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The History of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Hunt 1775-1910
Chapter IV.
The three Lairds, the Hunt Club


How unfortunate it is that the hounds ever came to be sold. The good sport which the Lothian and R.A.L.D.S. packs have shown, instead of satisfying, has strengthened, the desire of those now hunting, and has brought home to the country most forcibly the want of hounds of its own. Many of the members have for some time past wished for, and even contemplated, a revival of the old Hunt, and it now only remains that some one should take the initiative in order to bring this about.

Some thoughts such as these must have passed through the minds of Mr Johnston and Mr Gillon during the summer of 1824. Probably upon many different occasions they had discussed the feasibility of renewing the establishment, weighed all the pros and cons, summed up those whom they knew would support such a movement, as well as those whom they considered would be likely to do so, and finally decided that they themselves would take the first steps towards this end. Thus resolved, they must have eagerly watched and waited for a chance of securing any suitable hounds which might be for sale, and when, a little later, it became known that the Earl of Kititore desired to dispose of the pack which he then had in Kincardineshire, gladly availed themselves of the opportunity, and concluded a bargain for its purchase. No doubt the news of this purchase spread rapidly through the country, but the fact was not formally made known until the 17th of January (1825), when the members of the Hunt met at Linlithgow for the express purpose of considering the situation. Then Mr Johnston reported what he and Mr Gillon had done, and offered to the Hunt the hounds which they had purchased at the price they had paid for them; and although this offer was not accepted, it was resolved that the hunting establishment should be renewed, and that the support of the noblemen and gentlemen of the district should be sought. The minutes of this meeting bear that those present "earnestly recommend to the members at large, to enable these gentlemen [Mr Johnston and Mr Gillon] to resume and continue the establishment by affording them their countenance and support, and to enter into a liberal subscription for that purpose." The list of subscribers given on the following page is interesting not only on account of the names which it contains, but also as showing the sums agreed to be contributed.

The Sporting Magazine' alludes to Mr Johnston and Mr Gillon as "celebrated sportsmen," and although the adjective used was taken exception to, it will be conceded that their action in endeavouring to bring about a renewal of the establishment was a most sportsman-like one. And it is probable that no better arrangement than the association of these gentlemen in the management could well have been devised, since each being an owner of property lying within the Hunt's territory, had that interest in the country as well as in the Hunt which forms a connecting link between the two, and tends to promote good feeling between those who cultivate and those who ride over the land. Mr Johnston was proprietor of the estate of Straiton in Mid-Lothian, as well as of the lands of Champfleurie in Linlithgowshire, while Mr Gillon had inherited the property of Wallhouse, which had then been in the possession of his family for between two and three hundred years. The pack which they had purchased had hunted Forfarshire and Kincardineshire in the autumn of 1824. It consisted of about thirty couples of hounds, and included several of those which had been drawn LIST OF SUBSCRIBERS TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PACK OF FOX-HOUNDS FOR HUNTING THE COUNTIES OF LINLITHGOW & STIRLING, COMMENCING AS AT 1ST JANUARY 1825, UNDER THE JOINT MANAGEMENT OF JAMES JOHNSTON, ESQ. OF STRAITON, & WILLIAM D. GILLON, ESQ. OF WALLHOUSE, WITH THEIR SEVERAL SUBSCRIPTIONS ANNEXED.

by Lord Kintore on the division of the united Fife and Forfarshire packs in or about the year 1823, while the remainder was composed chiefly of drafts procured from different well-known kennels in England. The huntsman engaged was George Knight, who at this time was about thirty-seven years of age, and was living at Dalkeith. He either then was, or had been, whipper-in to the Lothian Hounds under Williamson, and therefore must have been acquainted to some extent with the country which he was about to hunt. He seems to have come originally from Gloucestershire or Monmouthshire, and to have been in the service, first, of Captain Davidson of Cantray, with whom be came to Scotland, then of Mr Forbes of Culloden, and, finally, before commencing his hunting career, of the Duke of Gordon, to whom be acted as pad- groom or second horseman. Shortly after his engagement he travelled to Inglismaldie in Kincardineshire, and early in February brought down the pack to the kennels at Winchburgh which had previously been occupied by the Lothian Hounds when they visited the country. The services of two whippers-in' were secured, horses were purchased, and before the middle of the month all was in readiness for taking the field. This was effected on Monday, the 14th, when, meeting at Linlithgow Bridge, hounds found a fox at Tod's mill, on the banks of the Avon, and killed him near Hopetoun House.

