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The History of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt 1775-1910
Chapter XII.
Sir Robert Usher and Mr Andrew Gillon


1906-1910.

IN 1906, as in years gone bye, the old wood of Drumshoreland formed a dark line in the landscape, the Cairn hills looked down sullenly on the rough grass and moorland stretching away from them on all sides, and Cockleroi and Binny craig reared their rocky heads against the sky. But while these and other landmarks were then much as they had been, the face of the country had altered generally, for the change brought about through the working of the minerals and the use of wire in fencing, had steadily asserted itself. Still, then as now, there remained a fair extent both of 01(1 grass and agricultural land over which hounds could run or hunt as scent served, and when Sir Robert Usher and his brothers retired, the sport was almost as popular as ever. Probably it was as much for the sake of his many hunting friends as from a desire to effect the continuance of an old establishment that, shortly after his resignation, Sir Robert volunteered to remain in office. In doing so he showed that public spirit which he is known to possess, and for which, in this instance, he received the thanks of his fellow- members of the Hunt committee. But in agreeing to continue at the head of affairs, Sir Robert stipulated that he should be relieved of the management, and, accordingly, the duties of acting master were entrusted to Mr Andrew Gillon, whose name has already occurred in these pages, and whose father and grandfather, it will be remembered, had previously hunted the country. Although Wallhouse had now passed into other hands, the name of the family in whose possession it had been for so long was still honoured and respected, and while, no doubt, this circumstance was in Mr Gillon's favour, the success of his mastership was due entirely to his own energy, sportsmanlike conduct, and personal popularity. He worked hard summer and winter alike, took the rough with the smooth, and always did his best to show sport: and during the four years in which he was in office an excellent feeling towards the Hunt existed throughout the country.

When Mr Fred Usher accepted the mastership of the Berwickshire Hounds he arranged to take Hall with him, and it therefore fell to the lot of Mr Gillon to appoint a new huntsman. In his choice he was fortunate, for Sam Morgan, junior, whom he engaged, has shown sport in spite of difficulties, has done much towards improving the pack, and through his civility and invariable good humour, has won the regard of all with whom he has come in contact. Although this was his first place as huntsman, he was not wanting in experience. Besides having been whipper-in to the Brocklesby, the Bramham Moor, the Quorn, Sir Watkin Wynn's and the Badsworth, he had occasionally hunted the two last-mentioned packs, and when he came to Scotland he brought with him the knowledge w'hich lie had then acquired. During his first and second seasons he had Fred Hoxford and Will Cypher to turn hounds to him, while, when Roxford left in 1908, Cypher was promoted to fill his place, and Jack Woodger, who came from the Duke of Buccleuch's establishment, was engaged as second whipper-in.

One of the first matters which Mr Gillon turned his attention to was the infusion of some fresh blood into the kennel, and probably he will always look back with a feeling of satisfaction on the purchase which he made in the summer of 1906, of a draft from the Atherstone pack. Four couples out of the five and a half of which it consisted were good hounds, and few could have been better in their work than their Dagon (1900) during the two seasons he was at Golfhall. Other drafts were got later, and although nearly all of them were useful, those which proved to be of the most service came from the Brocklesby, the Duke of Buccleuch's and the Cattistock in 1907, and from the Puckeridge in 1908. The Puckeridge bitches, like the Duke's, showed great quality, and, coming as they did from a plough country, were all line-hunters—Spotless and Winifred (1904) and Dauntless and Gaudy (1907) being the best. But while fresh blood was got partly by purchasing drafts, and partly through using the sires of other kennels—such as the Hurworth Tuscan (1901), the Grove Furrier (1905), the North Staffordshire Sailor (1905), the Atherstone Spencer (1904) and their Deacon (1.906)—the best working lines then in the kennel were continued. Thus, Bangle (1903) became the darn of Comedy and Congress (1907); Blissful (1905), of Famous, Farmer, Frantic and Furrier (1908)-an exceptionally good litter by the Grove Furrier; Balmy (1905), of Denmark (1909); and Bluebell (1905), of Barrister (1909); while Delegate (1901) was the sire of Gameboy, Ransack and Ranter (1907) and Hostile (1902)--used only on account of his work—got Rompish (1907), Hemlock (1908) and Harkaway, Harlequin and Heedless (1909)—all of whom, Hemlock in particular, have done him credit.

