In the 21st Century, it's difficult to imagine that fox-hunting was a wide-spread - and popular - sport in the Wokingham area, not least because most of the hunting territory is now either built-on or bisected by the M4 and A329(M) motorways.
The 'Reading Mercury' reported in great detail on the activities of the Garth Hunt during the early and mid-20th century. In the early 1920s each meeting was described in racy style by a correspondent named 'Wryneck' , and throughout the 1920s 'Hunting Notes' rivalled football in terms of column inches. No doubt there were many readers who followed the Hunt from their firesides. Gradually voices of dissent began to be heard, but generally the Hunt was welcomed wherever it met.
In 1933 the Garth Hunt could be seen not just on the edges of Wokingham but on two occasions right by the Town Hall. The first 'Town Hall meeting' was on Easter Monday, but most of the activity took place in and around Woosehill, Bearwood, Arborfield and Longmoor, as described here .
The second 'Town Hall meeting' was on Boxing Day, a Tuesday morning when crowds massed around the centre of the town, along its streets and out along the country lanes now occupied by housing estates. However, before Christmas Day, the Garth Hunt met twice. The first meet was on Friday 22nd December at Winchcome near Basingstoke (attended by well-known local families the Sturges, Simonds and Vere Allfreys ), starting at 'Winchfield House, the residence of Colonel Roland Charrington and Mrs. R. Charrington, who hospitably entertained a large party'. The next day, on Saturday 23rd December, the Garth met at Amen Corner and after a foray to Easthampstead it reached the outskirts of Wokingham as described below:
"...he [the fox] crossed the railway [from Easthampstead] into the Buckhurst covers, and hounds ran with a charming burst of music for a while, and then came back into the Big Wood again. A train came along and very obligingly stopped in the Big Wood twice, but hounds could never make anything of their fox afterwards."
Luckily, the railway line wasn't electrified until 1939, and engine drivers obeyed protocol. This OS one-inch map from the late 1940s shows 'Big Wood' to the south of London Road, with Plough Lane to the west of 'Beanoak Farm' , and very few houses outside the centre of Wokingham:
The Boxing Day report was accompanied by a photograph taken at the Town Hall:
[Caption: The Garth Hounds moving off from the meet in Wokingham Market Place on Boxing Day. A big crowd gathered to see them.]
THE POPULARITY OF FOX-HUNTING.
The Garth lady pack met on Boxing Day at the Market Square, Wokingham, at 11 oíclock. At the meet and out during the day were Mr. R. H. R. Palmer, the joint Master, Mrs. Palmer, Lieut.-Col. F. G. Barker, Miss Effie Barker, the Misses Williamson, Mr. John Simonds, Miss E. Simonds, Miss Mary Simonds, Mr. M. Simonds, Mr. Vivian Simonds, Mrs. Rose, Mrs. Vere Allfrey, Miss E. Allfrey, Mr. Pitman, Miss Henderson, Capt. Fuller, Mrs. Fuller, Major Tanner, Mrs. Tanner, Mr. Oliver Dixon, Mr. R. Studley, Mr. R. E. Sparshatt, Mr. W. Turner, Mr. Amschel, Mrs. Amschel, the Lady Victoria Villiers, Miss West, Mr. Sherwood, Mr. and Mrs. Broadley, Mr. S. Smith, Capt. H. Chinnock (ex-Master), Mrs. And Miss Harrison, Major Sweetman, Mrs. E. M. Sturges, Capt. Sturges, Mr. Guy Hargreaves, Miss June Hargreaves, Mr. Hazel, Miss hazel, Major Croker, Miss Croker, Misses Croker and many others.
The Boxing Day meet at Wokingham always means a big crowd, but this year the record was beaten. Nearly all the streets in the town were crowded, and the sides lined with cars. This was not only in the town, but extended more or less for two miles out of the town on al roads, especially towards the Warren House. In fact, the greater part of the riders did not come into the town to the meet, but were waiting outside. This enormous crowd of people proves how popular fox hunting is, and no doubt most of the packs in England were attended in the same spirit. It may convince the objectors that the majority of people uphold and support the good old sport of fox-hunting.
It has been said that fox-hunting is the sport of the rich, but it is to-day the sport of all classes of the community and likely to remain so while its popularity seems to increase. The Garth are an especially favoured pack. They have the honour of having His Majesty the King as their patron, and a subscriber. The Garth have been commonly called the Royal pack, having been much patronised by royalty.
