed he became more and more interested in the pack under his management, and, in consequence of the number of hounds which he bred, he was able to keep it up to the required strength without having resource to the purchase of a single draft hound. In breeding, he greatly relied upon, and received much help from, Cotesworth—who now again got the horn—and through the combined efforts of master and huntsman, many good working hounds and a fair number of good looking ones were put forward in most years.

Few of the hounds at this period possessed any of the blood of the pack which had been in the kennel during the union with East Lothian, but one or two couples of those in which it was still to be found were bred from, and therefore the strains were not lost; nor was the blood which Captain Cheape had introduced and Mr Cross had continued, overlooked by Mr Fred Usher and Cotes- worth. Thus Sir Bache Cunard's Beauty (1888), who through her sire, Belvoir Forecast (1885), was a grand-daughter of Belvoir Weathergage, came to have many descendants on the benches at Golf- hall: and the same may be said of Iompish (1888), of the Blankney Fairy (1883), of the Atherstone Trusty (1881), and of Captain Johnstone's True- man (1884) and his Templar (1888), all previously alluded to. From Beauty sprang a line of good hitches—Blissful (1894), Bashful (1897), Bravery and Brilliant (1900), Blackcap (1902), Bangle (1903), and the sisters Blissful and Bluebell (1905) while Rompish of whose progeny the most noteworthy were dog-hounds, became the dam of Renegade (1892) and Governor (1893), the grand-dam of Genitor (1896), Woldsman (1898), and Hamlet (1899); and the great-grand-dam of Hostile (1902), all of which were used by Mr Fred Usher. But the Blankney Fairy as well as Rompish was the forbear of more than one sire which has had his influence on the pack, since from her were descended Genitor, before mentioned, Grappler (1898) and Sounder (1900); while the blood of Atherstone Trusty, which had been continued through his daughters, Fanciful, Fallacy, and Forcible (1888), was to be found in Lavish (1893), and again in her offspring Luther (1896) and Legal (1898). To Captain Johnstone's Trueman and Templar many couples could be traced, the former having got Tapster (1891), Trimbush (1891), and Renegade before mentioned; and the latter, Blissful (1894), also before mentioned, Faithful, Famous, and Favourite (1894), and Donovan (1895). Although the sires of other kennels were not much resorted to, Lord Fitzwilliam's Chanter (1891), the Duke of Buccleuch's Trident (1892), the Dumfriesshire Pilot (1894), the South Durham Streamer (1896), and the Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire Resolute (1899), and their Raeburn (1900), were all used between the years 1894 and 1904; and as their stock proved themselves workers, their lines have been perpetuated.

No doubt the good sport which took place during the seasons immediately following the Messrs Ushers' acceptance of the mastership was to a considerable extent attributable to the working power of the pack. But much credit was due to Cotesworth who, being at this period in the prune of life was probably at his best—quick both in the field and in the kennel, a good and bold horseman and a clever huntsman; while a word of praise may be bestowed on Will Orvis, the first whipper-in, afterwards well known with with the Atherstone and the Meynell.

By the autumn of 1895 Lord Hopetoun had returned to this country from Victoria and, on the nd of November, hounds met at Hopetoun House, where, it goes without saying, a cordial welcome was given to all. This, besides being the first day of regular hunting was the first of a season in which there was much sport and little frost; and although there were many hard days and many good runs both before and after the coming of the new year, it was the work resulting from a fixture at Uphall inn which this season, as in several previous ones, proved to be the highest test of condition. With the pack hard at it from half-past two to ten minutes past five o'clock on the 8th of February (1896), horses and men were kept going as long as they could last, and Cotesworth alone managed to struggle to the end. Finding at Bangour, hounds broke towards Craigbinning, but wheeling when they reached the Wilderness covert, ran by the Bangour strips to Cairnpapple and thence back to Bangour. Leaving Bangour a second time they hunted nicely as far as Blackcraig and afterwards ran well until some ploughed land near Broadlaw brought them to their noses. Puzzling out the line, they went on over Binny Craig to Hangingside, and from that, turning up wind, raced by Ochiltree, Riccarton, Whitebaulks, the Devil's Elbow and Preston to B'ormie. Then driving through the Witch craig and Cairnpapple they reached Cathiaw, beyond which they had a brace in front of them— a fresh fox as well as the hunted one—and when a few minutes later they went away from the strip opposite the keeper's cottage at Wallhouse craigs, it was, unfortunately, with the fresh one. The field which, owing to the pace and the extent of country traversed, had already been considerably thinned, now became further reduced in number, Mr Fred Usher being the last to give in. Cotes- worth, however, who at this stage got his second horse, and Mr Ross, Hopetoun, who had come out late, followed hounds-still running with dash and vigour,—by BalIencrieff over Johnstone's hill, through Cairnpapple and the Witch craig to the north wood at Lochcote, where an opportunity of stopping them was taken.' Although the furthest points touched are only some four miles apart, hounds must have covered more than twenty, and that without a check,—a circumstance which points to the hard state of condition into which they had been brought by their huntsman.