The last hound list issued, that for 1909, contains the names of thirty-nine and a half couples, of which twenty-three and a half were bred at Golf- hall. If the pedigrees of these twenty-three and a half couples are examined, it will be found that three and a half can be traced through Fallacy and Forcible (1888)—two of the daughters of Fancy and Atherstone Trusty, previously mentioned—to Galloper in the Lothians' list for 182 ; seven and a half, through Beauty (1888) to Belvoir Weather- gage, and sixteen and a half to the Blankney Fairy (1883) and Belvoir Gordon (1886), and so again to Weathergage. It will also be found that fifteen and a half couples strain back through Genitor (1896) to Belvoir Gamester (1882), and twenty-one couples either to Captain Johnstone's Trueman (1884) or to his Templar (1888); that six and a half are descended from the Brocklesby Streamer (1891), through Sounder (1900); three and a half from the Warwickshire Hermit (1889), through Hamlet (1890) and Hostile (1902); seven couples from the Grove Harkaway (1885), partly through the Atherstone Comrade (1900) and partly through the North Staffordshire Sailor (1905); four couples from the Oakley Rhymer (1882), through Donovan (1895); and ten and a half from Lord Fitzwilliam's Chanter (1891).

In tracing these pedigrees, however, there is nothing of greater interest to be arrived at than the fact that ten couples have the blood of Hannibal and Skilful, hounds which were in the old Lothian, now the Duke of Buccleuch's, pack when that was brought into the country by Mr Baird of Newbyth, during the period in which the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt was in abeyance (1814-1825). Of these ten couples, the lines of eight run through Darling (1895) and the Duke of Buccleuch's rfIt (1892); those of one and a half through the Duke's Gossip (1905), and that of one hound, Astor (1904), through his sire, the Duke's Agent (1896).

Turning to the sport shown - although each of the four seasons over which this mastership extended provided its share, the third was undoubtedly the best, as, indeed, it was the best for some years. The country was then well stocked with foxes, and the holding scent which it carried on many occasions enabled hounds to place a number of good runs to their credit.

The cub - hunting of 1906 was a satisfactory one, and while, during the winter and spring months, there were no runs of outstanding merit, there were many good days, the best probably being the 9th of March (1907), when hounds met at Belsyde. Finding in the coverts above the house, they raced by Kipps Castle, Haddie's Walls, the Witch craig, Upper Craiginailliug and Wairdlaw to Longmuir, hunting from that to Binny craig, and afterwards puzzling out the line over the Oatridge steeple-chase course to Ochiltree Castle.

In 1907, in consequence of ail unusually wet autumn and late harvest—there was barley standing out in the field in the last mouth of the year—regular hunting was not begun until the 16th of November; but many fair hunts, the most noteworthy of which occurred on the 3rd and 21st of December, followed the opening day. On the first of these dates, after meeting at Houstoun House, hounds ran and hunted alternately for the space of two hours and twenty- five minutes, covering a considerable tract of country at a good pace all over. With a Cousland fox they ran fast to Livingstone wood, crossed the railway beyond, and went on over Dechmont parks to the Byres, where they checked. But Morgan put them right, and after working steadily by Drumcross and Rankin's wood to Craigs, they again ran fast over the grass to Cairnpapple and from that to Walihouse. Then, breaking by Broompark and swinging left-handed, they carried the line by Hilderston, Ballencrieff, Cairnpapple, and the Witch craig towards B'ormie, just short of which the hunt was brought to an end by reason of the shooting of the coverts there. On the 21st of the month, Philpstoun House was the fixture, and two capital runs ensued. It was a heavy country which hounds crossed when holloaed away from covert near Fawnspark, but the pace was of the best as they ran by Burnside, the Braes o' Mar, Ochiltree Castle, Brooinieknowes, Beecraigs and Whitebaulks to Hillhouse. There they were at fault, and although they recovered the line soon afterwards, it was only to hunt slowly over the grass around Preston and Williamscraig. In the afternoon scent was as good as it had been at first, and hounds ran nicely from Longniuir by North Mains, \Vairdlaw, the Witch craig and Cairnpapple to the Knock, and thence over the Bathgate hills to Ballencrieff, where, in darkness rendered more intense by a thick mist, they marked their fox to ground.

On the 1st of the following month of March (1908) tidings were received of the sad death, at Pau, of the late Lord Linlithgow, who, for some time previously, had been in ill - health. Although out hunting with the pack at Hopetoun on the 16th of November—one of the last days on which he saw hounds at work—his lordship was not able to do more than ride about on a pony, and a week or two later he left home, in the hope that a winter abroad would restore his strength. On the date of his death, the 29th of February, the fixture was Riccarton, Linlithgowshire, where, on the same day of the same month, the hounds had met a hundred years before. In consequence of this coincidence the event was looked forward to with more than usual interest, but wintry weather made hunting impossible, and the appointment was not kept.