"On Monday, Feb. 14, the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire Fox - hounds met for the first time since the renewal of the hunting establishment, under the management of those celebrated sportsmen, James Johnston, Esq., of Straiton, and William Downe Gillon, Esq., of Walihouse, at Linlithgow Bridge. They proceeded to draw the Duke of Hamilton's covert on the banks of the Avon, and immediately unkennelled a fine dog fox. Notwithstanding the great number of equestrians as well as pedestrians who had turned out to see the hounds, reynard broke away at once in the most gallant style, close by the crowd, making for Kinneil wood, near which the hounds were over-rode in a lane, and came to a short check. The fox ran by Bonhard, Carriden, Stacks, and Blackness Castle, passing in his way the beautiful grounds of Sir James Dalyell of Binns, Baronet, and took to ground in a drain in a wood of the Earl of Hopetoun near to Hopetoun House, close by the great head of earths for which he was making. He was then dug out in all state and soon killed. The staunchness of the hounds, which were lately purchased from that out-and-out sportsman, the Earl of Kintore, and the conduct in the field of George Knight, the new huntsman, were the theme of universal admiration, and a more propitious commencement of this young pack could not have been wished for. The time occupied in the run was fully an hour, and the distance from point to point, nine or ten miles. The distance run over must have been much greater. After the whoo-whoop the field of sportsmen separated, much gratified. The Hunt Club assembled in the evening at Whitten's Inn, Linlithgow, where they entertained a party of their friends at dinner."'

To none could this day's work have been more gratifying than to Knight who, since his performance in the field had created a favourable impression, probably began to entertain that feeling of confidence in himself without which a huntsman will almost certainly fail to show sport. Mr Johnston and Mr Gillon, also, could not but have been well satisfied with their opening clay, for the manner in which the hounds had acquitted themselves must have proved to them, almost beyond a doubt, that the purchase which they had made was a sound one; and it may therefore be imagined that they ,joined the dinner-party which took place at Linlithgow that evening in a more than usually pleasant frame of mind. There were also present on that occasion Sir William Baillie of Polkemmet, Sir James Dalyell of the Binns, Mr C. S. Norvell of Boghall, Mr James S. Inglis of Middleton, the Earl of Caithness, Major Moray of Abercairney, Mr Grant of Kilgraston, Mr Maconochie, Sheriff - Depute of Orkney, brother of Lord Meadowbank, and Mr Keith Dick.

The season ended about the middle of April, two months after the fixture at Linlithgow Bridge. In the following month of August the hounds were moved from Winchburgh to new kennels which had been built on a field belonging to Mr Johnston near the Bonnytoun entry to Linlithgow while, about the same time, the old West Port house, belonging to Mr Hamilton of Cathlaw, was leased by the Hunt, and occupied by Knight, the Hunt horses being stabled in the yard adjoining.

The country hunted embraced, in addition to the counties of Linlithgow and Stirling, the west of Fife district and a part of Dumfriesshire, which included or consisted of Mr Hope-Johnstone's property in Annandale. The whole of this area was hunted from the kennels at Bonnytoun, with the exception of the western part of Stirlingshire, which was overtaken from temporary quarters in the county town, and the west of Fife and Dumfriesshire districts, which were hunted from Torryburn and Lochmaben respectively. In the broken season of 1824 Knight killed seven and a half brace of foxes, in his first whole season twenty-eight brace, and in the succeeding one thirty brace, the hounds hunting three days a-week.

Although Mr Johnston and Mr Gillon were joint-masters, the former took the chief charge, and when he was in the field the latter did not interfere. Neither of them carried a hunting horn, but both wore the white collar in virtue of their office. After hunting the country for a period of three years over and above the broken season of 1824, they tendered their resignation, and the mastership was offered to Major Norman Shairp, younger of Houstoun. He, however, to the great disappointment of his friends and brother sportsmen, declined the honour, and the management was intrusted to Mr William Hay of Duns Castle.