About 11:20 Mr. Palmer gave orders for moving off, and one blast of the huntsmanís horn cleared the road to enable them to pass through Broad Street to the Hurst road to draw the Holt, and round Glebelands. Hounds were then taken round by Keep Hatch, and found a fox in a hedgerow in the open near Mr. de Vitreís; they ran him through Pebblestone, and across by the gravel pits close to the Warren House, but he was headed off from crossing the road, and turned back and proceeded over the road by Ashridge wood, across the point-to-point course by Ashridge farm on to Matthews Green, where he ran hounds out of scent after quite a nice hunt.
Hounds were then brought back from Matthews Green and drew all through Keep Hatch covers, and then round by Bean Oak farm, and the Cocked Hat and across to Blackmans and Pockets, where a fox was found, which did not hurry to break cover. Eventually he broke across for Top Copse, and then turned right-handed across the meadows through the Gorse and Long Copse, and across by Marchfields and Tippings, going on into Pond Wood and out into the road. He would have crossed into Ashridge-wood, but was headed, and turned back through Pine Wood and through Tippings, and on to the shrubbery at Forest Lodge, where we left him.
Later at Beech Wood a brace of foxes were on foot. Hounds ran one over to North Hackett and back to Beech Wood again, and, after hunting round a considerable time, the fox crossed into Ashridge-wood. Hounds finished up the day at Ashridge-wood .
There had been sporadic outbursts in the Letters Page before and during 1933 against animal cruelty, particularly on the subject of vivisection.
On 10th February 1934, after a few more weeks of 'Hunting Notes', a reader's letter was published complaining about the cruelty of fox-hunting. This provoked two letters in favour of fox-hunting on 17th February, then two in favour and two against on 24th February. Most of those in favour questioned whether the dissenters had ever been fox-hunting, or whether they were - perish the thought - 'vegetarians'.
On 3rd March there were five letters, mostly in favour; the following week, on 10th March there were another four, plus two more held over due to lack of space. These letters were printed on 17th March, whereupon the correspondence was declared 'closed'.
FOX IN BEAR WOOD RHODODENDRONS
The Garth lady pack met on Easter Monday at the Town Hall, Wokingham. At the meet and out during the day were Mr. R. H. R. Palmer, the joint Master, Mr. Murlees, Lieut.-Col. F. G. Barker, ex-Master, Mr. E. M. Sturges, Mrs. E. M. Sturges, Mr. John Simonds, Miss Mary Simonds, Major Edwards, Miss Carrie, Mr. Vivian Simonds, Miss Pamela Simonds, Mr. Haig, Mr. Amschel, Mr. R. Studley, Mr. Gerald Simonds, Mr. Eric Palmer, Mrs. Vere Allfrey, Mrs. Anderson, Mr. H. Cole, Capt. H. S. Chinnock, ex-Master, Mr. Sherborne, Mrs. Sherborne, Mr. S. Smith, Mr. Croker, Mrs. Croker, the Misses Croker, Mrs. Hart, Mrs. Daniels and many others.
Hounds were taken by Scottís farm to the Fox Hill, and into Bear Wood, and soon found a fox in the rhododendrons and covers in Bear Wood park, and eventually marked a fox to ground. They hunted another fox round the rhododendrons, and eventually pushed him away across the park and over the road to the Carterís Hill covers, and on by the Gorse to Arborfield Church. After circling round they came back to the church, crossed the river, ran towards Sindlesham and back by the osier beds through the Carterís Hill covers, and over to the Holt [which is in Sindlesham, not the one in Wokingham].
Hounds hunted him through this cover, and he broke away into the meadow, but was headed, and turned away at the lower end of the Holt, back to the covers near the osier bed. He came back again, however, close by Mr. Dimondís house and into the Holt once more. Hounds checked for a time, but were holloaed on to the line again, and ran on through the meadows to Mr. Holdstockís gorse, and on to Arborfield Hall farm . It is probable the fox crossed the river again.
Hounds were then taken to Kidgham, where about four foxes were on foot. Hounds hunted round the cover for a time, changing from one fox to another. Eventually, they got one fox away, ran him over to Longmoor and killed him.
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