In this, however, lay the hand of Providence, for it would have accorded little with the feelings of the members of the Hunt if the cry of hounds had resounded through the country on this Leap Year's Day upon which one of the truest and best of sportsmen, one of the keenest of fox-hunters, and the steadiest and most liberal supporter of the pack, breathed his last. By the death of the seventh Earl of Hopetoun and first Marquis of Linlithgow, the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Blunt has lost a friend whose place will not readily he filled, the farmer, a kind and sympathetic landlord, and the country, a man whom it will mourn widely, deeply, and sincerely for many a day to come."

The cub-hunting of that year (1908) was a most satisfactory one in every respect; and so many were the good runs which occurred during the regular season, that it is difficult to decide which was the best. One of the earliest was a fast sixty minutes all over grass, on the 7th of November, and hounds were only handled once between Bangour, close to which the run began, and Muiravonside, where the fox saved his brush by going to ground. Two good hunting runs, each with a point of some six miles, followed almost inlinediately,—the first taking place from a fixture at Wallhouse on the 21st of the month, when hounds traversed a nice line of country between Cairnpapple and the coverts at Three-mile-town; and the second on the 12th of December when, after meeting at Muiravonside, they pursued a fox found on the Stirlingshire bank of the Avon, near Redford, to Champfleurie. A chase through a wild country, from Williarnston covert to the Easter Cairn and thence to Spittal hill—about eight miles as the crow flies—briefly describes the sport of the 8th of December while on the 15th, hounds worked well in the Howden district, for over two hours, before they ran into their fox lit the open, near Houstoun House. Ten days later the country was bound by frost, and it seemed as if the hunting of 1908 were at all but the rapid thaw which set in on the 30th of the month enabled Mr Gillon to keep his fixture at Westwood on the last day of the year, and resulted in another run—from Cousland to Calder wood—taking place. As, with sport, the old year ended, so, with sport, the new year began, —the 2nd of January (1909) being productive of a good run from Bangour, with a point of between five and six miles, over a line probably not dissimilar to that which Major Ponsouby Cox had in his mind's eye when he wrote,-

"Bangour has held a fox to-day;
And now with heaving flank,
Long, gaunt, and grey—if all goes well
His line is Gowanbank."

After pointing for Bankhead and South Mains, hounds ran westwards by the Witch craig to Cairnpapple, and thence, at a great pace, by Nethermuir and Bridgecastle to Over Hillhouse—about a mile to the south-east of Gowanbank----where the chase ended in darkness.

It was a fox well hunted through a difficult country—from Raveirig by Dalmahoy, Riccarton, Juniper Green, and Baberton - which Morgan handled at The Farm, Colinton, on the 18th February (1909), and the mask which now hangs at Golfhafl serves to remind him of the good work done by Farmer and Furrier on that occasion. Although the hills were white with snow when hounds met at Longcroft on the 16th of March, the sun shone brightly as they ran from the Flints over Bonnytoun hill to Sunnyside, and from that—the pace improving as they ran—by the Binns, the western shore at Hopetoun, and Philpstoun House to the banks of the canal at Fawnspark, where, led by Dauntless (1905), they pulled down as game a fox as huntsman could wish to hunt. On the 23rd of the same month there was another run from Williamston covert, this time to the Wester Cairn, and although the chase virtually ended when that was reached, Mr Gillon, who kept to the right-of- way track, was fortunate enough to get in touch with hounds near Baddingsgill and so follow them for a mile or more in the direction of Carlops. But these runs to the Pentlands, of which there were perhaps an unusual number between the years 1906 and 1910, generally ended in many hounds being left out all night, an occurrence which Mr Gillon disliked and always did his best to prevent.

The season ended formally on Ahe 27th of March, but three days later there was a bye- clay at Wester Drumcross where Mr Dawson, a very good friend of the Hunt, gave all who met hounds a hearty welcome. This appointment brought about one of the fastest runs ever seen in the country by those who took part in it; and neither huntsman nor field had more than an occasional glimpse of hounds from the moment that, after winding their fox from the road, they dashed into the strip of plantation north of Dechmont west-lodge, till they reached Bowden- bill some forty minutes later.