"Who comes next? A master of fox-hounds should take the precedence of all others when Nimrod writes, and therefore I introduce to my readers who may not be acquainted with him, a gentleman known in Warwickshire-which county he hunted three seasons in first-rate style—as Mr Hay, but in Scotland as 'Willie Hay' of Duns Castle; and if I could but persuade myself to believe—with a little addition to it—in the doctrine of' metempsychosis, or exchange of souls, I should boldly assert that Mr Hay in England, and Willie Hay in Scotland, could not be the same man. But in what consists the fancied transfiguration? Why, the character of Mr Hay in Warwickshire—and I appeal to my brother sportsmen there, if such it was not—was that of a good sportsman, a well-bred gentleman, an agreeable companion; and that was all. Perhaps he acted the part of the cautious hound on ticklish scenting day, and on fresh ground, and left it to others to throw their tongues on hazard; but this I can say, on my own experience of this highly respected gentleman on both sides of the Tweed, that Willie Hay north of the river, is worth a dozen Mr Hays south of it. That in one he was merely the agreeable companion; on other he is the life and soul of every party he is in;—the best teller of a story, with the best stock of anecdotes, and with as much of the original character of his country about him, as any man I am acquainted with. That he is a horseman of the first order, I need not trouble myself to assert."

Mr Hay, whose portrait has been thus drawn by Nimrod, was the eldest son of Mr Robert Hay of Duns Castle in Berwickshire, and of Drumelzier in Peeblesshire, his family being a branch of the Hays, Marquesses of Tweeddale. He was born on the 29th of February 1788, succeeded his father on the 21st of August 1807, and was elected a member of the Caledonian Hunt on the 13th of January 1829. Besides having previously hunted a part of Berwickshire, he had been master of the Holderness Hounds for one season (1821), and of the Warwickshire for two (1825 and 1826). He had, therefore, had considerable experience as a master of hounds, and was at this time well known as a good sportsman both in England and Scotland. While master of the Warwickshire, he appears to have acquired through his kennel-huntsman, Jack Wood, previously with the Pytchley during the mastership of Lord Althorp, some Pytchley blood. This, it would seem, he eventually brought with him from Warwickshire to Scotland; and it is possible that the introduction of it into the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire kennel may have tended to effect the improvement in the pack which is said to have taken place during his mastership.

In conjunction with the home country, which seems to have been worked from kennels at Kettleston near Linlithgow, Mr Hay hunted from .Duns Castle, a considerable part of Berwickshire, at that time placed at his disposal by the Duke of Buccleuch. This embraced, in addition to the Duns country, the coverts of Paxton, Milne-Graden, Fogo muir, and Marchmont,—the boundary line between these and the Duke's own country being Greenlaw Dean and the Greenlaw road as far as Orange Lane, and the north and east limits of the Castlelaw and Lennel estates. The home country and the Berwickshire district appear to have been hunted alternately, each for a month or so at a time, and both seem to have afforded good sport, although about this period the former suffered a serious loss through the cutting down and draining of one of its best coverts. This, the great wood of Drumshoreland, from which many good runs had taken place during the days of Lord Elphinstone and Mr George Ramsay, consequently now failed to hold a fox, and it is probable that the occurrence of an event so unusual may have suggested to the twelfth Earl of Buchan the idea of giving to his excellent and amusing verses the title of "The Blank Day at Druinshorelane." In after years, during the reign of Mr W. R. Ramsay, when the young wood planted in place of the old had grown, it produced foxes which could travel, and the covert accordingly regained much, if not all, of its former high reputation. At the present day Drumshoreland is a. great wood once more, and although it is seldom drawn in vain, it is now almost impossible, in consequence of its surroundings and bad scenting properties, for hounds to force foxes from it as they did in the past.