The best hunters which Cotesworth rode about this time were Mavourneen, and Canton. The former, which had previously b&onged to Mr Cross, carried him through nearly the whole of the run Just described, and had she not been possessed of quality and a great heart she could hardly have done so, or gone through the many other long hunts which fell to her lot, so creditably as she did. Carlton, the horse on which he appears in the photograph taken at Craigiehall, was perhaps his favourite hunters but, although an excellent performer over a country, he was bad-tempered, and eventually became so savage in the stable,—as Cope, the stud-groom, knew to his cost,— that he had to be destroyed.

In a previous chapter something has been said of the unwillingness, as a general rule, of the Hopetoun foxes to travel, but the fox which was found there on the 2nd of January 1897 was far from being a "ningy" one, and might fairly have been designated "straight-necked." He was pushed up near the gardens, and hounds ran him hard up to Craigtonhill and thence back to Hopetouii big wood, round which they had a turn befbre they went away. Then racing by W7hitequarries down to the saw-mill and through the privet covert beyond, they went on over the grass to the Binns strip, and from that by the farms of Burnshot, Cauldcoats and Walton to the Bo'ness golf-course where they checked. Cotes- worth, however, put them right, and away they went again, past the monument on Bonnytoun hill and across the Linlithgow and Bo'ness road, straight to Stobbiehohui covert on the banks of the Avon, to ground in the main earth,—six miles from Hopetoun as the crow flies and nearly eleven in all.' This was the best day of the season—the second of the Messrs Ushers' mastership—for a frost of some five weeks' duration, in which all the appointments made had to be given up, followed, and the spring hunting brought forth no run equal to that from Hopetoun to Stobblehoim, although, oil 20th of February there was a good hunt from Lougmuir to Cliftonhall in which hounds worked well, and Cotesworth displayed to the full his ability as a huntsman in helping them to unravel the line through a difficult country.

In April 1896, Mr W. Horn Henderson tendered his resignation as honorary treasurer and Mr J. G. B. Henderson, his eldest son, was appointed in his stead  while a year later, Mr Falconar-Stewart, who had acted as honorary secretary for thirteen seasons, intimated his retirement, and was succeeded by the late Mr E. B. Meldrum, Dechmont.4 Mr Falconar-Stewart had first hunted with the pack in the year 1850, when only just old enough to sit on a pony; but school life, followed by a long sojourn abroad, soon took the place of these early hunting days, and for many years he saw nothing of hounds. When, however, he returned to this country in 1878, and made Binny his home, he not only hunted regularly but did everything in his power to promote sport. During the period in which he was honorary secretary he succeeded in raising the subscription very considerably indeed, and his untiring energy and tact were then of the greatest help in carrying on the hunting of the country. But while his work was undoubtedly a labour of love, it was none-the-less worthy of recognition, and accordingly, on a bright cub- hunting morning in the September following his retirement, when hounds met at Dundas Castle, he was presented with a memento of his many services to the Hunt—the presentation being made by Mr Russel, who only a few days before had resigned the chairmanship of the Hunt committee. Since then, Mr Falconar-Stewart has hunted less regularly, and in late seasons has only had an occasional day with hounds; but when he does appear in the field his presence is hailed with pleasure by all old friends —now, alas! fv in number—who still hunt with the pack.

