And it was here that the Duke held the world’s first major fox hunt. This developed the smaller, rough hunt at Charlton since 1685. So depending on your view of hunting (a great tradition which lit up the rural landscape, or an evil, blood-thirsty crime), you will either celebrate or curse the news: that earlier this year, the Earl of March recreated the Charlton Hunt for a one-off thunder through the thickets and thorn bushes of the estate. There is no suggestion (as far as we know) any foxes were injured in the making of this spectacle.
It was restricted to 150 riders, dressed in the historic blue – piped in yellow, courtesy of Savile Row, and gold buttons courtesy of the Duke – of the Charlton, who gathered outside Goodwood House for a glass of port for a splash of Dutch courage. After charging over wonderful countryside, they gathered for the Hunt Ball – all very Jane Austen. In the ballroom, below an occasional daubing of Stubbs (our finest equine painter) gathered sundry aristos including Lord and Lady Astor, Lord and Lady Fermoy and the inevitable hunting enthusiast Lord Mancroft and his wife. Some things, it seems, never change.
The only evidence for a time traveller that this was not the 18th century was that while the first hunt galloped for an extraordinary 57 miles, the recreation was restricted to 18 miles. That and the fleet of Range Rovers chasing (all in black, in case of doubt). From bullshots served by liveried flunkies in Charlton on the dot of 1pm, to caviar served at tea, this was no day out for Jeremy Corbyn. Servants were sent out after the original record-breaking hunt after dark to measure it – remembered forever as “the grand chase”.
But it was not all about horses. There have been claims that the hunt provided cover for certain aristos to plan the Jacobite rebellion.
The dinner dates back longer than the sell-by dates in the freezer of a dodgy corner shop: 1738. There the similarities end. This was attended less by people who owned their own houses than those who owned their own counties. It had 10 rules, rule eight being that the Duke could bring whoever he liked to the dinner. History does not relate if he would “scweam and scweam and scweam” if he was denied.
Charles II’s kids and every noble playboy went to Charlton, becoming THE place for young bucks scenting blood. The Duke of Monmouth suggested that “when” he was king, he should have his court at Charlton.
The hunt died out, the cost becoming prohibitive, the kennels converted. Whatever your view of hunting, the revival provided a remarkable rural cavalcade back in time.
Tatler has declared the inaugural Duchess of Richmond’s Chase at Goodwood Britain’s smartest point-to-point. The wonderfully-named Sophia Money-Coutts recorded proceedings – with Lord and Lady Rothermere, Lord and Lady Mancroft, Guy and Lizzie Pelly, Otis Ferry and Rory Guinness present. Here is an extract of her report:
The Richmond flag was fluttering above Goodwood House, but there was commotion on the lawn, where a team were trying to manoeuvre a bright-orange horsebox. Not any old horsebox; a liveried Hermès horsebox dispensing Champagne and silk hats. Ramp lowered, it bustled with uniformed bar staff. Meanwhile, in front of the house, 17 amateur jockeys were gathering.
Course walked, jockeys collected their personalised Hermès silks. And then they were off, racing down a sunlit valley, hands forward, expressions grim. “Tally-ho!” shouted spectators as the jockeys thundered past the house. The victor was Lord Onslow – looking dashing on his grey horse, Quolibet (“Desmond to his friends”). Joss Hanbury was second.
The Duchess of Richmond presented trophies with her son, the Earl of March and Kinrara, and Bertrand Michaud. “Churchill said Champagne should be dry, cold and free,” said Michaud to rowdy cheers, before Lord Onslow bounded up to collect his silver cup. “To see horses careering over the park again was a brilliant sight,” added Lord March.
Then it was back inside the house for a “light” lunch – while portraits of past dukes and duchesses of Richmond looked down approvingly. “I’ve got so much adrenalin coursing through my system I can’t eat a thing,” said Lord Onslow, fingering his trophy. “I won’t sleep for weeks.”