Fox hunting in Regency England was a gentlemanly pursuit. Although the use of scent hounds to track prey dates back to ancient times, the earliest known fox hunt was conducted in Norfolk, England in an attempt to keep foxes out of the farmers fields. The first well-trained packs of hounds were used in the late 17th century. Fox hunting further developed in the 18th century when Hugo Meynell developed a new breed of hounds. These hounds had greater speed, stamina, and a better sense of smell.
The London Season ends on August 12th, which marks the beginning of the hunting season. (If the date falls on a Sunday, then opening day for hunting is moved to the 13th). Foxhunts are conducted during the winter months, and like opening day deer season in Michigan, opening day in Regency England was one of the busiest shooting days of the hunting season. Fox hunting season ran from November to March after the fall harvest. This prevented the fields from becoming damaged by tromping horses and hounds.
Fox hunting was also called Riding the Hounds, and it was considered a sport. Until the mid 1800’s, fox hunting remained a masculine sport, although ladies would often ride to the meet and then return home to wait for the hunters’ homecoming.
The reason sport hunting was done mostly by the upper classes is due to property. If you didn’t own land you could not hunt without permission of the landholder. Poaching was illegal and punishable be deportation. It was illegal for anyone who is not a squire or a squire’s son to kill game, even upon invitation of the landowner. This law ensured that hunting remained in the hands of the aristocracy. Some landowners even went as far as laying manmade traps or spring guns to kill or maim poachers, but these traps were known to often kill innocent walkers.
The gentlemen of the landed gentry often kept packs of hounds and horses. They would sometimes host a hunt meet. These meets were considered social events in which the ladies would also attended. As the aristocracy’s wealth declined, subscription hunts became popular, where fees were paid to members, with the leader of the hunt supplying the pack of hounds and horses.
Foxhunters usually wore the standard hunting garb, which consisted of a red coat and breeches. The color of the breeches varied from hunt to hunt, but was generally one color. Boots were typical English dress boots, without laces that were black in color with brown leather tops. The numbers of buttons on a man’s hunting jacket differed according to skill. The master of the hunt wore a scarlet coat with four brass buttons, while the huntsman had five buttons. Amateur hunters had four buttons.
The three most famous foxhunts were the Quorn, Belvoir, and Atherstone. The Quorn Hunt was established in 1696 in mostly Leicestershire, although some areas of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were included. Quorn is said to be the United Kingdom’s most famous and oldest hunt, and despite the abolition of fox hunting with the Hunting Act of 2004, the Quorn continues to go out on their hunt four days of the week during the hunting season. The Belvoir hunt dates from the 1750’s and was always led by the Duke’s of Rutland until 1896. The Atherstone hunt has been in existence since 1815 when kennels were established in Witherley. You can read further about various fox hunts at, http://www.the-rural-aspect.org.uk/hunting.htm.