About two years after the retirement of Mr Henderson and Mr Falconar- Stewart the Hunt sustained other losses. The sad and premature deaths of Mr W. J. Drybrough and Mr George Younger, both of whom had hunted in the country for a number of years, called forth many feelings of regret, and sincerely was each mourned by his friends: while the departure from Linlithgowshire of Mr James Lesslie, Boghall, who for thirty-nine years had farmed in the county, and for nearly as many had ridden over it to hounds, was very widely deplored. Through his love of the chase, he had done much in his district to link fox-hunting with agriculture, and the number of sportsmen and farmers who met in the Star and Garter, Linlithgow, on the evening of the 10th of November 1899, to do honour to their mutual friend, indicated the good feeling subsisting between these two classes of the community, as well as the high esteem in which he himself was held by both.

During the earlier half of this mastership, the columns of 'Land and Water' contained many accounts of the sport which took place. All, or nearly all, of these were contributed by Mr Harry Armour, who under the nom-de-plume, "Palafox," wrote both regularly and well. Mr Andrew Gillon, when living at Cathlaw during the seasons of 1896 and 1897, also, helped to chronicle the work of the pack; and several articles by him, entitled "Notes by Nimrod," appeared in 'The West Lothian Courier.' One of these gives a very graphic description of a sharp burst from Longmuir one evening in November 1896, after several good coverts in the Saturday country had been drawn blank. "As a last resort," so the Note runs, "Mr Usher gave the word for Longmuir. What a glorious uncertainty there is about fox-hunting! When your spirits are at their lowest and your feet at their coldest, never give up hope. Mr Henderson had a treat in store for us at Longmuir. At first it seems quite hopeless,—not a sound is to be heard. Listen! what is that? For'ard away, awa-ay, awa-a-ay, awa-aa-ay! Are my senses deceiving me? No, there it is again clear and distinct: there too, are those short, sharp, decisive notes on the horn we all know so well. Yes, they are away. How dark it is, and how those hounds do run! What a burning scent; what beautiful music! Past Hangingside, Binny craig and Oatridge, 'they are racing like mad, as though they were tied to his brush. Right past the door of Binny House, and down the carriage drive they tear, with hackles up - every hound speaking. Our fox is done: at the east lodge gate he turns to his right and attempts to take refuge among the shale workings. It's no use : see yonder he goes, quite dead beat. Now huntsman holloa your hounds on. "Tally-ho, tally-ho, who-hoop." Who shall say that these lines were not written by a sportsman?

As in the hunting of every country the primary object is to show sport, so in the history of every Hunt a fair share of space and attention should be devoted to the sport shown. Two only out of the many good runs which took place during the first four seasons in which the Messrs Usher were in office have been described, and there are others equally worthy of mention. In the third of these seasons—one nearly as open as the first—there were many days on hounds ran well, and although the hunt from the Binns strip to Pepperhill near Longcroft on the 4th of December 1897 was by no means the longest, it was probably one of the best, for the point was a fair one and hounds pulled their fox down in the open after running nicely for an hour and fifteen minutes.' But perhaps the 3rd of December in the following season (1898) was the day which produced the best run of this mastership, and although Mr Fred Usher was unfortunate enough to have one of his legs broken through his horse slipping up with him near Lochcote, the accident did not happen until late in the afternoon when the run was over. In Wallhouse Desert hounds found their fox, and, from it, went away towards Lochcote, but, turning, carried the line back through the Desert to Crawhill on the banks of the Avon. Then they bent left-handed, threaded the Crow wood, and, crossing the low lands between that and the Couston water, reached Wallhouse craigs. There the fox found temporary refuge on a ledge of rock, but, being viewed, he was soon forced from his position, and hounds, after again pointing towards the Couston water, hunted him through the Bishopbrae strips into Cairnpapple. One turn round that large covert and they were away—Saffron guiding them along and out of the road—by the silver-mines straight to Baldie-tap, and from that, leaving Craighinning Wilderness on their right, to the Maiiis burn. Now the pace mended and the field had to gallop their hardest in order to keep in touch with the pack which, skirting the east end of Longmuir covert, went on over the farm of Ochiltree mill and the fields below Hangingside and Oatridge. From the Ecciesmachan road to Lampinsdub the pace slackened only to be increased again between the latter and the Edinburgh and Linlithgow road, on the far side of which the fox was viewed not more than a couple of hundred yards ahead. Near the lodge gate east of the twelfth milestone they dwelt a little, but with Cotesworth's help, ran well through the Three mile-town coverts, and finished by putting their fox to ground on the canal banks opposite Craigton, after having covered fifteen miles of varied country, with a point of eight, in something like an hour and three-quarters.