Mr Hay, who hunted the hounds himself,' showed capital sport, and in his first season there were several brilliant runs-one, in particular from Raveirig, skirting the Pentland hills, being much talked of. Unfortunately almost no details concerning it are recorded, but it would seem that on that occasion hounds distanced their followers, and that no one was actually with them when they ran into their fox. Mr W. R. Ramsay of Barnton, Mr Home, Berwickshire, Captain Christie, Mr M'Bean and Mr Gillon, however, were not far off at the finish, while, amongst others, the Messrs Williamson of Lixmount, Mr Hay, Major Shairp, Mr Home, Linhouse, and Colonel Holmes and Mr Dyson from Piershill Barracks, came up shortly afterwards. In his second season, after some excellent runs in the Duns country, a long and good hunt took place on the 3rd of November (1829) from a fixture at Linlithgow Bridge. Hounds found twice in Kinneil wood, but other- ways the morning proved uneventful, and when, from Bowden, a small but good fox broke covert, the best scenting part of the day was over. The first burst was sharp, but after about five miles had been traversed, hounds came to a check,— so long that half the field departed; and perhaps to this circumstance may have been due the rest and best of the run. Although the afternoon was cold and most unfavourable for scent, it afforded an excellent opportunity of evincing the nose, patience, and bottom of the hounds, and the zeal and determination of the master. For the last five or six miles hounds literally hunted by inches, for the scent lay dead cold in some fields, and difficult in others ; but eventually, after a stiff and most sporting run, they pulled down their fox oil banks of the deli of Muiravonside. The field, which then consisted of Major Shairp, Mr Forbes of Callendar, his friend Mr Gatacre, Mr P. Stewart, Captain Cheyne and two strangers, turned for home, resolved, as the 'Sporting Magazine' expresses it, to "make hay while the sun shines," or, in other words, to hunt with Mr Hay's hounds as often as possible.' In this run, a puppy at walk, hearing the cry, joined in the chase, was well with the pack during the last part of it, and at the finish had the head of the fox in his mouth.

When, in 1830, Mr Hay resigned his mastership,—one all too short ill far as the country was concerned,—Mr W. R. Ramsay of Barnton, son of Mr George Ramsay, was elected to fill his place. During the two years in which Mr Hay had been master, Mr Ramsay had kept stag-hounds at Golfhall or at Barnton, and although his doing so was not at all popular and was the means of causing some friction, all unpleasantness seems to have passed away before he took over the control.3 He engaged as huntsman, Christopher Scott, previously whipper-in under Granger during part of his father's mastership; and to him, Knight, who seems to have acted as kennel-huntsman at Duns Castle throughout Mr Hay's term of office, handed over thirty-three and a half couples of hounds.

Whether Mr Ramsay, and before him Mr Hay, was the owner of the pack, it is difficult to determine, for the information on the point is far from satisfactory. It seems plain that the hounds were sold when Mr Johnston and Mr Gillon resigned their mastership in 1828, but it is not clear into whose possession they passed. The writer of a letter which appeared in the 'Sporting Magazine' at the time states, "I understand that the subscribers have purchased the hounds," while Knight, in a formal declaration3 which he made in 1866 in regard to several matters relating to the Hunt, affirms that "Lord Hopetoun, in 1828, bought the hounds from Mr Johnston for three hundred pounds or guineas. I think the hounds and horses had been paid for by Mr Johnston— at least all the horses that were unsold were left at Charnpfleurie when I went to Duns Castle. This, however, may have been by private arrangement between Mr Johnston and Mr Gillon. I understand that Lord Hopetoun offered the hounds as a gift to the gentlemen of the counties of Linlithgow and Stirling, but I cannot say anything about whether this was carried out, or whether his Lordship's subscription was suspended till he was repaid." So far there is nothing which precludes the possibility of Mr Hay, and after him Mr Ramsay, having become the owner of the pack, but Knight continues, "I don't think that Mr Ramsay paid anything for the hounds, I never heard that he did"; and while thus supporting the view that Mr Ramsay, at least, was not owner of the pack, he weakens the effect of his statement by adding, "I always understood that he [Mr Ramsay] got them as the county property in the same way as Mr Johnston, Mr Gillon and Mr Hay had done before him.