It was in this season that two accidents of an unusually serious nature happened to the pack. On the 19th of January 1909, after meeting at Boll o' Bere, on the old Lanark road, hounds ran a fox, which they had found at the Rhiins, on to the railway viaduct near Oakbank, and several couples, leaping the parapet, fell nearly ninety feet into the valley of the Linhouse water below. Coverlet was killed outright, Gamecock had to be destroyed, and although Winifred, Corporal, Archer, Darter and Famous ultimately recovered, all were very seriously injured. A sorrier sight, however, was that seen on the 27th of February, when two and a half couples of hounds - Songster, President, Waverer, Rhymer, and Furrier—were cut to pieces on the railway which passes through the Ilaining wood near Almond Castle, a tragedy which robbed a fair day's sport of much of its enjoyment. These accidents called forth the sympathy of the members of the field who, feeling that the losses sustained should not rest wholly with the masters, spontaneously contributed towards replacing the hounds killed and injured, and by doing so pleased both Sir Robert Usher and Mr Gillon. But the calamities which occurred were not confined to the pack, since on the 19th of January Morgan received such bodily hurt in getting a fox which hounds had killed in Williamston covert out of it, that he was unable to be in his accustomed place for a fortnight. During that time Mr Gillon carried the horn and hunted hounds in the quiet and sportsmanlike manner which might have been expected of him; and it was after two hours and forty-five minutes' good work that he killed his first fox from a fixture at Starlaw on the 26th of January—a day which he is not likely to forget..

The last season of this mastership and the last which falls within the compass of this history was a disappointing one from the beginning. Broken weather retarded the cutting of the grain crop when that was ripe, and cub-hunting was conducted under difficulties; while the melancholy death of Mr Fred Usher on the 27th October, on the eve, so to speak, of regular hunting, spread a gloom throughout the country. For his was one of those gentle and kindly natures which have no enemies but numerous friends who, grieving his loss, found the days which followed fraught with many sad memories. Frost, which had interfered with the work of the pack oil last day of cub-hunting, afterwards came and went only to come again, and since hunting was stopped on twenty-two occasions, runs were few and far between. Probably the best days were the 13th of November, when there were two good hunts in the Kiniieil district, each exceeding an hour the 8th of February, when hounds ran well for some sixty minutes over a snow-clad country between Beecraigs and Binnybridge; and the 1st of March when, late in the afternoon, a fox found at Craigbinning was pursued at a fair pace by The Law and Hangingside to Charnpfleurie, and thence by Ochiltree Castle and the Braes o' Mar to Ecclesmachan covert, where he was killed.

The meet at Torphichen on the last day of the season—a new and most popular appointment, for which Mr Gillon deserves credit - was always largely attended, and each year the crowd which assembled in the square of that picturesque little village seemed to become greater. The enthusiasm which the keeping of the fixture created, although gratifying to both masters, must have been particularly so to Mr Gillon, since it was in the neighbourhood of Wa1lhouse, and therefore in the district in which he had passed many of his early days, that the event took place. Apart from the regular members of the field, there were to be found among those who met hounds on such occasions many of the Hunt's best friends and well-wishers. Of these perhaps none is better known or more respected in the district than Mr John Thomson who occupies, as his father and grandfather did before him, the position of overseer at Wallhouse. In his snug home above the village he always had a second breakfast for the master and a few other friends and brother-sportsmen ; for although he no longer hunts, there were, at one period of Ills life, few days on which he was not out with hounds when they met on his side of the country. Mounted oil grey mare, he was then a very familiar figure in the field, and no man, it is said, could recount more graphically than he what hounds had done, or what is more, how they had done it. Without a doubt there would also be present Mr Woodcock, the landlord of the "Star and Garter," Linlithgow, and with him most likely Mr George Simpson, Falkirk. Mr Woodcock, whose father had been whipper-in to the Pytchley under Charles Payne during the mastership of the sixth Lord Hopetoun, became second- horseman to his lordship as far back as the year 1860, and while for fifteen seasons he saw a fair share of the sport shown by Mr Tailby, the Pytchley and the Quorn, he has since taken part in many good runs in the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire country. From the day he first came to Linlithgow in 1875, until recently, he has always had a hunter, has always ridden forward, and was, as he is, a keen and good sportsman, and very popular with all classes. Although "Geordie Simpson" has never ridden to hounds, it is safe to say that no mail the country has worn out more shoe-leather in following them than he has; and, be the weather what it might, it has never kept him at home oil hunting day. But now that gout and rheumatism have become his constant companions, Cockleroi and Binny craig see less of him than they did in the past, and it is generally hom the seat of a dog-cart that he views the proceedings. Mr Kerr, Linlithgow, who always hunts "on wheels," would be pretty sure to be there, and since he knows the run of the foxes as well as he knows the country, which is saying a great deal, he can generally give as good an account of what has taken place in the course of the day's work as many a well-mounted man. Unless a "contract" required his attention elsewhere, Mr Callancler, Bathgate, who supplies the hunting (Yates and makes the jumping-places in
the wire fences, would, of course, put III appearance; for he usually has a horse that will "ride" as well as "drive," and it is therefore seldom that he misses an opportunity of hunting when hounds are within his reach. The love of the chase which old B'ormie possessed has descended to his grandson, Mr James Young, Linlithgow, who, Mr J. G. B. Henderson, the honorary treasurer, says, sits in his office and dreams of hunting. But although office work may frequently prevent Mr Young from gratifying his sporting inclinations, he would no doubt make a special effort to be at rfo1pI)iclefl on the last day of the season, and therefore he too might have been found among he glad throng assembled there. It is a long hack from Parkhead to Torphichen village, and if Mr Ross, the head forester at Hopetoun, did not attend the fixture lie would almost certainly join the hunt later, riding the good little bay presented to him by the late Lord Linlithgow, and valued accordingly. For years he went well on old Indecision, a horse which Mr Cross gave him; and it is largely owing' to his care that the big wood, the saw-mill glen, and the covert on the western shore at Hopetoun have almost invariably held a good litter of cubs in the autumn.