All seasons, however, do not bring good sport, and many dull and uneventful clays followed the bright ones which up to this time had been the rule. Scent went from bad to worse, frost not infrequently bound the country, and in consequence of the death of Queen Victoria the work of all packs was brought to a temporary stand-still early in the year 1901. Nevertheless there were occassions, such as the 9th of December 1899, and the 24th of November 1.900, when after a hunt and a kill, hounds were satisfied, the state of matters brightened, and it seemed as if the spell of ill luck was really broken. On the first of these dates, with a touch of frost in the air, hounds ran well from Longmuir to Toi'phichen - Sir John Usher, who in the previous autumn had been honoured by having a baronetcy conferred upon him, distinguishing himself, notwithstanding his years, by being "first up" at the finish. On second, with the country at its deepest, a fox found ill 'was well hunted by WTaterstone, the Braes o' Mar, Little Ochiltree, Gateside, Ferniehill, Cockrnuir, and Philpstoun moor to Priestinch where he was killed— Cotesworthwading into a pool of water up to his neck in order to get him, and the brush being presented to Mr Andrew Gillon, who was in the field for the first time after his return from South Africa. But the run from the Three-mile-town coverts to Bowden on 20th of December 1902, was something more than a mere alleviating incident in a period of depression,—it was a good hunt, and is still looked back upon with pleasure. Hounds met at Hopetoun, and early in the afternoon were put into the garden at Wester Auldcathie, in which a fox had been seen repeatedly for some time previously. Not waiting to be found he slipped away quietly, and when hounds hit his line a few minutes later, the covert rang -,N,itli their music until, crossing the Edinburgh and Linlithgow road, they settled down to run. Leaving Trinlaymire behind them, they raced through the strips oil Braes o' Mar and, although, on Little Ochiltree, they flashed over the scent, they recovered it without help, and carried it—Ochiltree Castle lying on their right and Ochiltree mill on their left—to Longmuir. Then they stretched away over the grass by Broomieknowes and Bee-craigs to B'orinie and from that, without dwelling, by the north wood at Lochcote to Bowdenhill, where they marked to ground among the rocks. The accounts of this run appeared in print," and they virtually agree as to the time occupied—fortyfive or forty-six minutes—but both seem rather to exaggerate the distance traversed and to understate the point, which is one of all but six miles.

In the autumn of 1901 Mr Fred Usher's engagement to Miss Knox - Little was announced, and their wedding took place in Worcester Cathedral on the 26th of November in that year; while a few months later, and within a short time of his having resigned the appointment of Governor- General of the Australian commonwealth, Lord Hopetoun was created Marquis of Linlithgow. The glad feelings which these events gave rise to, however, were superseded some two years afterwards by others of an opposite nature, since through the deaths of Sir John Usher and Captain Johnston-Stewart the Hunt lost two of its best supporters,—both of them having been good sportsmen and members of the Hunt committee, as well as resident proprietors, of whom, unfortunately, there are now but too few in the country.

When, in the spring of 1904, Cotesworth laid aside the horn, he had been seventeen seasons with the pack,—two as first whipper-in, four as first whipper-in and kennel huntsman, and eleven as huntsman. A period of service so considerable deserved acknowledgment, and the subscription which, upon the suggestion of Lord Linlithgow, was opened on his behalf, resulted in the in- gathering of three hundred sovereigns, contributed for the most part by those who had hunted with him. But although this substantial token of goodwill must have been acceptable, it was probably the small keepsake in the shape of a silver hunting horn, and the present made to his wife, which gave Cotesworth the most pleasure. After his retirement he lived at Currie for a time, but to a man of his temperament, life without work soon became unendurable, and with a craving to be with hounds again, he went out to America to join his brother, then huntsman to the Middlesex Hounds in Massachusetts. Before leaving this country he was a guest at the first puppy-show held after his resignation, and had an opportunity of saying, as he did with truth and, at the same time, with much fond pride, that he had bred every hound then in the kennel himself. Many of these were the descendants of Genitor (1896), a hound of which he had the highest opinion, and had therefore used most freely. In writing of him at a later period, Cotes- worth states, "We could not have too much Genitor, for he was not only a first-class hunting hound, but a good stud dog,—getting better puppies than himself, and all of them workers.