Certain letters which passed between Mr Hay and other gentlemen towards the end of his mastership, allude to his being relieved of "the hounds, horses, but they really throw no light on the subject, and perhaps the most reliable information is that derived from William Shore, the Duke of Buccleuch's late huntsman, who asserts that Mr Ramsay purchased the hounds from Mr Hay, and in consequence of having paid the price to him instead of to his trustee, was for some time in danger of having to repeat the payment. Although the point is an interesting one, it is not of importance, except in so far as it bears upon the question, which arose at a later period, as to whether or not the hounds were the private property of Mr Ramsay's representatives,—a matter which will be referred to at the proper time.

On leaving Mr Hay's service, Knight entered that of Mr Meiklam of Carnbroe in Lanarkshire, and afterwards became kennel-huntsman to Lord Kelburne. Retiring from hunt service, he trained race-horses for Mr Merry at Gullane in East Lothian before he took to farming and became tenant of a small farm in Fife. There the late Colonel Anstruther - Thomson stopped one evening after hunting, in order to have a whipper-in's horse, which was very lame, tended, and Knight and one of his daughters kindly gave all the help they could. But, as a farmer, Knight was not successful, and eventually, returning to Linlithgow, he once more occupied the old West Port House, in which he died on the 25th of September 1870, at the age of eighty-two. Although an old man, it would seem that he was in good health and able to take exercise almost up to the time of his death, for in a, memorandum dated the 14th of November 1866, the late Colonel Gillon of Wallhouse mentions that he was then "hale and hearty. Last Saturday he walked from Linlithgow to Champfieurie to the meet. His eyesight is failing, but he dearly loves to hear the music of the old pack." The following lines by the late Mr Ebeneezer Oliphant, Linlithgow, a native of the parish of Torphichen, and apparently a keen sportsman, possess considerable merit. They describe a run in the Torphichen district, and, as will be noticed, mention Knight.

In a previous chapter it has been indicated that the Hunt as it existed in the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries was to some extent a hunt club. Still, it was never then alluded to otherwise than as the Hunt, and no mention is made of the Hunt Club until the year 1825. In the minutes of a meeting of the Hunt, held on the 14th of February in that year, it is stated that the secretary, Mr Boyd, had addressed a circular relative to the renewal of the hunting establishment by Mr Johnston and Mr Gillon, to the landowners in the counties of Linlithgow and Stirling likely to give countenance and support to the measure, as well as to "the whole members of the present Hunt Club." These were none other than the surviving members of the Hunt as it was when the establishment was broken up in the year 1814, and those who had joined it in "the Interregnum," during which period occasional meetings of a social character had been held alternately at Linlithgow and Stirling, in accordance with previous custom. From the time when the hunting establishment was revived in 1825 until the present clay, the Hunt Club has continued to exist almost uninterruptedly,' and rules which were adopted for its management in 1826, although since somewhat modified, are, in the main, still in force. These, with a list of the preses from the year 1797 to the present time, will be found among the Appendices I to this work. Rule 1 provides that the noblemen and gentlemen connected with the counties of Linlithgow and Stirling, and none other, shall be eligible to become members. Consequently it was not possible for many who have since hunted with the pack to become members of the Club; but a kindly feeling between the Club and the Hunt has always existed, and in many years of the past century the former contributed generously to the funds of the latter. Rule 7 fixes the "Wednesday nearest the full moon in the months of November, February, and July" for the meetings of the Club, which Rule 12 determines shall be held alternately in Linlithgow and Falkirk. Now, these meetings take place in the former town only, and irrespective of the state of the moon and any possible aid which the members or their guests might derive

from her light. The provisions of Rule 8, that every member should "wear at the meetings a blue coat with black velvet turn-down collar, and yellow buttons, having embossed thereon the letters 'L.S.H.,' and a white kersimere waistcoat with similar buttons," and that every member who should appear at the Club in any other dress should "forfeit an imperial gallon of claret for the use of the Club," no longer apply, nor consequently are the buttons now to be had at Gardner 's shop Linlithgow." And when the Club meets at the Star and Garter, Linlithgow, at the present day, it is the ordinary scarlet evening coat of the Hunt with white facings which is worn, albeit there is strictly a slight distinction in the matter of buttons, the members of the Club wearing a silver button with the letters L.S.H. only, and the subscribers to the Hunt a brass one with the same initials, but in different character, beneath a flying fox.

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