That the compact entered into between Sir Robert Usher and Mr Gillon, in 1906, should be dissolved at the close of the past season, was a circumstance very generally regretted. For some weeks after their resignation became known, a not unnatural anxiety as to the future existed, but that was eventually set at rest by the announcement that Sir Robert was willing to return to office, and that he and Mr Arthur James Meldrum of Dechmont were prepared to hunt the country during the following season.' In this scheme Mr Gillon acquiesced, and while all deplored the loss of his services, which had been of the greatest value, the arrangement was welcomed as a most satisfactory one. Mindful of Mr Gillon's good work, his hunting and other friends did not allow his retirement to pass without proof of the regard in which he was held, and towards the end of April last, an opportunity was taken of presenting him with a silver hunting-horn and a couple of hunters as a memento of his mastership.2 But this was not the only compliment paid to him; and the fact that he received other gifts—one from the lady members of the field, and another from the second- horseman in the Hunt-shows how extremely popular his mastership had been.

Mr Meidrum, who now joins Sir Robert Usher, is no stranger in the country. Between the years 1891 and 1901 he and his brothers, the late Mr B. B. Meldrum, and Mr T. Meidrum, and his sister, now Mrs Stephen, all hunted from Dechmont, which, then as now, might have been termed a home of sport. For besides a considerable stud of hunters, there were beagles there in those days, and many good runs were enjoyed with this little pack. Several of the hunters ran well both between the flags and in point-to-point races, Williamston, Patrician, and Cumberland Lass being victorious on more than one occasion; while Tyrolean, whose chestnut head was often to be seen looking out over the half-door of his loose-box near the house after he had been " pensioned," dis- tinguished himself by winning the Scottish Grand National of 1899 and the Linlithgow and Stirling- shire Hunt Cup at Oatridge in that year. in 1909, after several winters spent in the Grafton country, Mr Meidrum came to live on his property at Dechmont, and in hunting regularly last season with the pack which he had first followed in the year 1886, has renewed many old friendships.

In bringing this narrative to a conclusion, it is not inappropriate to acknowledge the unvarying kindness shown by Sir Robert Usher towards the Hunt during these later years, or to wish him and Mr Meldrum good sport in a country which at one time was considered the best in Scotland, and which, in spite of drawbacks, is still well worthy of being hunted.

The pictures reproduced give to this history an interest which it would not otherwise have had, and although they are numerous, yet another, "The First Morning's Cub-hunting," may be conjured up. It is dark as the place of meeting—the forester's house at Parkhead—is approached, and so still, that it is difficult to believe that from thirty to fifty couples of hounds stand waiting in the shelter of that ivy-covered wall. But the grey dawn of a September morning steals in swiftly and, as soon as there is light sufficient, the master gives orders for the big wood to be drawn. To the covertside, in silence, the hounds are led, the whippers-in get quickly to their places, and the few sportsmen present, more than one of whom, probably, have ridden out from Edinburgh in the dark, distribute themselves with the view of being useful. At a signal from the huntsman, every hound save a puppy or two has dashed in, eager for the fray, and Hopetoun:

"waves above them her green leaves
Dewy with Nature's tear-drops as they pass,"

not grieving, but rejoicing at the advent of the pack, at the crash with which they find their fox, and the all but heavenly cry which follows.


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