In 1898 Will Orvis had been succeeded as first whipper-in by Torn Hall, who it was said owed his place mainly to the promptitude and activity which he displayed in the putting away of a fox from a tree on the western shore at Hopetoun, the day he came on trial from the South Durham. However that may have been, he proved himself a capable whipper-in, and one day in January 1899, when Cotesworth was unwell and he had the good fortune to hunt hounds, acquitted himself most creditably, showing a nice hunt from the Wilderness at Craighinning to Auldeathie, where a want of scent in covert alone prevented him from accounting for his fox. After turning hounds to Cotesworth for two seasons he became huntsman to the Flint and Denbigh, but now returned to Golfhall to 11 the vacancy caused by Cotes- worth's retirement. His knowledge of the country and the experience which he had gained in Wales stood him in good stead, and during the time he was huntsman he showed very fair sport. Although the country did not lend itself then in any greater degree than it does now to the straight running of its foxes, rather more than an average number of hunts with good points was effected in the season of 1904. On the 15th of November hounds ran from Westwood to Harry's muir near Pumpherston, and on the 22nd of December from the moss below the Inch near Bathgate to Calder wood— the distance as the crow flies, in each case, being between five and six miles; while on the sixth of the month last mentioned, when Alderstone was the fixture, they worked steadily for two hours and a half before being whipped off the line near Kiprig, on the country becoming uiirideable. A bye-day from Muiravonside on the 12th of January (1905) resulted in a hunt over an unusual line, with a point of seven miles, for the fox which was holloaed away from the Haining wood in Stirlingshire was pursued into Hopetoun. territory. Breaking covert towards the farm of Avonbank, hounds swung right-handed by Waulkmilton and Manuel to Woodcockdale on the Linlithgowshire side of the river, and from that hunted through Belsyde, Williamscraig and Preston to the base of Cockleroi. Then they went on over the farms of Hillhouse, Cauldbaine, and Riccarton, by Nancy's hill and Kingscavil, and across the Linlithgow road and the Union canal to Kingfield ; but, again swinging right- handed, ran through Sunnyside, past Merrylees and over the Binus hill to the western shore in Hopetoun where, the earths being open, the fox saved his brush. Before the end of the season, on the 14th of March, there was another hunt over an unusual line, since after running from Cousland covert, in which they found, to Houstoun wood, hounds turned northwards, and crossing the Bathgate road, hunted through the policies of Binny, Ecciesmachan covert, and the Braes o' Mar to a point not far short of Gateside.

There they were at fault, but, through information received and some help from Hall, they recovered the line, and caught their fox in the open, a little to the west of Waterstone.

Towards the close of the year 1904, Mr Fred Usher purchased, as a stud hound, the Atherstone Comrade (1900), by their Regulus (1896)—their Columbine (1897), the sire of more than one winner at Peterborough. Besides being steady in his work, he was good to look upon, having quality, great neck and shoulder, the best of legs and feet, and a sensible fox-hound head. There were six couples of young hounds by him at Golfhall in the spring of 1906, and two and a half couples in that of the following year, all of which, except one, were put forward, and several of which have since been bred from.

In the end of January 1906 the joint-masters intimated their resignation. For some time previously there had been rumours of a change, and thus the resolution of Sir Robert Usher and his brothers, which was received with very general regret, did not come altogether unexpectedly. A little later Mr Fred Usher accepted the mastership of the Berwickshire Hounds, which had become vacant through the death of Sir James Miller. At that time there were nearly sixty couples of hounds in kennel at Golfhall and, as it was contemplated that in future the country should not be hunted more than two days a-week, a draft, which consisted partly of entered and partly of unentered hounds, was presented to him. This disposition on the part of the Hunt committee was followed by a gracious act on that of the joint-masters who generously waived their right to repayment of the value of their share in the pack, in consequence of which the hounds became, and are now, the property of the country.

During the thirty years which terminated with the retirement of Mr Cross in 1895, no fewer than nine masters had come and gone, but none of these had remained in office so bug as Sir Robert Usher and his brothers who, even now when their joint rule was at an end, did not sever their connection with the Hunt. After their resignation both Mr Fred and Mr Frank Usher contributed to the Hunt funds—the former up to the time of his death in 1909 and the latter up to the present time,—while Sir Robert, again putting his shoulder to the wheel, resumed the position he had relinquished, and is master still.


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